The Extraordinary And Strange Life Of A 4-Foot Stripper
She's under 5ft tall -- 4'3" to be exact -- and she's the dancer you see at clubs when they have signs like "MIDGET STRIPPER NIGHT!" Viva La Muerte the Pint Size Pepper is her stage name and, like any performer performing under the guise of being a one-dimensional act, Pint Size Pepper is way more than a stereotype. She's outrageously self-aware and ridiculously good at what she does. We asked her to tell us about the life and and day-to-day of a small stripper. This is what she said.
First off, how did you become a dancer?
Mostly by way of the burlesque scene and partially by way of a many-years-long desire to be a stripper. Back in college, I got dragged to an amateur night at a local strip club in the most classic scenario you could imagine of two broke college girls trying to earn some extra money. At first, I was told -- and thought -- we were going to watch dudes strip... so I grabbed my wallet. Then it turned into my friend wanting to go to do the amateur night and I'd just tag along. Then it turned into me feverishly practicing to a song in my dorm room while rifling through what little sexy clothing I had to cobble together an outfit.
That was the first time I ever set foot in a strip club, and would be the most exposure I'd have to that particular world for a few more years. In 2007, I was introduced to burlesque. I found myself at a variety show one night at a theater in the city to surprise an old friend I saw in the lineup. The show had several burlesque acts in it and I fell in love with what I saw. I had trouble getting hired as a house dancer in a club, [and] didn't yet know [feature dancing] was even a thing and still wanted to strip and dance. Burlesque had all of that, plus any kind of girl could do it. I saw a super-tall girl, a very curvy girl, and really no kind of women I thought I would see on stage in a show like that.
People expect one thing, which is probably that I'm just going to not do too much. Then they get a full, well-thought-out show with choreography, props, and all the trimmings.
I went up to the producer that night after that show, and two months later found myself performing in my first burlesque show. I did burlesque consistently from 2007 on, and always with the desire for more. I never forgot about the strip clubs, but knew it probably wasn't a world I could really break into because I'm different. In 2011, I was introduced to feature dancing by a friend who had been in the business herself and was now in burlesque like me. She hooked me up with my first gig/agent and I was thrilled because featuring to me was, and still is, the best of both worlds.
The thrill of a strip club where I can do all my burlesque acts and more. I have featured for almost five years now in clubs and have since retired from the traditional burlesque scene to focus solely on my club shows.
What's your customer base like?
It's not always consistent. I would say my crowd that really gets into my shows, and the people who buy lap dances, are younger people in their 20s, both men and women and then older rocker/biker couples.
I do seem to have very female-heavy audiences and fans as well, which is really fun for me. I think the women find it empowering and they enjoy the show aspect of it with the heavy costuming. The men and older crowd like the heavy-metal and classic rock schtick I usually have going on, and [they're] also are the ones with the fantasies about little women. The girls want to talk about your show and costume and the guys want to talk about your music choices and how they want to fuck "someone like you."
What are the reactions from the audience usually like when they see you come out?
Surprise... definitely surprise. And I don't think it's all necessarily like 'Holy shit a midget' so much as it's also often 'Whoa, I didn't think she was going to come out with a full costume and routine.' People expect one thing, which is probably that I'm just going to not do too much and then they get a full, well-thought-out show with choreography, props, and all the trimmings.
Do you ever feel exploited?
Almost never, and I think that has a lot to do with the standard I set for myself very early on when I entered the club industry as a feature dancer. Within a year of beginning, I signed myself up for a big competition where I was up against girls who had been doing this for years -- including the top feature in the industry at the time. I just dove right in, put myself next to the best, and did my shows the way they did.
I will never take a booking when I know they just want me to be the token midget, like dressing up as a leprechaun.
I've always held myself to the same standard as all the other features. So I think establishing early on that I was to be taken as seriously as the rest and that I wasn't riding only on being short in turn led people to exploit me much less than I ever thought. I rarely feel exploited. I know that, yes, I do get booked because of my height, but I use that opportunity to give people the unexpected when it comes to that.
There was a time a booking tried to exploit my size, telling me on the phone before the booking about all these plans they had for my show with people carrying me, wanting me to play a little-girl part. I told them I had several of my own full shows, some of which had won awards, and they just did not care. So I declined the booking. And that's generally my policy. I will never take a booking when I know they just want me to be the token midget, like dressing up as a leprechaun.
If I can't show the full range of my talent and feel like I'm setting myself up to be disrespected, I just don't do it.
What does your average night look like?
If we are comparing me to, say, an average-size feature, I think our nights can be surprisingly the same. I make a similar amount of money, get a similar amount of lap dances and merchandise sales. Very rarely do I feel like I make a significant amount of money over what any other feature showgirl might make.
Do you enjoy what you do?
Absolutely! It satisfies a lot of different parts of me and is far more empowering than it is exploitative for me. It's an outlet from working a 9-to-5 day job for the last 10 years. It's also an outlet for my sexuality, and I consider myself to be a highly sexual person, so this is a healthy and fun way to get that out. I also have always wanted to be an entertainer or dancer of some kind, and this does that in a very cool way. You get to control what kind of shows you do while also traveling the country to places you may not have otherwise gone. I also love being on the go -- so the travel is great.
Let's talk about the exploitation of little people in America
This has been a hot topic for me lately. I've been speaking a lot about how I feel like little people are still one of the most marginalized groups of people out there. It still, to me, seems like it's very OK to make fun of little people or midgets. Very rarely, if ever, do you see someone stand up for little people when the "M" word gets thrown around, or a crude short joke gets made, or when people plain call us creepy.
I once had a grown woman run from me when introduced to me at a show.
Why is it so OK to rip on short people, but it wouldn't be OK if it were making fun of race, sexuality, gender, or disability? I think we are so dehumanized to a level that people don't think we see or hear these insults and are somehow invisible to it all.
This dehumanization manifests itself in a lot of different ways. It can be someone asking something as seemingly innocent to them as 'How do you drive?' or 'Is your boyfriend short like you?' to seeing grown adults saying they are creeped out by midgets, or straight-up leaving rooms if a little person enters. Yes, this has really happened.
I have had people leave or not enter a room I'm in because they're afraid of me. I once had a grown woman run from me when introduced to me at a show. I later asked her why, and she said it was because she had seen the film Leprechaun as a kid. It's so irrational and silly. Would they fear someone, say, 6in shorter than them? Probably not. So why are they afraid of us?
Do you find the roles that little people get in film/TV/clubs empowering?
[They're] largely exploitative, for sure, with very few exceptions. I thought it was cool when a show like Little People, Big World came around and showed the day-to-day lives of little people and really normalized our experience in an important way. We have jobs, families, and homes just like anyone else. Then you have most other things that aren't quite as kind, where we are the butt of some joke and marginalized to a stereotype such as being creepy, drunk, wild, or OK to literally toss or pick up.
Would you recommend exotic dancing to other little people?
Yes and no. You do have to have a thick skin. Don't do it if you can't take the fact that people will leer at you, run from you, say you have weird feet, treat you like a fetish, lean on your head for a photo. Do it if you really want to perform and entertain.
I would love to see more little entertainers on the scene who take pride in creating a show and not just furthering the stereotypes we so often see in the media. We can all rise above that and collectively elevate ourselves as a respected group of entertainers and not just being the token midget at a party.
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To book Pint Size Pepper contact: Centerfold Strips or call 1-877-427-8747