“Y’all Got Us In Here Like Fucking Slaves.”
It’s the Monday after Super Bowl LIV in Miami. And with the most famous athletes, musicians, influencers, and wannabes still in town, Quality Control — label home to Cardi B, Migos, and City Girls — hosted their second annual Stripper Bowl.
For the last two years, QC has thrown a post-Super Bowl party where they pair the best strippers from across the country with the biggest celebrities. The first year showed tsunami levels of money falling down on dancers. This year looked no different. Prior to the event, there were videos of legendary running back Edgerrin James showcasing $1M being brought to the venue in anticipation of the big event.
This year’s party took place at The Dome, where infamous Atlanta club and party promoter Alex Gidewon brought his influence to South Beach. I was on the scene to cover the event. My goal: to shadow the strippers working that evening. Little did I know, this meant 15 straight hours at the venue and a front-row seat to Strippergate 2020, the name the event was dubbed after Stripper Bowl dancers — some who flew into Miami on their own dime — took to social media to complain about their payout.
Below is a play-by-play of Stipper what was once a dancer’s dream turned into a very long nightmare.
11:30 pm – Monday, February 3
Although the party started at 10 pm, I figured an arrival closer to midnight would buy some time for everyone to get the party started. Previous nights in Miami showed me that everyone partied hard and late, so I knew it would be a long night and I wanted to be prepared for any and everything that would take place. When I arrived, the line outside the venue was at a standstill. Some girls were still trickling in. During my wait, I watched all different types of women entering — most kept it cozy and casual with leggings, sneakers, headscarves. From the outside, I could hear names being called over the loudspeaker.
Midnight – Tuesday, February 4
The line finally started to move and when I got to the front, I learned something: there was a $100 cover. After I coughed up some cash and entered the space, the first thing I noticed was that there was no music playing. People were in their pre-paid sections talking. I overheard someone say that tables were starting at $10K. I took it upon myself to do a little exploration and walk through the venue to check out the setup.
I stumbled on the bathrooms, aka elevated porta potty trailers. These are the kind of bathrooms you’re thankful for when you’re VIP at a festival, not when you dish out thousands of dollars for an exclusive event. The trailers sat in a covered tent which held a stench between molding fish and sewage. I held my breath and proceeded with caution.
Near the bathroom’s entrance, I noticed a woman setting up a rack and unpacking two suitcases full of boots, pasties, and exotic dancer clothes to be sold. She was set up at the entrance between the venue, the “dressing area,” and the bathrooms, she was in a prime location for demand.
Girls flocked to her rack to ask for sizes and prices. It was obvious that the women there were committed to the night by any means. They were invested in their look and any last-minute changes they had to accrue for just the right outfit was worth the price. I realized the woman, was alone, was overwhelmed at the volume, so I volunteered to help. One of the reasons for my solo adventure to the #QCBowl was to meet dancers and this was a perfect opportunity. I helped move the product and the dancers started asking me about prices. I gave my opinion on what they picked out and I complimented them on their hair and makeup. When I thought an outfit fit them just right and the sale was done, they’d leave with something new in their wardrobe and I would move on to helping the next girl.
Just as we were getting into a groove, security arrived to tell us we were a hazard by standing near the door and moved us to the back. I helped the boutique owner pack up, grabbed a suitcase and wheeled it to the back with the rest of the women.
Behind the bathrooms stood a makeshift “dressing room.” An area without walls, tables or privacy for the women to get dressed. In the midst of the dank, open concrete tiled tent, you could see a sea of dancers changing, applying makeup, and putting finishing touches on their looks.
Since there wasn’t a wall to block customers and attendees from gawking, the dancers were exposed to the public while they got ready. Security attempted to put up a wall — and by “wall” I mean they flipped a tent on its side — but when that failed they moved on to bigger problems.
While dancers got dressed and prepped for the night, I spent a lot of my time by the mini boutique shop which was still attracting a crowd. As more girls flocked to the makeshift store, I asked more questions and got to know the women. I was curious: why did they come? where were they from? how much money were they expecting to make? Similar to a typical night of going out with my own girlfriends, I found camaraderie among them. They joked, played music, gave opinions on outfit selections, twerked, took pictures and got ready for the night.
At last, security finally addressed the crowd and called on those with green wrist bands first. When the dancers arrived at the venue they were given wristbands. At the time, they weren’t given an explanation as to what the bands meant, why they were given different colors, or when the action would begin. But as soon as security began talking, it all became clear. Dancers with green bands were able to go on stage for the main VIP; dancers with blue bands weren’t allowed access.
