Inside Bodyhaus, a strip club night celebrating beauty and sexuality.
In November, hundreds gathered at Raynham Park on Karangahape Rd to attend Bodyhaus – a strip club night for queer, trans and gender-diverse dancers who often don’t feel safe performing elsewhere, and for queer patrons who may not feel comfortable in traditional strip clubs. Metro was there to experience a celebration of beauty and sexuality.
Iarrive early and there’s already a line. On the window outside, a “Safer Space Agreement” is printed on hot-pink paper, noting that filming and photography are not allowed, instructing patrons not to touch the dancers, and making clear the club’s no-tolerance policy regarding transphobia, homophobia, racism, sexism, slut-shaming, fatphobia, sizeism, ableism, xenophobia and ageism.
After an induction, staff hand out branded stickers to cover our phone cameras and we’re allowed upstairs, where organiser Sarita Das rushes around making sure volunteers in hi-vis vests have everything they need. Das wears a black leotard and stick-on rhinestones, their blue ponytail skimming their waist.
I exchange my cash for tips, printed on recycled paper, and talk with dancer and hula-hoop artist Freddy Matariki Carr, one of tonight’s stage kittens —
the people who pick up the tips and costumes from the stage after each performance. “How good does this place look?” she says. The room is gorgeous. Pink and purple lights spin around the room, projecting the kind of light that makes everyone’s skin look perfect. An endless loop of shifting purple smoke is projected onto the wall behind the silver pole glistening on the centre stage. A giant disco ball spins above.
A blindfolded body covered in plastic wrap lies on a table topped with purple grapes, halved nectarines, and smashed pomegranates, with a red apple in each hand. At their feet is a chair and a pair of headphones. I sit and listen to an ascending tone of breathy moans that never quite reach climax. An experimental post-porn film featuring messy, muddy bodies plays on a set of screens beside the bar. In a sheltered nook, a performer dances erotically between red fabrics.
It’s not even an hour before the venue is packed. I ask friends and strangers how they heard about the event. Someone saw it on Instagram. Someone’s friend is performing. Someone read about it in their lesbian Facebook group. “It’s like there’s someone here from every different group I’ve ever been in,” artist Vanessa Crofskey says. She’s right — I’ve already spotted friends, old flatmates, my boyfriend’s oldest childhood friend, ex-co-workers, a friend’s girlfriend’s ex, a classmate, and, like, six ghosts of crushes past.
“I wish I was wearing less clothes; I just came from work,” Crofskey says. I feel the same way. I clock leather harnesses and g-strings, fishnets and nipple pasties. Everyone’s brought their hottest look.
Das and the other Bodyhaus organisers (DJ and queer event facilitator Nikolai, aka Brown Boy Magik, and performance artist and stripper Kyah Dove) take to the front of the room. “Thank you for coming to Bodyhaus,” Das says. “This is amazing and it’s all of our dreams come true, thank you. Look at all you beautiful queers!”
Das welcomes the first dancer to the stage, performance artist and original FAFSWAG collective member Mistress Supreme. A cheer rises from the audience as she emerges from behind the curtain in a black harness. Patrons start throwing tips to the stage as she spins on the pole. The stage kittens can’t keep up, hauling handful after handful of tips to a nearby table to be counted. By the time the next dancer finishes their set, Freddy and the other kittens are improvising, shoving tips off stage into rubbish bags to be carried off and bundled up in another room.
Coven artist Honey dances in hot-pink thigh highs, followed by Hades, Siren, Viela and Cxntess. A dancer named Katya closes the first set, beginning her performance in a highlighter-yellow starkini by designer Astroprincess and ending up fully nude. Despite breaking the strap on her high-heel platform shoes, Katya gives an incredible show, and when a 15-minute break is announced, the audience clamber to restock their tips.
Between sets, a performer sits cross-legged and doe-eyed in the centre of the stage, eating a Magnum ice cream and feeding segments of the chocolate shell to women in the front row. Someone moves through the floor with seven whirring desk fans strapped to their body, cooling the crowd, trailed by a helper carrying a multi-plug outlet and an extension cord. Even in the intermission, hardly anyone is on their phone. Everyone dances and laughs and lounges on the couches at the front of the room. I count four couples making out.
It’s close to 1am by the time the second set starts. Over the sound system, Half Queen, an Auckland DJ best known for hosting queer club night Filth, reminds patrons in the front row to make sure they’re tipping constantly. “If you don’t know strip club etiquette, that’s where the ballers sit,” she says.
The dancers from the first set take to the stage in the same order, wearing new costumes. More dancers climb the pole in the second set. More of them get naked, too. Audience members hand the dancers tips via their mouth, and some of the best tippers are thanked with a kiss. At the end of the night, the audience have witnessed an incredible range of bodies, many of which are not readily embraced at traditional strip clubs.
“This is the audience strippers deserve,” Half Queen says at the end of the night. “But we’ll never get it, because the whole sex industry revolves around men and the cis straight male gaze. This is the perfect audience, but we don’t yet have the resources or the money for the industry to be as good as this was. That being said, I can see this event becoming a big thing, and I’m so proud.”
Performer Katya says it was a totally different experience from her work at a traditional strip club. “For me, the night was an amazingly personal exchange of energies. I’ve been a sex worker for a little over a year now and have never
experienced that level of engagement from a crowd; they really met us on our level. I also made more money from tips at Bodyhaus than I ever have from tips at my regular club, and I usually go on stage over five times a night whereas at Bodyhaus I went on only twice!”
Organiser Das says the event went better than they could have hoped. “I’m so happy. We ran out of tips!” Actor and theatremaker Saraid Cameron says she can’t believe how good the event was.
“It’s so freeing and beautiful and fucking fun and exciting.” Other patrons agree.
“It totally reinforced how gay I am,” a woman in a leotard and fur coat says.
I leave as the party winds down, feeling revitalised and heartened that a space like this exists in Auckland and desperately hoping it can continue and grow. I overhear a woman talking to her friend. “It’s a queer revolution,” she says.
ABOVE— The crowd show their appreciation for a performance at Bodyhaus, at Raynham Park in Karangahape Rd.
ABOVE— Bodyhaus organiser Sarita Das in a promotional shot for the event.