Exotic dancers bare bodies for toy drive

In addition to the friendliness they normally extend to customers, some exotic dancers in San Francisco will be spreading a more traditional kind of holiday cheer this season, as they help put toys into the hands of underprivileged children.

As they have for more than nine years, approximately 700 dancers at 11 clubs citywide will donate approximately $15,000 from their tips to the San Francisco Firefighters’ Toy Program, a union charity that last year provided nearly 20,000 toys to 4,189 families.

If they choose to participate, dancers working at clubs such as Centerfolds, the Garden of Eden and the Hungry I perform one song for charity during their shifts between Thanksgiving and Christmas. They contribute their tips from that song — usually about $20 — to Toys for Tots.

In 1998, the union began recognizing the dancers’ efforts officially, and this year, the dancers’ donations to the program will have reached a total of $100,000, said Joe Carouba, president of BSE Management, which operates the clubs.

So far this year, the dancers have raised a little more than $10,000. “I’m going to guarantee that it’ll be at least $15,000, even if I have to kick in a little myself,” Carouba said Friday.

But the partnership between the dancers and the union has not always been smooth. Last year, Carouba said, some anonymous letters from department members criticized the union for accepting a donation of a van from the dancers, whom they said set a bad example by being objectified.

But the union is standing by its donors, regardless of what they wear to work.

“These artists are no different than the rest of San Francisco. When it comes time to understand that some people can’t have a toy at Christmas, these guys and gals, they understand it,” John Hanley, president of International Association of Firefighters local 798, said Friday. “I have not heard one child complain about it either.”

Debbie, a dancer at the Gold Club who asked to be referred to by her stage name, said many of the dancers have children of their own. “If you saw how hard the girls work and to know how they’re providing for their own child, they want other kids to be provided for as well,” she said.

The charity dances will end Wednesday with a party at the Gold Club, at which patrons can get their pictures taken with dancers in evening gowns, sitting in an overstuffed “Santa” chair on loan from the toy program. The dancers will present a check to the toy program Friday.

“We're grateful to have it,” Hanley said.

amartin@examiner.com

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