The girls lined up to enter the club. Since the “dressing room” was in a separate tent, back in the bathroom vicinity, there was a traffic jam entering the venue. As 350 plus dancers dressed in their best outfit were lined up, you could feel the stares. Customers and partygoers gawked and others filmed while the women were shuffled into the club.
For an event that was supposed to start at 10 pm, it took a good five hours for the party to warm up. Most women spent time taking selfies and introducing themselves to customers who were more like partygoers who threw money.
By 3:30 am, celebrities like Diddy, Cardi B, Offset, Quavo, Saweetie, City Girls, Wiz Khalifa, and Gervontae Davis were starting to file in. The energy went up almost immediately. Money was brought out on trays and singles were demanded by the DJ.
The stage was packed and there was hardly any room for the girls to dance. To say the patrons were making it rain would be an understatement. At one point, I saw an athlete throw what looked like more than $30K during one song. I felt like I was walking on a green carpet of dollar bills as I made my way through the venue.
I spent most of the time dancing myself, meeting girls, taking pictures, and enjoying the party. I watched people scheme their way into sections. I saw patrons steal and, with the help of two dancers, call on security to escort a man out for stuffing money into an envelope.
By 5:30 am, the lights came on and customers were told to leave. A few fights broke out and some people are caught with bags of money.
As security shuffles out crowds of attendees, the dancers take their time to admire all of the money in front of them. There was about a 2-inch layer of single dollar bills covering a majority of the floor. The dancers played in the money as if it was a ball pit and posed for photos. As they got their flicks off, dancers were instructed not to touch any of the money and to return to their dressing area to change.
Dancers change, grab their belongings, and speculate about the event. I hear concerns about how much money was actually thrown. Some girls complain about the distinction between wristbands colors and how it might impact how the money would be split. Others questioned if some women were even dancers.
Eventually, the tension mounts and so does noise, aggravation and overall mood. Dancers are tired of standing around and curious as to what’s going on. Security finally addresses the crowd and tells them that they need to check everyone’s bag. The women start to yell: they’re tired, they’ve been waiting, and now they’re being treated like criminals. It felt like a holding cell. No one could leave the area without security checking their bags but security hadn’t come up with a plan or direction for exactly how they were going to check the bags of nearly 400 women.
While talking to the women, I learned that some dancers arrived at 2 pm for call time and now, 16 hours later, they were tired and ready to get their money. Chaos ensues. Fights pop up across the tent. Arguments with security escalate. Some women are suspected to have stolen money and some are searched. Some women are actually innocent and enraged by suspicion and search. Others are found guilty of stealing.
Security finally gains control of the room and informs us that in order for the women to leave and get paid, they have to count the money. To exact quote: “They threw it, now y’all have to count it.” That wasn’t the only stipulation. While counting, all personal items were to be left behind. Only cell phones and things that could be stuffed in bras or pockets could be brought to the main tent and all bags and personal items had to remain in the holding area. We were told dancers from last year’s event didn’t leave until 3 pm, so if they had places to be in the next eight hours, they should call and make arrangements. We weren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Some women made themselves comfortable and plopped down on their own bags to take naps and rest. This is where the viral video of the women sitting on the floor takes place. They’re not in the airport stranded because they didn’t make enough money. They’re in a club exhausted after having worked for 15 plus hours.
I watch as security collects branded “QC” pillows from under sleeping women claiming that it’s stolen property. Some women complain and others oblige.
At this point, I needed some food. After seven hours of partying, I was exhausted. There was one food truck still open and I thought I hit gold but when I arrived they were only selling two things: salmon cakes and cucumber salad. A plate was $20.
While in line, I met a mom who asked to use my phone. Her battery had died and she needed to get her daughter to school. While I called her an Uber, she explained that even though it was a 10-minute walk, she was serious about her mommy duties and her baby needed to get to school. I talked with the women about the crazy food options and pricing, but eventually caved and ordered a plate. After waiting 10 minutes, my number was called but they ran out of cucumber salad and only salmon cakes were now available. The food truck owner called next and yelled: “We only have salmon cakes, nothing else — $20 a plate.”
After eating and getting some fresh air, I felt a little revived and made my way back to the club. As I entered, I observed women counting money in sections. Bills are piled in stacks on the floor and women gather in groups to count.
