Clubs in the 1960s
The Pink Pussycat, New Zealand’s first dedicated strip club, opened in Auckland in 1963. Before this, strippers had performed at a few risqué coffee bars – ‘Santi the sloe-eyed stripper from the Tijuana [coffee bar]’ featured in Truth newspaper in 1962.1 By 1967 there were four strip clubs in Auckland, two in Wellington and one in Christchurch. Clubs would later open in New Zealand’s larger towns. At first many clubs offered meals (served by the strippers with their clothes on) and some had elaborate stage shows. But the customers weren’t interested – they ‘just want the strip’2 – and the menus and staging were reduced.
Performances were not allowed to include too much moving around, bare nipples, or full nudity. It was not until an early 1970s court case over the legality of a nude scene in the musical Hair that complete nudity was allowed in New Zealand’s strip clubs.
Doing time for indecency
Owning strip clubs took Rainton Hastie to prison. A stripper had wriggled, flashed her nipples or taken it all off, and Hastie, owner of the Strip-o-rama, the Follies, the Pink Pussycat Club and the Tom Cat Club (among others), was charged with presenting an indecent show. In the 1990s Ian Hastings, head of the first police vice squad, ‘wonder[ed] why we were doing it. Was it needed? [Hastie] played a major part in setting our standards’.3
Opposition to stripping
Although strip clubs would become an enduring part of New Zealand’s nightlife, there was opposition to them. Contact between strippers and customers within a club was usually limited to the undoing of a zip or unhooking of a bra during an act, but this did not stop stripping being linked with prostitution. Some of those working in and running the clubs were engaged in both.
Like sex work, strip clubs were tolerated while they remained in a city’s red-light zone and did not intrude into its daytime life. Opposition became active when these boundaries were crossed. When an Auckland club planned to open in Queen Street, there was a public outcry against it. The principal of an Auckland girls’ school objected when a strip club located next to a busy bus stop displayed photographs of the strippers in its windows. In Wellington in the mid-1960s the Wesleyan Church Trust went to court in an attempt to prevent club patrons using a passageway it owned.
New Zealand’s first laws against nudity had been passed in the 1870s and 1880s to suppress nude bathing. Although not entirely effective (people continued to skinny dip), the legislation went unchallenged. When nudists began meeting in the 1920s, they stayed within privately owned clubs. Dancer Freda Stark appeared at Auckland’s Wintergarden Cabaret wearing only gold paint and a feather or two in the 1940s, but that could be called art.
A stripper’s view
Stella worked in Wellington’s strip clubs in the later 1970s, and 30 years later remembered that ‘I really liked the dancing, I really liked the self-expression, and I really liked the attention. The power was all mine.’4
Most of those working in strip clubs had no dance training and received none from the club. Turnover was high – in the 1960s a club might employ 100 girls over a year. In the early 1960s, when male-to-female transgender strip shows were drawing audiences in Australia, transgender strippers were performing in New Zealand clubs, with many in the audience believing they were watching women.
In the 1980s male revues became popular overseas, and male-stripper groups such as ‘Chippendales’ eventually included New Zealand in their tours. Male strippers became a hen-night staple, prompting an audience response – laughter and screams – quite different from that of male audiences.
Stripping expanded beyond the removal of clothes in a nightclub to include strippergrams, lap dancing, pole dancing and burlesque. In the mid-1990s Showgirls, New Zealand’s first lap-dancing club, opened in Auckland. An erotic dance performed while sitting in or standing across a customer’s lap, lap dancing blurred the line between prostitution and stripping. Pole dancing – a dance performed using a fixed pole as a prop – is an often physically demanding version of stripping. In the 2000s pole dancing (fully clothed) was offered by some gyms as a fitness class. Burlesque was a theatrical and sometimes elaborate form of striptease.
Stripping as a business
A 2001 study found that there were 16 strip clubs in New Zealand’s cities and larger towns, employing 179 workers. Some were multi-million-dollar, multi-storey ‘gentlemen’s clubs’ catering for hundreds of patrons, sometimes located in main streets. Others continued the tradition of sleazy dives in red-light districts and back streets. Since the decriminalisation of sex work in 2003, some strip clubs have associated brothels.
Whether the performers were female, male or transgender, strip shows were a money-maker for a club owner or show promoter. In the 1990s club owners carved up territory in the main cities, but this informal agreement broke down in the early 2000s. In 2011 and 2012 Wellington saw a battle between rival club owners, as one side sought to prevent the other opening a club nearby.