by Katy Pilcher

Erotic dance is one of the most contentious issues in feminist debates today and a source of fascination in media representations, yet little is known about those who perform erotic dance for women customers, or the experiences of these spectators themselves. Through vivid ethnographies of a lesbian leisure venue and a male strip show, Erotic Performance and Spectatorship examines the gender and sexual politics of erotic dance, simultaneously relating these to debates about sex work more widely. Drawing on insights gleaned through participant observation within erotic dance spaces; interviews with dancers, customers and management; together with a photo-elicitation venture with a dancer, this book subverts previous assumptions that only women perform erotic dance and only men spectate, and develops the debate beyond assumptions that erotic dance is either straightforwardly degrading or empowering.

Through the voices of dancers and customers, together with my own reflections on participating in strip venues, this book provides a distinctive view on issues including the politics of looking and being watched; the aesthetic, emotional and body work of erotic dance; questions of power; and the embodied experiences of dancers and customers in these spaces. I draw out some of the key and the ‘queer’ moments that I perceive to be central to dancers’ and customers’ experiences within non-conventional erotic dance spaces, as well as being the moments through which we can think about the contestability of normative power relations. I make links between participants’ definitions of both venues as in some senses representing ‘women’s spaces’, and the tensions with this notion; the complex ways in which customers and dancers negotiate the dynamics of looking and being watched through critically engaging with conceptions of a sexual ‘gaze’; and how the particular venues that dancers work within is crucial to their ability to be able to experience autonomy through their work role. I highlight how people with erotic dance spaces challenge and negotiate heteronormative gender and sexual power relations, and what this indicates for the theorising of gender and sexual power relations more broadly.

The book includes reflections on the sensory experiences of researching erotic leisure venues, and includes anecdotes of encounters during the research process that have influenced the conclusions drawn. I comment upon the status of ‘sex work research’ within and outside the academy and the impact upon researchers who may be stigmatised (Hammond and Kingston, 2014), or considered to be doing ‘dirty’ (Irvine, 2014) or ‘morally’ tainted research. Theorised through a feminist and queer lens, overall, I argue that people’s engagement with erotic dance as both performers and customers is complex, and the book highlights the pleasures and the politics of participating in erotic dance spaces.

If you would like to review this book for an academic journal (and receive a free copy) please contact Katy to arrange this on It can be purchased at a discount using code FLR40 on the Routledge website.

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