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Alabama, strippers settle coverage suit

BIRMINGHAM (AP)— The strippers at Sammy's have a few tools of the trade: Thongs, garter belts stuffed with $1 bills, 6-inch heels and spray-on bikinis.

Under a settlement between 18 adult nightclubs and the Alabama attorney general's office, dancers statewide are spritzing their buttocks and breasts with flesh-colored latex to comply with the state's anti-nudity law, one of the most restrictive in the nation.

The head of a group composed of adult clubs, Angelina Spencer, said Wednesday the settlement is similar to agreements and practices in other areas where nude or topless dancing has become a legal issue, although Alabama requires more coverage than other states.

Under Alabama's law regulating exotic dancers, any skin that would normally be covered by a modest bikini must be swathed in an opaque covering. But the law doesn't specify what kind of material must be used, so, in the legal sense, a nylon swimsuit and spray-on latex are virtually the same.

Club operators figured out that a combination of thongs and latex spray — most commonly used as theatrical makeup — would meet the law's restrictions if dancers used the rubber to cover themselves in just the right places.

Reluctant settlement

The state, which already was defending against a lawsuit filed by strip clubs challenging the law, says it reluctantly went along with the clubs rather than having a federal judge follow through on his threat to throw out the entire statute as unconstitutional.

"The choice we were faced with was some covering or no covering," said Keith Miller, the chief deputy attorney general. "We decided it was better to have these coverings than nothing at all."

The latex bikini is virtually invisible to customers at Sammy's, where dancers spin around brass poles and writhe on the stage floor. The women appear to be completely topless, wearing only thongs.

But look closely — not too closely, the signs and bouncers warn — and it's obvious there's a thin, shiny coat of something on certain parts of the dancers' anatomy.

"That's the latex," said Sammy's manager Brad Dobbs. "The girls don't really like it. But Sammy's always complies with the law."

Spencer, executive director of the Association of Club Executives, said the spray-on bikini tops are "pretty boiler plate" in the industry, but she's never heard of a state requiring dancers to cover their buttocks.

Judith Hanna, an anthropologist and dance expert at the University of Maryland, said the idea of dancers covering themselves with latex to create the illusion of bare skin is "preposterous."

"All over Europe people go topless, and in theater and dance you have nudity. There's an element of the Christian right that is fearful of anything sexual," said Hanna, who frequently serves as an expert witness for clubs challenging anti-nudity laws.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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