(Note: This story appears in the January 2022 issue of ED Magazine)
Rob Aiken is an integral part of the stage crew for the Annual EDI contests and ED’s Awards Show, and with over 20 years of industry, he fully understand the importance of dance pole cleaning and maintenance.
If there were such a thing as “dance-pole wizard” or “stage ninja,” then Rob Aiken would have earned both titles. Though he’s a twenty-five-year club industry veteran, Aiken’s “stage” career began way before he first roadied for a feature entertainer. But it’s hard to imagine that when Aiken was working as stage crew for high school productions of Fiddler on the Roof and Jesus Christ Superstar that he’d one day be heading the stage crew for the Annual EDI contests and an integral part of the ED Awards Show production.
“My goal is to make sure every performer worries about performance and not the prop details,” says Aiken. “Let me run around as DJ Platypus from Tootsies says, ‘With torn costume in one hand and a flaming prop in the other.’”
Though he is known for the speed and stealth with which he handles stage shows, nothing is more important to Aiken than the safety of the entertainers performing. And a major factor in stage safety is the proper cleaning of the dance pole. After all, proper cleaning can literally be the difference between a safely-executed pole trick and a serious injury.
“When entertainers are using the pole as part of their routine or set, being able to firmly grip the pole is the basis of anything done with it,” says Aiken. “As gross as it may seem for some to think about, our skin leaves behind flakes and oil on everything we touch. In your average establishment, a new human is making contact and transfering to the poles every 6 to 7.5 minutes. Add to that any skincare, makeup, perfume, sweat, and (as is the case in most nude pole clubs) bodily fluids. The transfer of any one of these things makes for a poor grip and therefore increases the chances of maneuvers to fail and the potential for a serious slip-and-fall injury. Injuries resulting from poor pole cleaning and maintenance could, in some cases, lead to negligence lawsuits against your establishment.”
Here, Aiken utilizes two decades of club experience to provide more critical advice on proper dance pole cleaning.
ED: What are your specific tips for cleaning poles properly? What chemicals should you use and what should be avoided?
AIKEN: A clean bar towel or washcloth dedicated to that purpose; microfiber material is prefered. With most poles you will want to use some cleaning liquid that will remove oils and sanitize at the same time and not leave any type of residue. Commonly it is rubbing alcohol. With titanium, gold, chrome or stainless steel, 70 percent rubbing alcohol is fine. With brass it should be 91 percent.
Rubber and sheathed poles should be cleaned and sanitized according to manufacturer instructions. I have very little experience personally with these types, but am aware glass cleaners should not be used on the clear sheathed poles as it can permanently cloud the material.
ED: Does brass require a different type of cleaning than other materials?
AIKEN: With brass, you either have a shiny pole for looks or somewhat tarnished for looks because it is the most porous of the metals. However, I reached out to some pole friends and they did indicate that it is still okay to polish your brass with Brasso, but the polishing needs to be done outside of business hours and (after it sets for a few hours) needs to be thoroughly cleaned with the 91 percent rubbing alcohol. That way you still have some shine and the entertainers have decent grip.
“The biggest mistake is only cleaning the bottom half of the pole. Other mistakes are not wrapping cleaning cloth around the pole for a good cleaning/stroking motion, diluting the cleaning fluid, only cleaning the pole at open, or using dirty bar towels that were used for other purposes before being cleaned for pole use.” — Rob Aiken
ED: What are the common mistakes people make when it comes to pole cleaning?
AIKEN: The biggest mistake is only cleaning the bottom half of the pole. Other mistakes are not wrapping cleaning cloth around the pole for a good cleaning/stroking motion, diluting the cleaning fluid, only cleaning the pole at open, or using dirty bar towels that were used for other purposes before being cleaned for pole use.
ED: How do you recommend clubs clean their poles during normal operating hours?
AIKEN: Have the rubbing alcohol in a small, refillable spray bottle. The most thorough way to clean is to start at the top and stroke your way down to the base. Entertainers in the club can include this in their set and make eye contact at various points while “stroking” down the pole. So as not to break the attention of the customer during the cleaning, have the bottle and pole cloth nearby where they can get to both easily, but where the materials aren’t in the prominent sightline of the customer.
ED: How did you originally get your start in stage production?
AIKEN: I started in theater in high school (class of ‘89) and had some speaking and chorus roles, but was more comfortable in stage crew positions behind the scenes. I did on-stage performances in Fiddler on the Roof and Jesus Christ Superstar and stage crewed Oliver in college where I studied Broadcast Communications.
Later, I worked as an independent contractor for local concerts and event productions around Michigan. We did everything from Off Broadway Shows like Grease and Phantom, Icecapades and Disney on Ice, Garth Brooks and Reba McEntire to Kenny G, Phil Collins, Boyz 2 Men, Metallica, White Zombie, Pantera, Rammstein, to WCW events, to Lollapalooza to Ozzfest.
ED: How did that experience lead you to the strip club industry?
AIKEN: I worked in AM Radio at a Christian station (believe it or not!) and then an adult contemporary station. I came out of radio in 1995 to work as a dayshift DJ at Heartbeats in Battle Creek, MI.
Eventually I got married, and my ex-wife became a feature entertainer so I roadied for a while and that’s where I learned the featuring ropes from other roadies that toured with features, such as Lexi Lamour. We would always talk trade and help each other with contest performances.
After a stint with the Continental Theatrical Agency, I returned to DJ at Country Palace in Kalamazoo, Michigan until 2008 (Country Palace was sold to the current owners of what is now Angels Gentlemen’s Club).
ED: In your two-plus decades in the industry, what is the strangest pole-related occurrence you’ve ever witnessed?
AIKEN: Most of us have seen the video of the performer unfortunately dropping a story and a half. But the most heart-stopping thing I’ve witnessed personally, was the first time I saw Sassy Cassee [a “little person” — Ed.] on the pole. It was at Hustler Club Vegas during one of the after-parties for EXPO several years ago, where they have an almost three-story pole. She climbed two thirds of the way up and did a “death drop.” Without proper cleaning and maintenance, she would not have had the grip to stop herself. But because she did, it was an amazing, attention-getting maneuver.
ED: After all this time, what keeps you motivated to continue leading the stage crews of industry contests like the EDI, as well as stints with Nudes-a-Poppin and the Stripper Olympics?
AIKEN: I do this because I believe in the industry as (EDI Producers) Dave Manack and Lexi Lamour do, and not what it is stigmatized with. When I started, some competitors were sabotaging each other’s props and costumes. Now everyone is eager to jump in and help each other succeed. That’s why I’m happy to be a part of it.