When I went to the Millstream Inn (5310 Dogwood Road, [410] 265-8224, millstreamgirls.com) a few weeks ago, it was not a planned evening out. My kids were with their grandmother and my husband was hanging out with a friend of his who was getting over a breakup. I’d finished covering an event and thought I was on my way home. I called my husband and he told me he and his friend were on their way to Millstream. Because why not?

“Maureen,” Millstream’s director of marketing and events (she asked that we not use her real name because she likes to keep her work and private life separate), says that she too first came to the club with her husband, over 10 years ago.

“By trade I’m a stage manager so my background is in classical theater,” she tells me over the phone. “It’s all entertainment right?”

She liked it so much she decided to stay and work there.

“It’s fun to listen to people who say, ‘oh I don’t do strip clubs’ [and] say ‘well this isn’t really that, you should give it a try,’” she says. “Would you go to a burlesque show? Would you go out to a nice dinner? Well maybe you’d enjoy doing both at the same time. I try to entice people.”

Strip clubs, or gentlemen’s clubs as the people behind Millstream refer to their establishment, can be loaded things. For my husband and I, that night, it was a boozy good time. We chatted with the entertainers, we bought his friend shots, and one dancer warned my husband that if he ever did me wrong, she’d hunt him down and beat him up for me, which was sweet.  

But speaking of them in broader terms, you can’t ignore the weight that our screwed-up society puts on all things sex-related: What do these places say about the way we view the human form? What agency do dancers have? Are they active participants or just things to be consumed?

Or maybe it’s not even that deep.

Maybe some dancers are good at the service that the Millstream offers: making people feel comfortable, becoming a friend or drinking buddy or sexy girlfriend for the night—and that’s why they’re here. Maybe they like the athletics of dancing, of performing intricate tricks on the pole. And maybe, for some, it’s nothing more than a job.

I wasn’t able to ask them myself—for this story, Millstream’s management said that they would rather I not speak to the dancers—but they did allow me to speak with Maureen, who told me that she did a little burlesque dancing herself when she was younger.

She told me that the club has periodic meetings so that entertainers can express ideas and concerns and that the managerial staff, at least for now, is made up completely of women. She also says that what’s done onstage is only a small part of what goes on at the Millstream.

“I think of them as hostess/entertainers because what a lot of them are doing is chatting with people, making sure that they are comfortable, socializing, hanging out with people, sometimes sharing meal or sharing drinks.”

She also says that they make sure that their dancers are as diverse as Baltimore.

“We want to represent the city we’re in . . . our clientele, that’s what they are looking for, they are looking for a little bit of everything,” she says. “We don’t discriminate but beyond that we really try to make sure that we recruit in different areas where we can find ladies of different ages, different skin colors, different body types.”

Another random fact Maureen drops during our chat: the Millstream is a farm-to-table establishment. The club’s owners also own farms in surrounding Maryland counties so the meat served there is grass-fed and fresh (you can also order firewood there). Who knew?

In the following photos shot by Shannon Wallace, we see the a few of the dancers who work at Millstream in their element—as entertainers, as athletes, as people on the job, and as the physical embodiment of desire they become onstage.

Lisa Snowden is Editor-in-Chief and cofounder of Baltimore Beat. Previously, she was an editor at Baltimore City Paper, Baltimore Sun, and The Real News Network. Her work has also appeared in Essence,...

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