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Naked and Unafraid

How an Edmonton exotic dancer is challenging the industry
by Andrew Smith

High heels are just one part of being uncomfortable for dancers. (Photo supplied by Unsplash user Eric Nopanen)

Being an exotic dancer isn’t easy – standing practically naked on a stage in front of even the smallest of crowds has enough of a fear factor to stop most people from trying. It’s not just the pressure of a performance that’s scary, though; exploitation is a terrifying thing about making yourself vulnerable.

Onyx, as her fans know her, has been dancing professionally for a long time. She has won Miss Nude Canada twice, judged competitions, been invited to private shows, and even toured with Snoop Dogg in 2019.

She’s even started her own entertainment company called Iconyx Elite Entertainment, which she hopes will bring exotic dancers to mainstream corporate events.

With all that now behind her, Onyx was recently fired from her contract for speaking out against the conditions she and her co-workers worked under. After her first week back working post-quarantine, her promo fees on her paycheck had doubled.

“People think dancers are dumb. We’re judged for our legal chosen profession, and looked down on,” says Onyx. “I was done. Knowing I would be fired, knowing they would try to silence me, I shared my most recent pay-cut and started to share what’s been haunting me for years.”

Onyx’s Instagram account has catalogued her financial statements as well as detailed reports of why she decided to quit working at local clubs, including downtown’s very own Shade Gentlemen’s Club.

“From there, the messages started to pour in from my fellow dancers and my following,” she says. “People started to share similar stories with me anonymously.”

Support isn’t the only kind of messages Onyx received though; Onyx also began receiving vague threats, random messages, and nasty rumours began to spread around her like wildfire.

“Some of it is a bald-faced lie […]Some of it is true, though, too – I am human. I am growing, learning, and levelling up,” she says. “I don’t have to be perfect to speak out.”

There are only two agencies for exotic dancers in Alberta, and only one of them is allowed to operate in clubs. Contracts also vary wildly between male and female performers. In Alberta, male performers are guaranteed safe lodging, meals, and their rides are fully paid for. Female dancers aren’t always entitled to these perks.

Dancers are also sometimes under contractual obligation to not have their partners attend their shows.

Some clubs force dancers to use an in-house photographer for their promo material, which monopolizes the business. Worst of all, dancers are not technically employees. They are contractors, and because of this, many of Alberta’s labour laws don’t apply to their situations.

“I’ve seen girls charged hundreds of dollars for drinks they never ordered, and [for] food they never ate,” says Onyx.

Onyx says that she understands that there is a long road ahead for her.

“I have to pick my battles. I don’t want to hurt the industry I love, but [I want to] make it better for everyone.”

The award-winning dancer has begun researching into every detail of her profession, looking for anything that needs to be changed to improve being an exotic dancer.

“My fans have asked me to start a petition, but petitions need to be specific, with a clear goal in mind,” she says. “I am still figuring out what I want to make one for.”

While the next step is still uncertain, Onyx calls for audiences to press clubs and ask questions that hold them accountable.

For more information, you can visit Onyx’s Instagram account @onyxsachi.

Editor’s note: The original version of this story stated that there was only one agency for dancers, it has since been revised to state that there are two. Our apologies for the mistake.

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