Byline: Alison Jones
Cathy MacGregor wasn't what I expected of a lap dancer. I'd imagined long legs, silicone implants and a don't mess with me attitude.
Instead the small figure that dashed past me heading for the ladies with a contact lens crisis, barely skimmed five foot and the only thing fake about her was the colour of her hair.
It is exactly this kind of misconception that Cathy confronted head on when she quit her job as a lecturer at Wolverhampton University in order to dance naked, save for a tiny g-string, in bars in America.
'Every body has its fans. It is not like there is one uniform body type,' she said. 'But you do have to be quite confident about yourself.'
As a performance artist Cathy, who is 29 and holds a PhD in drama, had already experimented with nudity in her shows.
And she originally took up lap dancing in the name of research for Scarlett's Story, which she will be presenting as part of the Fierce Festival on Saturday Night.
'The popular representation of strippers saw them falling into two categories, tarts with hearts and victims. I wanted to see what the truth was behind the stereotype.
'I felt, morally and ethically, that I couldn't create a performance about this without experiencing it for real. I wouldn't have got the full picture just by observing.'
During her show she reveals the mundanity behind the job. That while the dancer may be simulating ecstasy or arousal on stage, privately she is thinking about what shopping she has to do, or how much her high heels are pinching her feet.
Although clubs like Legs Eleven and Spearmint Rhino are enjoying an explosion in popularity in the UK, Cathy chose to work in the States where the industry has been established for longer.
Ordinary stripping has almost entirely given way to pole dancing and lap dancing. There is also more mingling with the audience as the aim is to encourage the customers to pay for private dances, where they can look but not touch. 'The thing I found most frightening wasn't taking my clothes off, it was the fact that I was just expected to get up there and do it,' said Cathy .
'I kind of improvised my way through it and thought everyone would know I wasn't professional but nobody did. Afterwards I felt a real sense of achievement
'I have trained as a dancer and I worked out a routine with a choreographer friend but they are not interested in anything that formal. It is more about reacting to the customers.
'You do earn more if you can dance though, rather than if you are just good looking, have two left feet and no personality.'
Surprisingly she found personality and not physique was the most important attribute for a lap dancer.
'There is a lot of interaction between the girls and customers. If you can't talk to them it is harder to make money.' She adopted the name Scarlett, partly in reference to her red hair but also as a play on scarlet woman and in tribute to the artist Cosey Fannitutti, who used it in her work.
Rather than feeling vulnerable and exposed when she stripped off down to her G-string, Cathy described it as 'like being a female drag queen. …