Capitol Hill showed up to the Cha Cha Lounge Wednesday night to support Washington’s strippers. After a few prudish lawmakers killed a bill the group supported to bring liquor back to strip clubs as a way to pay for enhanced safety measures for dancers, the campaign’s organizers packed the basement bar with supporters to prepare another fight for next session.
Earlier this year, the state Senate actually passed the bill 40-8 with bipartisan support, and the House labor committee recommended the bill pass as well. The proposal hit a wall in the Regulated Substances and Gaming Committee, where co-chairs Rep. Sharon Wylie (D-Vancouver) and Rep. Shelley Kloba (D-Kirkland) declined to give the bill a hearing before a key deadline.
Without the legislation, Washington remains the only state without some form of alcohol service in clubs. Without alcohol sales, generating revenue becomes the sole responsibility of dancers, which leads to a toxic dynamic between club owners and performers, said Madison Zack-Wu, campaign manager for Strippers Are Workers. The dire situation means dancers work all week in clubs with very few protections, and they just barely manage to scrape by, she added.
But on Wednesday at the Cha Cha Lounge, the community reminded the dancers what the future of clubs in Washington could look like. People cheered as dancers performed upside-down splits on the pole, jiggled their asses, and showed off all the athleticism and grace required to make hoisting your body weight onto a pole look sexy. The dancers wore pasties and thongs to keep the event modest enough to avoid running afoul of laws preventing adult entertainment in bars.
Ten dancers performed for the event, including one dancer with the stage name Cedar, who was five months pregnant and a crowd favorite.
“Give it up to Cedar, and Cedar’s baby,” Zack-Wu called at the end of the performance, prompting a roar of applause and laughs.
Cedar dances part-time due to her pregnancy, when she does perform she said she deals with high fees to dance, fewer patrons, and a strip club culture that drives clients away. She joked liquor sales could result in clubs with better lighting so people don’t trip over themselves.
Between every performance, Zack-Wu educated the audience about the many ways Washington fails to protect adult entertainers. People focus a lot on the liquor part of SB 5614, she said, but the bill eliminated predatory back rent, a practice where dancers must tap their next night’s earnings to pay unmet club fees on slow nights. The bill also required full-time security at clubs at a time when clubs sometimes have zero security, she pointed out. Selling liquor paid for all of those things.
As people booed and jeered at shady club practices and at the Legislature’s lack of support for Washington’s adult performers, Zack-Wu said she felt the whole movement gain back a little of the momentum lost during the 2023 session.
“I hope tonight made them feel like we’re doing something, like we’re making a change,” Zack-Wu said.