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Town dangles jobs, health insurance to lure strippers off stage

July 21, 1997

HURRICANE, W.Va _ It sounds like a grand plan _ free job training, medical insurance and child care. The catch: no more stripping.

A meeting held Sunday by the Rev. Gerry White and local business allies raised $3,000 from scores of county residents who’d like to see the exotic dancers at Lady Godiva’s ditch their jobs.

Still, dancers were cool to the idea of giving up hundreds of dollars a night for jobs as a receptionist, plumber or electrician.

``Can you imagine me as a plumber?″ said Tiffany, a three-year veteran of West Virginia strip bars, speaking on condition that only her stage name be used. ``Where else am I going to make $280 a night and have so much fun?″

The dancer then examined her inch-long fingernails for chips, straightened her simple white dress and strode, slowly and seductively, toward the narrow, dimly lit stage at Lady Godiva’s.

She wasn’t the only one who didn’t think much of the plan put forward by White, the pastor of Lighthouse Baptist Church, located just down the road from Lady Godiva’s.

``I don’t think it will amount to a hill of beans,″ said Calvin Lavender, owner of the bar.

Strippers bristled at the presumption that they’re doing something wrong.

``I’m a dancer. I don’t see anything wrong with being a dancer,″ said Amanda Rice, 21, another Lady Godiva’s dancer. ``If I wanted another job, I could get another job.″

At Sunday’s meeting, Richard Kiel, the 7-foot-2 hulk who played Jaws in James Bond films, urged the those gathered to reach out to the dancers.

``We can’t blame the girls alone for doing this, it’s the fault of society,″ Kiel said.

The actor, a friend of White’s, described his community activism in California’s Yosemite Valley to crack down on teen-age drug and alcohol abuse. After the meeting, Kiel autographed pictures for children, ending each note with a Bible verse.

The Manpower Inc. employment agency has offered secretarial and computer training and Putnam County Vocational Technical Center free job training for women to become plumbers, electricians or construction workers. White said state officials have promised $18,000 worth of health care and day care to the dancers.

White came up with the idea after the club opened in January, one of 15 Lady Godiva’s in West Virginia. Some local residents fiercely opposed the bar on moral grounds, and because of fears it could reduce property values in the booming middle-class area.

White envisions the jobs plan as a possible model for use in other areas where strip clubs and churchgoers clash.

Lavender says the minister should help people less fortunate than strippers.

``They might start with the people on welfare. A lot (of the dancers) came to me from welfare because they couldn’t support their families,″ Lavender said. ``There are people in a lot worse shape than the girls who work for me.″

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