Kiana Gonzalez, 20, of Nashville, dances for a crowd of people on stage to the blaring music at the Déjà Vu Showgirls night club in Nashville. Afterwards she collects her money and disappears into the misty fog backstage.
“The crowd was awesome,” she said as she begins to prepare for her next dance.
She changes into an all-red latex outfit with her black six-inch stilettos next to several of her co-workers in their glam room.
“Kiana, You’re on!” One of her co-workers shouts to her while she’s getting ready.
“I never thought I’d be doing this,” Kiana said before exiting to the stage.
Kiana was born and raised in Clarksville, Tennessee. She attended Western Kentucky University as a vocal performance major before transferring to Austin Peay University under the same major.
Kiana has always had a passion for theater since she was young. She’s starred in several roles in plays such as Sweet Charity, Hairspray, Shrek the Musical and a Hand of Bridge as well as several recitals at Austin Peay.
Her dreams to become an accomplished performer were put on hold when Kiana dropped out of school in Fall 2017.
“Loan companies from Western and Austin Peay were hounding me for money,” she explained.
She still wanted to pursue a career in theater, but had to find a way to pay her debt back.
Kiana worked at Hooters for several months saying she was “just barely getting by” and then became a bartender. She was looking to earn extra money and heard a tip that Déjà Vu night club in Nashville was looking for a bartender and she was hired.
“It was nothing like I’ve seen before, working in a club was exciting and fresh. I really did enjoy it,” she said.
Shortly after she started working there, she was offered a position as one of the dancers.
“At first, I immediately declined. I couldn’t be a stripper. Although they assured me if I didn’t feel comfortable I could continue being a bartender,” she said.
While Kiana had several concerns, she said the position wasn’t what she thought it would be.
When she first started she rarely took her clothes off. After time, she began getting more comfortable and when she wants to get naked, she will. But is not expected to do so unless she wants to at Déjà Vu.
“It was nerve-wracking at first. But Déjà Vu isn’t like the clubs you hear about. Their policy is you don’t have to take your clothes off unless you want to. It’s very clean and respectable,” she said.
Kiana has been working as a dancer for about five months. She hasn’t told anyone except her boyfriend, Lucas Schofill, 20, Nashville, who lives with her.
The two met at Austin Peay and have been dating for about two years. Lucas and Kiana have had several conversations about him not feeling comfortable with her being a dancer.
“We’ve talked about this so many times,” Schofill said. “I really don’t enjoy Kiana working as a dancer. I can’t imagine any guy being accepting of their girlfriend working at a strip club.”
Kiana was nervous when she had to tell Lucas, knowing he wasn’t going to support her. After several weeks of working he became more accepting of her job.
“I’m going to support her no matter what,” he said “She’s given me no reason to not trust her. I just think she’s too talented and good for this.”
Kiana hasn’t even told her parents about her job. She explains she grew up in a very conservative household, and she knows they wouldn’t approve.
In a study by researchers at the Economic and Social Research Council at the University of Leeds, 47.4 percent of dancers said they have negative feelings because they have to keep their job a secret.
“How do you tell your dad you drop out of school to give old men private dances and to be lusted over in dark rooms? You don’t!” Kiana said.
Kiana tells her parents and anyone who asks that she’s still a bartender at Déjà Vu rather than telling them she’s a dancer to avoid misconceptions about her job.
“Everyone thinks that being a stripper is more than what it really is. They think all we do is have sex in the back rooms,” she said. “Newsflash, that’s not how it works. We can’t even touch our clients. It’s just way easier to tell people I work as a bartender to avoid dealing with people’s ignorance.”
Kiana explains she’s only had one bad experience working at Déjà Vu. During a private dance she said a client threw her against the wall violently.
“It was terrifying,” she said. “He was yelling and asking for sexual favors.” Thankfully security was there to protect her.
Courtney Clark, of Nashville, a former Déjà Vu employee and Kiana’s friend, said she didn’t have bad experiences while working there, but knows people who did.
“Personally, nothing happened to me. I got in and got out,” Courtney said. “I worked there for a few months though, so that could be why. I know a few girls who some bad things did happen to, though. It can happen, but it’s not as big as everyone thinks it is. Déjà Vu at least has policies and take care of us.”
About 40 percent of dancers said they’ve had encounters rude or abusive customers, according to the University of Leeds study.
Courtney said the money working there was great, but it is very short term until you get what you need to leave.
“Déjà Vu is a great job and has helped so many people out. However, it’s obviously not anything you want to put on your resume, but it can really help you in the long run financially,” Courtney said.
Kiana defends her decision for working there for one reason: the money.
However, it’s difficult to report annual income due to tips, location and general performance affecting rates. Hourly it can range from$7.86 – $196.78 or more.
Ever since Kiana can remember, she said she’s always been a hard worker. There’s been very few times in her life when she said she wasn’t working.
Kiana said she made good money as a bartender but working as a dancer is better. Some of her regulars will spend over $600 for private dances plus the money she makes on the floor that night.
Kiana plans to save the money she acquires through working at Déjà vu to enroll in several high-end courses in New York to gain experience and get recognized within the musical community.
Until then, she continues to keep stripping.