Monday, August 10, 1998

Michael Hanlon

p. B1.

Lap dancing still hot issue

Bylaw just a bump in the road to performers

Lap dancing is still steaming up bars and strip clubs in and around Toronto. Despite a Toronto bylaw that prohibits physical contact between dancer and customer, it's still possible to sit in a booth with a naked woman for a one-on-one, close-as-pages-in-a-book, in your-lab "dance" session.

A tour of 10 establishments in Toronto, Richmond Hill and Brampton found lab dancing in six of them.

Asked what took place in a dimly lit room near the front entrance of the Brass Rail on Toronto's Yonge St., south of Bloor St., a dancer replied: "You go in there with a girl and give her $20 and she'll rub her naked body all over you."

One song

But isn't it illegal? "It's all right a long as there's no sexual touching," she replied. "Mind you, this doesn't go on forever. You only get one song" -- two or three minutes of attention.

The front room of the Brass Rail is lined with U-shaped booths. In one, a naked young woman could clearly be seen sitting on the lab of a fully clothed man, facing him. At another booth, a naked woman moved away from a man when someone entered the room.

No one is sure if lab dancing ever went away entirely. But there's is no question it's still there. "It's still an issue," said Detective Sergeant Chris Hobson, of the Toronto police force's morality squad.

At least two lab dancing cases are heard every week in Toronto courts, says Amanda Ross, prosecutions officer for the Toronto Licensing Commission, which polices the bylaw on lab dancing.

Some bars that feature strippers also face charges of operating as bawdy houses. Most of the lab dancing takes place in separate, dimly lit chambers. They have names like VIP Room or Champagne Room and sometimes there's an admission charge, usually from $10 to $20.

Most have booths or deep tub chairs that partially shield the occupants -- a male customer and a naked "dancer" -- from the view of bar patrons.

Plainly seen

But it's still possible to see quite plainly -- by peering into a room from the entrance, or walking around in it in a bewildered fashion, as through looking for the washroom -- that touching is taking place.

A Metro Toronto bylaw enacted in 1995 and still in place is quite clear about what may not take place in any of the city's 42 licensed adult entertainment parlours.

"No attendant shall, while providing services as an attendant (in an adult entertainment parlour), touch or have physical contact with any other person in any manner whatsoever involving any part of the person's body," the bylaw says.

The bylaw also bars owners or operators of adult entertainment parlours from knowingly permitting an "attendant" to have physical contact with anyone.

Lab dancing continues despite law

A little over a year after the bylaw on lab dancing was passed, it was amended to include a further restriction.

"No attendant shall provide or perform any services as an attendant in an adult entertainment parlour except while within the plain and unobstructed view of the main stage of any floor on which such services are being provided," it now says.

An d the bylaw also says that owners or operators "shall ensure that no attendant performs any services" out of plain view.

In the 12 months up to June 1 this year, the licensing commission won 26 convictions against owners or operators for permitting physical contact, 15 convictions against owners or operators for allowing services to be performed out of sight, 100 convictions against attendants for physical contact and 20 convictions against attendants for providing services out of view of the main stage.

Similar bylaws

Municipalities close to Toronto, such as Brampton and Richmond Hill, have similar bylaws. Lap dancing isn't as widespread or as blatant as it was three years ago, before the bylaw were passed. Back then, lab dancing or couch dancing were clearly available.

Now its no longer the sure thing it was for the male seeking close contact with a young, generously endowed, obliging female. Nor was there any sign of the foundling and stimulation that took place in the past. The customers and the attendants kept their hands to themselves.

Despite the Brass Rail attendant's offer of a one-song lap dance for $20 -- she wasn't actually offering to perform it herself, merely saying it was available -- attendants usually ask only, "Would you like me to dance for you."

Offering to dance signifies a certain amount of privacy and total nudity up close -- without touching.

Customers who enjoyed actual lab dancing appeared to have both patience and money. One song and one payment, or even two of each, didn't seem to produce the intimacy required for an attendant to drape herself naked over a customer. It required whisperings, urgings and more investment.

And attendants are definitely nervous about onlookers. They disengage frequently. All adult entertainment parlours have stage shows, where dancers remove all but their footwear. Afterward, many become attendants who move about the room, offering "to dance for you."

They are invariably pleasant and if rebuffed, move on with a smile to the next prospect. The customers are mostly men in their late 20s and 30s.

The Star found lab dancing at these adult entertainment parlours:

  • Jilly's, Queen St. E. and Broadview: In a large, corner room, a naked attendant sat on a man's lab, first facing him and then laying back on him face up. "We don't allow that and we have been monitoring it very closely and it has stopped," said a man who gave his name only as Harvey and who said he was the owner of Jilly's. "There is no lab dancing allowed."

  • Brass Rail: Two naked attendants had physical contact with customers in a room next to the bar entrance. Management of the Brass Rail declined comment.

  • Features, Queensway, west of Highway 427: In an upstairs room with an unattended bar, at least three booths were occupied by naked women sitting on the labs of male customers.

    "We are basically no different than anybody else," said the owner of Features, who asked not to be identified. "The girls dictate. If they can get away with it 20 minutes north of here (where he claims bylaws are not enforced), how can I enforce it?"

  • Showgirls, Yorkdale Inn, Dufferin St. ($2 admission charge): In a darkened area, not completely walled off from the adjacent bar, an attendant sat on a customer's lab, her breasts touching his face.

Not here

"We don't do that here," said Bob Lamoureux, manager of the Yorkdale Inn. "We watch it very closely."

  • Fantasia, Yonge St., Richmond Hill ($5 admission charge, $5 parking at night): Fantasia teems with young women, most scantily clad. Fantasia has three private rooms off the bar area. Lap dancing could be seen taking place in two of them on one visit, in only one on another. The owners of Fantasia did not return phone calls.

  • Sword and Shield, Brampton: Private dancing takes place in a large, glass-walled room clearly visible from the stage and other customer seating areas. One naked attendant lay against a customer who was sitting on a couch. Another sat on a customer's lab. But neither was grinding or foundling the customer.

"I'm going to (talk to) the manager right now," said a man who described himself as the establishment's manager. "We do not condone it in any form or manner. It is no benefit to us."

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Created: August 19, 1998
Last modified: August 19, 1998

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