America’s Elite Strippers Warm Up for the Super Bowl

Jan 30, 2014 at 7:18 AM ET

The most significant sporting event in history is just days away, and everyone from Peyton Manning to the Bacon Brothers is caught up in last-minute preparations. As a first-time host, New York is determined to pull out all the stops for the filthy-rich NFL fans who have descended upon the city, demanding to be entertained. And, naturally, the Broncos and Seahawks won’t be the only agile bodies on display. The city’s strippers are primed to get some serious game time, too.


“It’s a really exciting time for us,” says Shaun Kevlin, manager of the midtown gentleman’s club Vivid Cabaret, the newly opened home of the city’s tallest stripper pole, which stands at 25 feet. “It’s definitely going to be the biggest week of the year.” Coach Kevlin expects his seats to be filled to maximum capacity, so all 90 dancers on his roster have to show up ready to play—brisk, busty and ready to bend.

Super Bowl week is major opportunity for America’s professional strippers, and like the players on the field, they have to constantly worry about getting injured before the big game.

Fortunately, Kevlin reports that his team is healthy, barring any last-minute subs. Exotic-dancing-related injuries happen far more often than you’d think in the low-lit world of thongs and stilettos, especially when the entertainment is heavy on the acrobatics. New recruits, some fresh out of high school, are especially vulnerable. Many rookies are put in without any technical training, and with little awareness of the sheer physicality of the job.

Randi, a 30-something blonde with ashy-colored roots and a professionally whitened smile, is no stranger to pain. She pulled her hamstring a few years ago, and since then, it has never been the same. “I couldn’t go onstage for a while because it was so painful,” she says. “It was really hard for me to wear heels, but I had to work through it.” She’s also broken a toe, which forced her to work in ballet flats instead of a proper spiked heel.

Even worse than the physical injury, she says, was the fact that her fans noticed her game was off. “When I was giving someone a lap dance, there were certain moves I couldn’t do because my hamstring was so fragile,” she says, sipping from a water bottle. “I had to work very cautiously. It was embarrassing because guys were like, Why are you doing this so slowly?” She took six ibuprofen a day and used a lot of Icy Hot, but the aching still impaired her performance. “I couldn’t do any pole tricks,” she says.

Of all the complaints, bruising is the most common, especially among the younger girls. Floor tricks can bang up the knees, and the inner thighs can take a real beating when working with a pole. Shoulder injuries, including torn ligaments and strained joints, are also typical. Last year, a 22-year-old stripper actually died from head injuries sustained after a 15-foot fall from a balcony during an advanced lap-dance move.

Fawnia, a former exotic dancer and now highly sought-after trainer, is well-versed in the perils of the pole, having endured a series of physical setbacks as a beginner. “I had a lot of injuries in my wrist, elbow and shoulder on the right side,” she says. “I eventually got tendonitis. I couldn’t even brush my hair.”

As the owner of Las Vegas’ Pole Fitness Studio, she coaches both laywomen and working dancers in proper pole technique, and teaches that many injuries are preventable if you employ the correct form. “When girls are doing spins, they don’t know how to engage their latissimus dorsi,” she says. “They just hang there from their shoulder joint, and there is too much tension and pulling, but when they engage their back they are more supported.” Take one look at moves like the “Full Moon,” the “Gemini,” or the “Spinning Chopper,” and it’s obvious that pole tricks require far more than a simple inclination toward nude entertainment.

Many dancers also drink while they work, making the pole particularly perilous. Alcohol is like Gatorade for strippers, except instead of restoring electrolytes, it keeps the charm pistons lubricated. “All of the smiling and friendliness is difficult to maintain while sober,” says Fawnia.

Even when girls do sustain mildly serious injuries, many decide to play through the pain rather than miss out on the cash. Strippers are almost exclusively hired as independent contractors, which means that club owners are not required to pay workers’ compensation, unemployment or health insurance. Several class-action suits have been filed in the past few years by dancers hoping to win some benefits, but contracting still remains the norm. In other words, a few days off the pole can mean a few days without pay, not to mention the possibility of a pricey visit to the doctor.

When she first applied, Fawnia was denied insurance on the basis that her career was too dangerous. “Unless they are secretly working as a school teacher or a police officer, most girls don’t have insurance,” Fawnia tells me. “They just work through their injuries and keep their fingers crossed that it doesn’t get any worse.” For the most part, dancers also happen belong to the nation’s most notoriously uninsured age bracket: 18-34.

Conditioning is an especially useful component to the stripper routine, helping girls avoid injury and, most importantly, maintain their stripper bodies. Randi hits the gym three or four times a week, where she does 30 to 45 minutes of cardio on the elliptical, followed by Pilates. She also works out with a personal trainer doing more Pilates and Gyrotonics, and she watches what she eats. “I try to stick to the Zone diet,” she says. “But if I want a cookie, I’m going to eat a cookie.” I ask her if she has been extra cautious ahead of Super Bowl week, and she bites her lip. “Well, I might have eaten a whole bag of mini Reese’s peanut butter cups the other night. I was mad, but I just went to the gym for an extra hour.”

Even more than diet and exercise, Randi believes stretching and sleeping are the keys to pre-Super Bowl prep. The shifts are long and late, usually 6 p.m. to 4 a.m., and she needs to maintain her game face for most of the night. She does get the occasional breather, which is when she heads to the locker room to stretch her hamstring, snack on trail mix or play Candy Crush on her phone. She also makes sure she warms up before her routines.

When I ask her how she’ll manage to get through so many hours of seducing the NFL’s most diehard meatheads, she says she looks to her fellow girls on the floor. “It’s really a team sport in a way,” Randi says. “We all have to be team players. Girls will be like, ‘Hey, how’s your night going? You can do this!’ It’s almost like a cheerleading squad.”

Luckily, her hamstring is feeling good this week and won’t interfere with her signature move. “I’ll do it to you if you want,” she says. “It’s a subtle trick.” She bends over, brushes my hair back behind my ear, and softly moans into it. “It’s like my touchdown,” she says. “Guys love it.”