I picked a group of women, found a seat on the floor and together we counted. They talked about the night’s party: how it was organized, how much money there was and how long it would take for them to get home. Some of them slept while others counted. Some joked and laughed while others argued. Some women huddled together and wrapped themselves in blankets. Some women were woken up out of their sleep and told again if they didn’t count they wouldn’t get paid. My eyes burned but I kept counting. I made a friend who enjoyed counting while I liked organizing the bills. Together we created a mini system and exchanged giggles and grievances until the pile of money disappeared.
All of the money is finally collected and wrapped in bands. The security and events team gather the money and we’re told to wait while they count. People leave for food: Dennys, Burger King, and Quick Trip are popular choices after the food truck disappears. Some women curl up on couches to nap while more arguments are overheard. It’s been five hours since the club closed and no directions have been given.
The women are gathered and told to keep still for a headcount. Security attempts to count the women unsuccessfully, three to four. The excuse: the dancers are moving too much and everyone needs to keep still. Several counts come up with different numbers but on average the estimate is about 350 women. We wait on one side of the club annoyed and frustrated by the lack of communication while all of the money sits at the center of the club’s main stage.
The women decide to surround the stage and get their money. They’re told to line up but order can’t be made. Security claims they don’t know how much money each girl is getting because they can’t do a proper headcount. Without a proper headcount, they can’t evenly distribute the money. One woman overhears that only $400 is being given and the venue explodes. This causes a huge uproar because, during their call time, the women signed a contract, gave identification, and paid a $350 house fee.
There’s chaos. Security openly admits they have no idea what’s going on. They’re told to get everyone organized and wait. The women are done listening. No one in charge knew how much they were giving the women and how they were going to distribute the money. Some stand on couches and others start chanting “Bring our money.” Men with AK47s approach the stage while security tries to gain control.
The dancers are told that they won’t distribute the money until they form a line. Management overseeing the money pile leave without addressing the crowd. (The dancers recognize the people leaving are the people who distributed the money last year which causes more chaos.) Security can’t control the crowd. More chants begin. I hear a few women discuss rushing the stage and taking what’s theirs.
Finally, management reappears and more money comes out. This time, this money is sealed and bagged straight from the bank. Similar to the videos that Edgerrin James shared, the women are told they will each get $1100 and need to have their hands marked in order to receive payout. Those without wristbands get nothing. Management is aggressive and yell for the women to calm down. The police arrive. Money is distributed. Women count their money. Some bands are short.
Women gather their things and prepare to exit the venue. Some sit disheveled, trying to figure out their next move. Others beg for chargers and seats in carpools headed to the airport to catch missed flights. I scan the room and document the last few minutes of what is finally the end of a long night.
After 15 plus hours at Stripper Bowl, I was confused. This wasn’t the story I originally wanted to tell. I wanted to flip the stigma and hypersexualization of black bodies into an empowerment story of black women doing what they love to do and getting paid top dollar to do it. Instead, this experience reinstated a harsh truth: the most disrespected person in America is still the Black woman.
A couple of days later Cardi B responded to Strippergate. She blamed the dancers. “Y’all weren’t entertaining!” Cardi B, said in an Instagram Live session. “You got to shake your ass. Y’all was standing there like [it was] a concert. That’s not how it works ‘cuz you bitches ain’t that cute.”
Cardi B responds to strippers claiming they were ripped off at QC’s Stripper Bowl. pic.twitter.com/eudx42Nf1W
— Two Bees TV (@twobeestv) February 4, 2020
When I heard Cardi B’s response to the event, I was surprised she would judge the women, considering she used to be a dancer herself. During her live, she said she only throws money to songs she knows — which is the role of the DJ — and when she’s having a good time, which is typically based on someone’s mood and how much alcohol they had been drinking. None of this is the responsibility of the dancer.
Ultimately the party problems really boiled down to one simple thing: the women were not valued. In the contracts, the dancers were told not to touch any of the money on the floor to ensure an even payout at the end of the night. In order to dance, they were required to pay a $350 house fee and 30% of the sum to the venue. After the night’s split: each dancer received about $1100.
When you factor in the cost of hair, makeup, travel, and accommodations I’m not sure how many women broke even.
Felicia Kelley is a digital executive and multi-hyphenate creative who has produced content for GENIUS, Bleacher Report, The Huffington Post, VH1, MTV2, and Atlantic Records. She is currently in production for her latest project, TWERK. – stories of black women who dance.
Follow her IG, @nothingshakeswithoutus for similar stories.