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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Overpaid, Overexposed and Over Here

At Dolls, Moscow's latest night spot for the very, very rich, the theme is strictly American. It starts at the door, where the entrance fee is in U.S. dollars -- 50 of them.


Nothing so unusual about that, nowadays. But Dolls takes the U.S. motif much further. The club has an American chef, American-style service and an American disc jockey.


It also boasts 25 American strippers, who have been performing at Dolls since it opened last week.


And the owner, too discreet to let his name be published, is thrilled. Gazing at one of his almost naked employees from a security monitor that screens her dressing room, he was positively glowing with pride.


On a paneled stage, raised above the bar and surrounded by multicolored lights, ornate gold columns, and chairs covered in leopard-skin fabric, the dancers entertain a crowd of predominantly Russian businessmen. A list of rules, presented to every customer, explains that for $50 a performer will dance at individual tables, and that "Dancers can accept tips only in garter."


"They can work so hard," the owner said, smiling. "They never get tired."


The strippers expect to make more money in Moscow than back home -- not to mention getting on with their mission, which they see as introducing a new form of topless dancing to Russia.


"I think the customers are really fascinated by us," said Amber Wolf, one of the performers. "Like when you see something new."


Unlike Russian strippers, who perform choreographed shows based on ballet and jazz, the women at Dolls concentrate primarily on taking off their clothes -- improvising as they go.


But the main reason that Dolls decided to invite American performers was for the one-on-one contact with customers.


Contact does not mean sex, as the strippers were quick to emphasize. The club's rules forbid customers to touch dancers, or to make rude or lewd comments while the dancers are performing. The rules also state that "entertainers may not leave the club during their scheduled work" or "ride from the club with any customer."


What "contact" means is providing a personal touch.


"It's nice to see the choreography in a Russian show," explained Locke Pleninger, the club's general manager. "But in the sense of having a girl make eye contact and dance an individual dance just for you, so that it's personal -- this is much more seductive. And the best part is that you can ask a girl to come and sit with you."


Despite the thrill of pioneering a new concept in Russian entertainment, the strippers have found Dolls much more challenging than they had anticipated.


"Being topless here is not as titillating -- excuse the pun -- as it is in American strip shows," said Gina Sullivan, Dolls' director of talent, who also performs. "Customers here have lots of money to spend, and we need to find something more exciting."


While many of the club's strippers want to perform naked, Sullivan said that for the time being the girls would not do a full strip. In the meantime, even conversation with topless Americans is a novel thrill for the clientele.


Although the performers will only spend three weeks here before being replaced by another group, Sullivan plans to introduce Russian language classes in the near future.


On the club's opening night, one stripper said she relied on a customer's Californian bodyguard to translate for her.


"It was fascinating," Marge Easterling said, "We talked about his business and his family. It was really cool."


Although Easterling and Sullivan both said that many of the men had been taken aback by the performers' attempts to make conversation, the women added that in many ways they found working in Russia simpler and more direct than working in the United States. "This is the best here," Sullivan said. "The girls are after one thing, and the men are after one thing. It's a business thing."


And when it comes to business, the strippers are certainly not complaining. After making between $300 and $500 in tips alone on the night the club opened, their only concern is that the U.S. Internal Revenue Service will try to claim taxes from them.


While the entertainers said this was approximately what they made on a typical evening in the United States, they said they believe customers would pay more once the club has been open longer and the men get used to the idea of tipping strippers.


To Sullivan, meanwhile, working in Russia has the potential to be more rewarding than at home, intellectually as well as financially.


"People are so educated in Russia that even in a strip bar I can find an intellectual conversation, should I choose to," she said.


Dolls' owner, however, has very different priorities. "A sexual smile is the best smile in the world," he said. "My aim is to make the whole world smile."


Dressed in a black suit and white turtleneck, he sauntered through the club, fondling the strippers as he triumphantly displayed everything from the toilets to the tanning bed.


"It's better than Las Vegas," he said. "It's better than anything in Europe or America. It's the best club in the world."