When Genea Sky, 24, showed up to work last Saturday night as a performer at XTC Cabaret, a strip club in Dallas, she expected it to be a night like any other. But instead, when she did an elbow grip on the pole — a trick that involved her holding herself upside down by the elbow, which she says was a standard part of her routine — her grip slipped, and she fell an estimated 15 feet onto the ground.
“All I remember thinking the whole way down is, ‘Oh my God, I hope I don’t hit my head,'” she tells Rolling Stone. “I just didn’t want to die.” She ended up landing straight on her jaw, breaking it in two different places and shattering a number of her teeth. (In fact, when she spoke to Rolling Stone, her jaw was wired shut.) Ever indefatigable, she kept going with her routine, even doing a headstand before collapsing on the ground. “I guess my adrenaline was really high because I didn’t even feel like I was hurt at first,” she says. Security came to collect her and called 911.
Even before Sky had surgery on Monday, footage of the harrowing incident quickly went viral, with Sky earning the moniker of the “bounce-back stripper.” She later took to Instagram to describe the extent of her injuries, tearfully saying, “I am having a hard time, but I’m OK and I’m gonna be OK.” Her friend also set up a GoFundMe campaign for her, requesting donations to cover the expenses of her medical bills because, as an independent contractor, Sky did not have health insurance. The GoFundMe campaign resulting from Sky’s viral video later made her an unexpected symbol for an ongoing discussion about exotic dancers’ labor issues.
“It’s really shone a spotlight on what dancers experience when they get injured,” she says.
Sky’s fall in the video is an extreme example of something that regularly happens in clubs across the country, says Makayla Montoya, a reproductive justice organizer and co-chair of SWOP San Antonio. “Injuries are extremely common, especially falls on and off the stage, since we are basically wearing stilts and are four feet above the ground anyways,” she tells Rolling Stone. Moreover, when dancers are injured, there is often an expectation that they will continue to perform. “Clubs don’t think they are liable and don’t like calling emergency services to help us when something happens since it interferes with business,” Montoya adds. “Usually when we fall and get hurt, they accuse us of being intoxicated, and we have no real way of disapproving that. So we are told to go home and threatened with being fired instead of getting medical care.”
For the most part, exotic dancers are classified as independent contractors, meaning that clubs have no obligation to provide health insurance or workers’ compensation if they are injured on the job. In recent years, dancers have organized to change this business model, and in many cases they have done so successfully. A 2019 California judgment classified dancers as full-time employees rather than freelancers, establishing such basic protections as $12 minimum wage. In states outside California, many dancers are pushing for clubs to revise a business model that means that dancers disproportionately rely on tips as income, and do not receive any full-time benefits such as health care or paid leave. “Clubs in Texas never pay for medical care or time off, since we are contractors and not employees,” says Montoya. “The long term damage that does on our bodies since we are working through injuries is insane.”
In an interview with TMZ, CEO Eric Langan, the head of RCI Hospitality Holdings, which owns XTC Cabaret, said they planned to provide Sky with financial assistance, which Sky confirmed to Rolling Stone. “I’m fortunate enough that my club is actually helping me, which is not the case most of the time,” she says. Langan also said the club had no plans to get rid of the pole where she had her accident, a decision that Sky says she agrees with: “The whole club shouldn’t be changed because of one simple mishap.” (XTC Cabaret did not immediately return Rolling Stone’s request for comment.)
But while Sky says her employer will be helping her out with the aftermath of her injuries, she acknowledges that most people in the industry are not as fortunate, and that the fallout from the viral video of her accident has “given me the opportunity to shed light on the circumstances facing other dancers.” “We get dehumanized so often that people don’t think about this kind of stuff,” she says. That’s amply demonstrated by some people’s reactions to the viral video, which has fed into the stigma surrounding stripping. Many replies to Sky’s viral tweet made light of her injuries and her profession, such as one reply that read “If that jaw still working tho I got a task for you hehe.”
Sky is largely unfazed by such ignorant responses, and says that for the most part, the online response to her plight has been generous and supportive. While she plans to leave the industry after she recovers from her injuries, saying it was not something she planned to do “long term” and she had wanted to quit prior to her accident, if nothing else she’s happy that it has shone a light on “a conversation that needs to be had” about the issues facing dancers on the job.
“We put our bodies through a lot physically, and we undergo a lot of emotional distress. We have families, we have school, we have people we need to take care of,” she says. “We’re like any other worker at any other desk job, and [my injury] has brought attention to that.”