Are you a strip club owner whose city doesn't appreciate the performing arts you're bringing to the community? A guy whose spouse is unconvinced that spending several hours watching topless women dance is just as if not more culturally enriching as taking in Swan Lake? A first-year analyst who's about to get canned if you can't explain to HR why you've started to take meetings at/had your calls forwarded to the Hustler Club? Judith Hanna's got your back.
Judith Hanna, a 75-year-old grandmother and anthropology professor, spent an afternoon in 2005 on a beach in Jacksonville, Florida, photographing women’s swimsuited backsides. Hanna, who has spent almost 50 years studying the cultural expression of dance, called the fieldwork “interesting.” Her pictures, meant to demonstrate local enthusiasm for exposed flesh, became evidence in a nightclub’s fight against an ordinance requiring strippers to better cover their derrieres. Since 1995, Hanna, a University of Maryland researcher, has helped clubs repel efforts to tax, regulate or close them, arguing more than 100 times that striptease is just as much an art as ballet. Next year, her lap-dances-are-art argument will be part of an appeal before New York’s highest court. A stripper in heels is like a ballerina en pointe, she says, and her communication of feeling is no different than that of the New York City Ballet -- and no less protected by the First Amendment. “Patrons of gentleman’s clubs aren’t just there to look at nude bodies,” Hanna, who lives in Bethesda, said in a telephone interview. “They want to read into it. It’s not just the eroticism, it’s the beauty of the body, and the fantasy they create.”
Hanna says she has observed at least 1,500 ecdysiastic performances in her defense of the $12 billion U.S. exotic-dance industry, which comprises about 4,000 clubs. When a city or state passes a law to kick the clubs out of town, owners turn to Hanna. She sends clients an average bill of about $3,000, and estimated that she has 45 wins to 21 losses.