Sh*t Pole Studios Say: In Solidarity With Nina Reed

I just saw that Nina posted something very brave about the conditions at her studio.

I read it, and I felt kind of ashamed, because the same damn thing was going on at three studios I’ve worked at, and I didn’t have the guts to say anything about it. I realize now that it’s not quite as selfish as I thought to push back in this situations, because when you keep quiet, everyone else that works there suffers too.

Did I tell you guys I got fired from my last teaching job?

I did. And it had nothing to do with my teaching. In fact, I was mostly teaching parties, and each and every one ended with requests for dates and times of my normal classes so they could come back and learn more.

I was having a blast, my students and parties were coming back for more–but strangely, no matter how many photos the girls wanted with me, or requests for my name and teaching schedule I got, or hugs and earnest “thank-yous,” I didn’t receive any tips.

Now, I never expect tips. But, at the other studios I’d worked at, they were actually a part of the cost of a party. Just included in the total package cost. So I was worried I was doing something wrong.

Then I got a look at the party contract. (The owner’s assistant showed it to me to give me information about the party and I kept on readin’).

The Studio That Stole My Tips

Guys, the studio owner was charging a mandatory “instructor tip” on parties the whole time. Funny thing was, though I was busting my ass teaching three or four parties in a row (the balls of my feet would blister) I never saw a dime of my “tips.” There were also explicit instructions not to give the instructor a cash tip, since this was included in the base rate of the package.

So to recap: This studio was charging people an instructor tip, and also banning them from tipping me in cash. Like, just to make sure that I didn’t benefit from my hard work at all, in any way.

I confronted the owner and gave him two conditions on my continued employment: 1. instructor tips should either not be mandatory, or must now be paid in cash and presented directly to me (which is the way it worked at my previous two studios), and 2. I would be paid a 10% tip on the parties I had already worked (even though I’m pretty sure the number he collected on my behalf was closer to 20%).

The owner responded by holding my paycheck hostage and accusing me of “extortion” (lol). He also fired me. It took weeks and threats to file a complaint with the labor department before he finally paid half of what he owed me.

I found out later that he told his assistant–who worked as a bartender/hostess at parties and is an exchange student from China—that it’s against the law in the United States for her to collect tips if he pays her minimum wage. He told her it was her choice to either not be paid and collect tips instead, or make minimum wage (is that $8 an hour now? I lose track), and surrender her cash tips to him.

She chose option B.

I also found out that all my students were being charged a $7 “instructor gratuity” simply for taking my regular classes.

Obviously, this didn’t go to the instructor, but to this day I feel a little sick thinking that my students thought I was ripping them off with surprise fees that 1. weren’t my idea, and 2. were collected in my name though I never received them.

I don’t believe in dragging small business names through the mud (even when they deserve it), but since I feel like clients are getting lied to here as much as teachers, I will happily share the name of the studio with anyone who emails me privately for their own protection. I can also recommend some lovely and honest studios too!

The Studio That Stole the Classes They Paid Me In

Another studio I worked at on a “work study” basis for free classes had me work way more hours than I could possibly redeem for classes (the studio was only open nights, and I had a second job the nights that I wasn’t work-studying). Then, as soon as my work-study time was up, the hours of classes I’d busted my ass for were unceremoniously deleted from our system.

Also, that job was billed as “greeting students at the reception desk and coordinating classes” but turned out to be a straight-up sales job. I was constantly pressured to cold call people who had had parties with us and try to sell them packages, and had to stand on the street for hours aggressively passing out fliers (if I came back with any the owner would yell at me. I resorted to throwing them out if I couldn’t pass out enough).

On the rare occasion that I could take a class, the owner (who taught many of the classes) would book me on top of full classes, so that I was often sharing a pole with her. I didn’t receive any corrections either, not being a “real” student. It was embarrassing and awkward, and not at all worth the hours I put in there.

The Studio That Policed My Blog and Banned Me From Working In the Tri-state Area for a Year After They Laid Me Off

They told me I had to bring in clients and that I should start a blog (which I did, heyo!) but then would confront me with printouts of posts they didn’t like–often nitpicking over a single word. I had to sign a non-compete contract that barred me from teaching pole anywhere for A YEAR after I left the studio (which I fearfully complied with, even after my reason for leaving ended up being them randomly cancelling all my classes without any explanation!) Oh, and re: my classes randomly being cancelled, I found out that they told my students I “went back to school.” I guess they wanted to switch over to a parties only business model, but it would have been nice to hear that from them, not from a former student I ran into at Body and Pole who excitedly asked me what I was getting my Master’s degree in 😐

To this day I’m scared to post any tutorials for simple, basic moves because I’m afraid I’ll get a call from them–since, like Nina’s studio, I was forbidden to ever teach anything I was trained in.

Because the fireman spin is an extremely exclusive move that they probably invented.

Oh and I paid for that “training” out of pocket anyway.

This was very long winded, but I guess I’m just trying to say, Nina, you are not alone. You have my support. This bullshit is bigger than your studio or my studio–it’s a community-wide problem. So bravo on speaking up.

Anybody else got horror stories? I can’t be the only one…

6 Comments

  1. THE HELL YOU SAY. That is all so many kinds if wrong, I’m pissed off for you! I can’t even reply point by point because I’d fucking be here all night. Just. No. So, so mad.

    • I’ve learned to get really, really zen and weigh how much I like doing dancing and teaching against how much bullshit I can put up with. So far, dancing and teaching has won (which says a lot about how much I like doing this!)

      That said… it was very gratifying to write this out and hear somebody else say, “THIS IS WRONG,” so thank you!!!

  2. You have no idea how glad I am to read this post, even as I’m horrified by what you’ve had to put up with! I knew that when I put up my post, I would get some backlash about it not being appropriate to take things like this to Facebook, but it really is one of the few ways left to us to create a public conversation about this industry. My goal was not to create drama, it was for people to see that this kind of treatment is wrong, both morally and legally, and that nothing will change unless we start talking about it.

    As for the studio that stole your tips, you could file a report for unpaid wages with your state’s Department of Labor. The expiration date for filing is two years after the occurrence, and basically the DoL would contact the studio and give them a week to prove that your claim is false; if they can’t do that they have to pay you back. Not sure if you think it’s worth fighting them on it, but it’s an option 🙂

    • That’s awesome information, thank you!! And yeah, I think there’s a difference between general bitching and moaning and calling out systematic abuses. It’s so great to see people having constructive conversations about this on the PDB page, and I’m learning a lot about my rights as a teacher too. All good things 🙂

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