Everyone knows what charming places strip clubs can be, but perhaps there is no club so charming as one in Moriarty, New Mexico—a truck stop with taxidermy and the bras of former employees on the walls, a few poles, a shitload of black light, and plenty of titties. Never mind that The Ultimate Strip Club List website describes it as the place “where strippers go to die.” Natalia Leite and Alexandra Roxo were convinced it was a solution to the financial roadblocks they encountered trying to earn a living as filmmakers, and so they ran away from Brooklyn to make a film project out of their “dream job.”
Usually this type of buddy story includes a decrepit motel, loads of meth, and bodies in a dumpster at the end, but this time is an exception, sort of. Yes, the two stayed in a motel infested with flies, and yes, the previous owner’s son had been cooking meth in one of the rooms. But the two still have all their limbs and used them to film their experience exploring what it would be like to trade lives with women who grind on the laps of the truckers of Highway 40.
Think a Marina Abramovic performance crossed with a bizarro episode of Wife Swap directed by David Lynch’s daughters, set in the type of place where a one-eyed guy who shot himself in the head dispenses meditation advice to two naked women. After 13 days of dancing together and sleeping in the same bed every night, they still had a lot to talk about, so they interviewed each other about the experience. You can relive it along with them via the wonders of internet video later this month.
Natalia Leite: I’m looking forward to the day I tell my grandchildren stories about the one time we decided to become dancers in a strip club in the middle of the desert. It seems a little surreal now to think that was our life a couple months ago—living off of the money we made dancing topless for lonely truckers and sleeping with hair extensions that had been mopping a filthy stage the night before.
Alexandra Roxo: Only you would be excited to tell your grandkids that.
What do you think was most challenging about the whole experience?
The idea was scary from the start—from the minute we talked about staying at a strip club by the side of the highway. The motel on the grounds only has one functioning room, and it’s surrounded by guys sleeping in their trucks. When we said, “OK, we’ll just stay in that one room,” I started waking up with anxiety dreams and getting really freaked out, because as a woman, you already face so much shit in your life. Just for being a woman.
Being harassed by men and all?
Yeah, being harassed or attacked, or whatever it is. So to intentionally put yourself in a situation where you know that there’s a high risk of danger, to be in the middle of nowhere at this tiny motel surrounded by these truckers at night and working at this club—it sounded dangerous. The other scary part of it was the vulnerability of being naked in front of these big truckers.
Definitely. I really felt like there was, for me, a fear of someone doing or saying something, even inside the club setting that would really upset me.
I learned so much about the truckers. Being constantly on the road, their life is so isolating. Some of them have never been in love, or have never had an intimate experience with a woman. Some of them don’t know how to interact with women. I do feel like my perspective changed from being more defensive and on guard to being more empathetic and understanding by the end of the experience.
It’s a really interesting place. It’s like looking at a little petri dish and seeing how people from different backgrounds interact with each other in this closed setting.
They really just crave intimacy more than anything. The dancing is a gateway into a conversation and that fulfills something for these people that don’t have anyone to talk to on the road. More than anything, you are giving your time and energy. That is what they want to pay for more than grinding your ass on them.
And not judging them. I remember one of the dancers we hung out with, Daisy, was saying how she feels like her purpose in life is to help people. Maybe, in her way, dancing is how she does that.
The girls there are pretty amazing. And they really accepted us, to an extent.
Totally. The other interesting part is the relationship between the women in the club and how it sort of puts the history of female relationships under a magnifying glass, because here are these women competing for men, their attention, and money. Some of them accepted us, while others were definitely catty toward us and each other. The owner, Ryan, told us stories about girls peeing in each other’s bags in the dressing room, all kinds of crazy stuff. One of the girls there clearly didn’t like me, and for no good reason. But then again, she was probably on drugs. She was talking about how she sometimes dances with her daughter who is a meth addict and ran away with a midget.
People—customers and dancers—were just so open to tell their stories. They see you, and they’re like, “Hey, I tried to commit suicide by cutting half my arm off,” and you’re like, “Wow, let’s just cut to the chase here.” There were a lot of war veterans and ex–drug addicts. Everybody was so open to talk about whatever.
What I’ve taken away from the experience is that going to a strip club is like a therapy session.
Dancing isn’t just about taking your top off; it’s about this role as a whole, of being a therapist, a friend, a listener. I have so much respect for these women now. The dancing is so secondary, and when you see the dancing it’s not that different from being a cheerleader for the Dallas Cowboys, or being any sort of female performer. There’s so much social stigma attached to it, but at the end of the day it isn’t that different.
Yeah, what’s the big difference between jumping around with your tits in a small bra versus being topless? It’s all about the illusion of sex. I think the more we spent time in there, the nudity became so normalized.
When we were dancing onstage it didn’t feel very sexual at all. I tried to dance kind of sexy because I’m from Atlanta, and that’s how I grew up dancing. I realized when we went back and watched the footage, one of the dancers was talking to the DJ and she was like, “What the fuck? Is this Dirty Dancing?” And I realized that’s not how girls in there dance.
There is something very animalistic about the whole experience.
But sometimes being onstage is awful. There would be guys standing on the edge of the stage staring at you, not smiling, not giving you money, and it makes you kind of feel like a piece of shit for a minute, or at least it did for me.
It just creeped me out. There was one night where this guy had his eye on me all night, and I was like, “Oh no, this guy could be a real psycho.”
Yeah, I had people say gross stuff when I was on stage, too. I feel like I had to drink in order to get up there, and it was really hard the first few times. It was really weird to just be like, “I’m going to take my clothes off in front of these big sweaty dudes.” But then, after you do it a few times, it becomes easier.
Watch Natalia and Alexandra’s show about the lives of working ladies, Every Woman, premiering later this month.