Cinthia Daggs dreams of watching Saturday morning cartoons with her two children, however she kisses them goodbye every Thursday so she can commence her double life.
In front of a cloudy mirror in a dimly lit dressing room, Daggs, 32 of Bellefonte, begins her ritual of selling a fantasy for the men waiting outside the door. A cold, metal pole waits for Daggs to grasp and transform into her stage alter ego. Being a dancer all her life, she loves and respects the “power,” “art” and “body” that comes with being an exotic dancer.
Daggs has two different stage personas: Nassau and Sway. She says Sway is more “aggressive” and “dominant,” while Nassau is more “quirky” and “sweet.” She chooses which persona based on the location of the strip club and its demographic to make the most profit.
“You have to learn a guy in five minutes to figure out what they want in competition with 20 other women,” Daggs says. “You gotta be quick about it.”
Sway is the easier of the two persons for Daggs to use because its closer to her own personality, unlike Nassau.
“It’s easier to play myself than someone I’m not,” Daggs says. “You’re trying to curb who you are.”
She says her clientele often blur the lines of paid exotic dance and objectification, leaving Daggs to face those she views as “sad” nightly. She also says clientele don’t realise the attraction isn’t mutual and will try to pursue a romantic relationship. Some men have gone as far as following her home and waiting at her car.
“I’ve had it bite me in the butt a few times,” Daggs says. “They’ll try and track you down and then you have to tell them ‘No,’ and these are people who truly thought they were trying to help you.”
According to Daggs, some clients will try to “save” a dancer.
“They want to try and save you because they think this is a horrible life—and some are correct—it can be kind of nasty but it’s not as terrifying as it seems or we wouldn’t be here,” Daggs says.
However, other men can be degrading to the dancers, according to Daggs.
“Ya’ll make the demand so we supply,” Daggs says. “We’re there because you give it, so why judge it.”
Her profession has often led to problems in her actual romantic relationships which she says is specifically related to the “stigma” behind exotic dancing.
“[The stigma is] that you are low, gross; you’re a prostitute,” Daggs says. “You’re dirty. You have low morals. That you’re easy...That you couldn’t possibly want to do this. There’s a lot.”
According to Daggs, most men aren’t comfortable with being in a relationship with a woman who does exotic dance professionally because of the nature of the interaction with their clientele, even though it’s a “job.” She refers to those who accept their partner’s profession as exotic dancers as “unicorns.”
She is currently in a relationship, but her partner—who lives in another state—is unaware of what she does. He believes she is a bartender.
Daggs often uses her profession to sometimes escape from “being a product of torture” all her life.
“It helps because dance has always been something that I could do to make me not have to think,” Daggs says. “It’s just pure emotion.”
Originally born in Puerto Rico, Daggs was put in the foster care system after being removed from her two heroin-addicted parents. She continued to study dance—ballroom being her favorite—as she moved from state to state. She says dancing at this time was what gave her a sense of “quiet” and described each home she lived in as “hell.” She says never experienced a true sense of family until she came to Bellefonte in rural Centre County, Pa. as a young adult. Her adopted mother is the deacon of a local church while her adopted father is an E.M.T.
Those who attend Daggs and her family’s church are unaware of her profession. In April 2018, Janelle Bullock, a member of the same church and a friend of the family, wasn’t aware of Daggs being an exotic dancer until she spoke about it in one of Bullock’s classes at Penn State. Bullocks says the family never said anything about it, but it’s “not her place to judge.”
“That’s just her path,” Bullock says, a sophomore studying broadcast journalism.
Bullock says there are different “personalities” in the church and isn’t sure how each individual member would react if they found out. She says she thinks it’s best for Daggs to keep her profession a secret because “people talk.”
“People are kind of unpredictable,” Bullock says.
While in school, Daggs excelled academically and says her teachers “understood her brain” and never tried to “fix” her.
“I was very much alone and knew one thing I could rise at was academics,” Daggs says. “I had always been good at them, and I had a tenacity to persevere in at least something”
Her love of school eventually led her to earn two undergraduates degrees in biology and forensic science from the Pennsylvania State University. She was hoping to one day become a doctor. She wanted to “make people feel better.”
During both degrees, she became pregnant three times with one ending in miscarriage. She was allowed to bring her infants into the classroom occasionally, however classmates often remarked she smelled of breastmilk as she walked in, according to Daggs.
Daggs said she never wanted children and planned to give her first daughter up for adoption.
“Why bring something into this world when you’re already fucked up enough,” Daggs says. “I never wanted to pass off what I had to my kids ‘cause I’m not all put together.”
She says she made the mistake of holding her when she was born.
Her now ex-husband was having a hard adjusting to normal life after being discharged from the Marines, and both were struggling financially, especially with Daggs being a student.
Daggs became an exotic dancer at 22 years old to “be a mom during a week” and has continued to dance to financially support her and her daughters.
She says she has to be present in her daughter’s lives, since she missed a sense of family during a majority of her life. However, she does miss being with her daughters on the weekends but sees it as a sacrifice to fully provide for her family.
She says a parent gets to see their child grow and mature, but not much of what happens inside the classroom “unless you completely PTA immerse yourself,” which Daggs says she has no interest in doing. However, Daggs speaks highly of her daughters’ academic achievements, referencing an essay one just wrote.
“It’s eloquent,” Daggs says. “It’s put together. It’s a little shaky on the words, but she caught the gist of it.”
Despite the “absence,” Daggs says her daughters are growing and preserving.
“They go one without you, whether you want them to or not,” Daggs says. “At least I did something right.”
Daggs wakes up at approximately 6 a.m. most weekdays to get her children ready for school, serving them breakfast and styling their hair. She does laundry and other household chores as she waits for them to come home at around 3 p.m. As they arrive, Daggs greets them with hugs and kisses and hangs their daily report on the refrigerator. By 6 p.m., she has a full, homemade dinner prepared alongside her sister for her daughters and two nephews. By 8 p.m., all the children are in bed as Daggs reads them a bedtime story. She and her daughters recite a nightly poem—which she has tattooed to her body—to each other before she kisses them goodnight.
“To the moon and back
From one scarred hand to the other
My cup runneth over”
“It [the poem] means I can never love you enough,” Daggs says.
Currently, her two daughters, who are both enrolled as students at Young Scholars of Central PA Charter School, are unaware of their mother’s job on the weekend while they stay with their father. They think she is a waitress.
She plans on telling them she is an exotic dancer someday, but says doesn’t know how to tell them yet. Though, she says she’s rather “blunt.” She expects her two daughters to understand and to see the “beauty” in her profession, but doesn’t want them to be “proud” of it.
“Is it something I would want them to be proud of? No,” Daggs says. “Not mommy danced to push ourselves through our lives.”
Her oldest daughter says she misses her on weekends, but is grateful for the opportunities she has been granted with the money her mother makes.
“She gives these cool allowances to paint, to get time with her” the 9-year-old says. “I get to see her, have fun with her, know her.”
Daggs says she fully supports her daughters pursuing further education after high school and wants them to commit to something they “love.”
“If you don’t find something that you love, then don’t do it,” Daggs says.
Her oldest daughter is an avid painter, and Daggs fully supports her going to art school one day.
“Have at it,” Daggs says.
Daggs says it makes her laugh when she sees “40-year-old strippers” and says she plans to retire from it someday. However, she currently doesn’t have a reason to stop.
“Nobody’s really given me one,” Daggs says.