Hanky Panky Dancers Exude Skill, Not Sleaze
EAST VILLAGE — Critical remarks and judgmental looks are some of the responses Kim Lopez gets when she tells others about her nine-to-five.
Just don't call her a stripper.
"It is not what they make it out to be," said the 21-year-old, who is a featured dancer at the East Village nightspot the Hanky Panky Club, where performers dance on the bar and swing from ropes.
"I definitely feel there is a stereotype to this nightlife, this lifestyle or this choice of work, but I completely disagree."
For Lopez, whose dance repertoire ranges from ballet to hip-hop to jazz, the Hanky Panky Club gives her the chance to show off her skills, albeit not on the traditional stage.
She doesn't dance using a pole, though there is a rope to twirl on. And she doesn't work in a thong — a black leotard passes the modesty test.
"I am a professional dancer," she said. "I am trained, and I put on a show."
After midnight in the Hanky Panky Club, Lopez and numerous other dancers take to a platform, calling themselves "glamorous accessories" to features like bottle service, DJs and a tight door policy.
The Hanky Panky Club is located within the concert venue Webster Hall on East 11th Street, and offers a vintage feel with a near-hidden entrance.
But the thing that sets it apart from the myriad other nightlife establishments Downtown trying to cash in on the speakeasy vibe are its modern go-go girls.
"Dance is probably the best form of art, and a lot of people doubt that sometimes," said Lopez, as she readied herself for a night of work with layers of lipstick and costume jewelry.
"If you look at a dancer, they are telling a story with their bodies, and not a lot of people can do that."
About three dancers alternate every 15 minutes throughout the night at the club, which is open Thursday through Saturday from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m.
They take to a specially-built podium on the bar for a performance that seems sensual but not provocative, twirling on a rope as they improvise to the DJ's choice of popular music.
Yuliya Blagova also dances at the club and revels in the opportunity to be "pretty and sparkly and sexy" — all while getting paid.
"I started dancing because my mom decided to put me into dancing," said Blagova, a ballroom dancer who competes internationally.
Lopez, too, spent up to eight hours in dance classes each day when she was growing up.
"I lived in my leotard and my ballet slippers, and my hair was always in a bun," she said.
Along with performing in the club, Blagova also has a job as a certified personal trainer, working with clients who are often dancers themselves.
"I wake up really early, train three or four clients from 9 to 11," she said of her regular routine. "I go home. I sleep. And then I come here."
For Gary Spencer, creative director of the Hanky Panky Club, all his dancers must be professionally trained. Their outfits are also meticulously chosen — even down to the perfume with a citrus scent and notes of amber that he described as warm and inviting.
"You can lose as much energy as you create," Spencer said of how a poor performance atmosphere can suck the life out of a club.
The 30-year veteran in the nightlife business said finding talented and committed dancers is tough.
"If you go into the performance side of it you have to know your stuff," he said, adding that he wanted to create a club that "fulfills all the senses."
The Hanky Panky Club is largely separate from the popular Webster Hall performance venue, but it is owned by the same operators. An alternative entry via a hallway and numerous sets of stairs gives it a sense of secrecy.
As for the dancers, Lopez said the nightlife is rewarding.
"It is crazy for some people, but for us it's the norm, and I get to do what I love," she said.
"And the next day, I get to live my life and go to dance classes."