A former lap dancer revealed all to the Examiner about what job was like last week.

After her story appeared online, Huddersfield strip club Cleopatra's Lounge invited us down to take a look around.

Lauren Ballinger met owner Jason Armitage there - and found out more about what really goes on at a lap dancing club.

I'm due to meet Cleopatra's Lounge manager Jason at 10pm on Wednesday night.

I've never been in a lap dancing club before so I have no idea what to expect.

Driving to Huddersfield town centre, I try to picture what it might be like.

When I interviewed Miss X, she told me lap dancers don't go home with customers.

Even so, I'm expecting the atmosphere at Cleopatra's to be like Amsterdam's Red Light District, where throngs of men window shop for girls dancing in glowing red cabins.

Amsterdam's Red Light District

Amsterdam is a beautiful city but the Red Light District can be an uncomfortable place.

People I know have been to lap dancing clubs, coming back with various stories.

Some love it, but others find it upsetting and degrading to the women.

One man told me he felt like men were exerting power over the women, making them perform for cash - and that made him feel sad for them.

The bar at Cleopatra's

I pull up outside the club and Jason is waiting for me outside with the club bouncer, Alex.

We go inside and the first thing I see is two girls sitting at the stone and black marble bar in skimpy outfits and the highest heels I've ever seen.

There's a grey carpet and black wallpaper patterned in gold gilt. A small stage sits to the left with a chrome pole lit up in pink.

Girls take it in turns to dance on the pole

The bar is opposite the entrance and stretches round to where a set of stairs go down to a curtained off area.

Low tables have bucket seats gathered around them and on the table nearest the pole, other dancers are sitting chatting.

At the back of the club a staircase leads to a cordoned off VIP area with black velvet seating.

And there's another level upstairs where girls give one on one private dances. Some of the booths can be booked for an hour, where girls can share a bottle of champagne with the customer.

Private dance booths at Cleopatra's

There's a pretty relaxed feel in the club. There's certainly no red light vibe in there, despite the barely-dressed girls. Customers buy a drink and take a seat. One man goes downstairs with a girl to the private dance area. It's a strange environment for me - but it doesn't feel oppressive or intimidating.

Jason and I sit at one of the tables. He's been running lap dancing clubs for years, he tells me, starting out in development for another club and eventually working his way up to running Cleopatra's.

The club opened in Folly Hall in 2010 but the business has been so successful it's moved twice - first to Northumberland Street, then to its current premises in Kirkgate in January 2016.

The building we are sitting in used to be the Kirkgate pub, which fell into disrepair after it closed. Jason says the building didn't even have a roof when they bought it. They spent three months renovating it. It's clear they've spent a fortune and have worked very hard to transform the building.

The former Kirkgate pub

Jason's worked in lap dancing clubs across the north. He says he's tried to create something different in Huddersfield.

He said: "In Leeds and Manchester you get a lot of stag dos, but in Huddersfield it's a bit more local. We have a lot of regulars. People come from all over.

"Cleopatra's is more like a lounge than a club. People come here to relax and get away from everything.

"Most clients are 21 to 25, but anyone can come in as long as you're over 18.

Downstairs at Cleopatra's Lounge

"The younger end can be a bit giddy. We get quite a lot of 18th birthdays. We get a lot of couples, groups of women - people that are curious.

"People think it's seedy because of the media, but it's more accepted now. If people have got reservations they can come down. Everyone is welcome."

Club rules

  • Cleopatra's has a dress code - no sportswear, no hats, no gym wear
  • All customers are searched on the way in
  • Entry is £10 which includes a dance card private dance. Cards are bought from the bar and exchanged for dances. At the end of the night girls cash them in
  • If a girl gets too drunk she's sent home
A private dance card at Cleopatra's

  • Girls seen leaving with a customer or meeting one afterwards are dismissed and cannot work there again
  • A boyfriend can't come into the club when their girlfriend is working
  • Girls caught with drugs are dismissed and will not be allowed to work there again
  • Girls must sign a contract which states they understand and will follow these conditions
  • Each private booth has a security camera and no curtain to ensure the dancers' safety

Jason says: "On a weekend we have up to 25 girls and six to eight in during the week. A lot of guys are intimidated by girls in a normal club so they feel more comfortable talking to them here. But if the guy is a bit strange or untoward, the girls can refuse to dance for them.

"It has to be kept a safe environment. If anything goes wrong we will lose our licence and that's our livelihood gone. It's not worth it.

"A lot of students do lap dancing to pay their fees. They can pay them off within two years. Some girls do it for the social life and some do it to support their kids.

"Some girls do it as a full time job. They have taxes to pay like anyone else."

Cleopatra's has tried to create an upmarket feel

What's involved?

  • Girls are self employed and choose when they work

  • Initially girls try it for one night to see if it's a good fit for them and the club

  • New girls are paired with a more experienced dancer who shows them how to lap dance

  • Girls practice when the club is quiet and show each other new tricks and moves

  • Girls take it in turn to dance on the pole. They are called up by a computer programme which announces their name, then they dance for one song

  • Girls can claim tax back on anything they spend on self maintenance, including clothes, shoes, nails and gym membership

Jason says: "All the girls have their own style. They might have a signature move. A girl finds her own routine and then she does that. The whole thing is just a fantasy."

A stripper at Cleopatra's

Bella

Bella, 23, got into lapdancing with a college friend to pay for a holiday when she was 18. Her friend stopped, but Bella was doing well so carried on. She now makes up to £1,000 a night.

I ask her what she'd say to people who believe she's being exploited.

"Who's exploiting who?

"I'm paid to come here and do this. I make my own money.

"Women are judged when they're sexualising themselves. I am OK with showing my body. It's my body to make money with and if that's what I choose to do with it, that's fine.

"I get catcalls in the street anyway - I'd rather profit from it and be in control."

Bella says the club is a sex positive environment where the women don't judge each other. It's clear they are a close knit group who support each other and compliment each other on their routines.

She says: "We are normal people outside work and inside work as well. We have staff nights out, Christmas dos - we go for a meals or drinks.

"We are normal people both in and outside work. It's the same as any job. Sometimes you enjoy it - you're pushing yourself and you get job satisfaction - but sometimes you don't have the best night and you feel a bit bad about it."

Cleopatra's Lounge

Bella says some customers come to talk and for female company. She says one man, who's been a regular customer since she started, buys her Christmas and birthday presents every year - including two pairs of Louboutin designer shoes.

She says some don't understand it's the girls' choice to dance, and believe they are being forced to work there.

She says: "There is still a lot of stigma. Someone who's a sex worker will face a lot of discrimination or stereotyping.

"A lot of people think you are really promiscuous. They think if you do a job like this it's fair game and you don't have a choice.

"But that doesn't entitle them to touch you without your permission. Women are much worse than men. They think they can get away with more because they are the same gender. They ask to touch you and you say no, of course not.

"Women are less likely to make friends with you if they think you're promiscuous but really we don't want your boyfriend.

"We just want his money."

***

Visiting a strip club was an eye opener for me - but more because the business, at Cleopatra's at least, is very strictly regulated - far more than I'd expected.

I believe people should be able to do what they like with their body - but I'd never understood why someone would choose to sell it to make money.

Those who judge people for working in the sex industry feel superiority, or even pity.

They make assumptions about their character - they must be on drugs, or a prostitute, have emotional problems or be unable to get a more 'respectable' job.

But we should accept that maybe they are doing what they want to do.

And it's possible they might just feel good about it.