On the east side of West Jolly Road in Lansing, nothing in particular makes the building stand out during the day. Only the dim neon lights fading in and out all around the perimeter make it stand out on a long stretch of fast food restaurants and gas stations at night.
But if one does pull into the parking lot tucked away from the road and venture into Deja Vu Showgirls in Lansing, it’s possible to find what security guard Cole Shadwell said is something more than what most people expect: a family.
“This is a family,” he said. “Everybody in here takes care of one another. ... This place is so much more than women just taking their clothes off. ... Everybody has each other’s backs.”
But it’s a family that has struggled against something more than the traditional infighting a tight-knit bunch like this might deal with. The employees at Deja Vu Showgirls Lansing — security, boutique workers and showgirls — have weathered the strain of what they consider to be a stigma around their club and the entertainment they provide.
Shadwell said that the stigma is built around the perception of the experience, not the promotion of sex or stripping.
“Sex isn’t the problem,” he said. “And selling sexual encounters ... whether it’s the actual encounter or just the interaction, there’s nothing wrong with it.”
“They all think that the interaction is negative, that it’s bad, it’s dirty, it’s grimy, you know, but it’s not. It couldn’t be farther from it,” he said.
When asked about the biggest problem within the sexual entertainment industry, boutique worker Ron Lezinski echoed Shadwell’s point.
“The only problem (in the industry) that needs to be addressed is the view of it,” he said. "There’s nothing wrong with this. Absolutely not a damn thing wrong.
Lezinski said he considers erotic dancing to be just as much a form of self-fulfillment for performers as it is a way to make money.
“It’s (psychologically) empowering,” he said. “Men come here and give them money because they’re taking their clothes off and dancing a little bit. I mean, they’ll go out and they’ll work for hours and hours and hours and come here and drop $300 for a half an hour lap dance.”
For Shadwell, making money hasn’t been the most compelling part of said empowerment, he said, but it’s the feeling of conquered fears that has impressed him.
“Every Thursday, we got girls that have never done anything like this come in,” he said. “And every single one of them, for the most part, are shy, are nervous, are incredibly scared to get up there and do that for the first time. But after they get up there and they do that for the first time, they have a whole new level of confidence.”
“(The showgirls) almost have this Valkyrie-like glow to them after they’re done,” Lezinski said.
Rose, an entertainer at Deja Vu, said that disrespect of the profession distorts the everyday view of the showgirls.
“Strippers have a bad name, a bad rap, and these girls are normal girls,” she said. “You’ll see them out and about. They have daytime jobs, they have kids. ... They’re normal people.”
Another dancer, Winter, said that performers and prostitutes are confused far too often.
"Stripping is not what most people think it is,” she said. “There’s a difference between stripping and prostitution. Girls who come here and dance for money are dancers, and then girls who sell other things are not dancers anymore.”
Winter added that communication is a good place to start in ending the stigma and confusion.
“I don’t know how the stigma could change because that stigma has been built over such a long period of time,” she said. “I think maybe more people should ... talk to us. ... Don’t be afraid to ask questions.”
Rose said she advocates for a more hands-on approach.
“Come in and try it once,” she said.
Displayed throughout the establishment is the slogan, "Sex is our business and we aim to please." Lezinski said that slogan sums up the experience for him.
"(It's) exactly as it sounds," he said. "Because, honey, I'm not here to judge. I’m just here to watch.”