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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Strippers Dance Into History Books

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Soviet women once exemplified their endurance by pounding rails with giant hammers and hauling loads twice their weight to feed their families. Now things have changed: This weekend, seven Moscow women demonstrated their mettle by showing they are ready to shimmy to death to earn cash and set a new world record for erotic dancing.

After wriggling and spinning around a metal pole for 29 hours and 57 minutes, winners Alisa Sukhotskaya, 19, and Olga Kusakina, 23, could only mumble a few words before being whisked away by producers and doctors. A second runner-up, whose full name was not released, collapsed from fatigue minutes before the competition ended.

Sukhotskaya and Kusakina each received $5,100 and lucrative contracts promising nearly $4,000 a month to work at the Gryozy, or Dreams, strip club on Dolgorukovskaya Ulitsa, which organized the erotic dance marathon as a prelude to its four-year anniversary next month, a spokeswoman for the club said Sunday.

Five of the seven contenders in the Dance to Survive competition, which began at noon Thursday and ended at 7 p.m the following day, broke the existing record of 19 hours and 45 minutes set by Sri Lankan dancer Bhunhati Ray last August, according to organizers. All five received $1,600 prizes.

Third-place winner Yelena, who left the dance floor after dancing for just under 20 hours, said the task was a difficult one to complete.

"I haven't fully understood [what's happened] yet. I feel a little better now because I can go home to sleep," she said, breathing heavily. "The strain on my spine was very hard. Only massage will help dull the pain, but not for long."

Some of the dancers left the stage with bloody hands and feet after neglecting to put on the mandatory sneakers and protective gloves.

According to competition rules, contestants were allowed one five-minute break per hour and could rest by their poles for no more than 10 seconds at a time.

Although the competition's primary purpose was to serve as a promotional event for the Gryozy club, organizers said they regarded the show as a demonstration of Russian might and fortitude.

"It's an attempt to say that Russians are strong even in such categories as erotic dance," said journalist Viktor Ovsyannikov, who was a competition judge and serves on a committee in charge of registering national records.

"The Guinness Book of Records often does not take note of Russian records," complained Ovsyannikov. "I hope they will view our achievements with greater respect."

Gryozy general director Andrei Yermonin, who watched the show on a monitor in his office, also emphasized the patriotism inherent in the competition.

"We don't need to be a country that takes, we need to be a country that gives," he said in an interview Thursday.

Yermonin, a former producer of the early 1990s erotic television show "Aerotica," lamented that "the country has a large network of strip clubs but no one has heard about Russian striptease."

Yermonin said he was well aware of the competition's financial incentives.

"The girls are setting this record for the big money prize," he said bluntly.

Tickets to the marathon were sold for $200 a piece and, while paying visitors on Thursday numbered about a dozen, Friday's crowd was bigger.

Competition organizers tried to take safety precautions. In addition to the protective gear requirement — which was not always strictly enforced — Gryozy had a brigade of doctors present to monitor the dancers' health. One club guest said that toward the end of the show, when only three dancers were left, organizers including Yermonin urged the contestants to stop and "think about their health," offering to split the prize money among the three. But the dancers refused and continued twirling listlessly around their poles.

According to Yermonin, 200 dancers applied for the competition but only seven finalists — from various Moscow strip clubs, including his — were selected on the basis of looks and "physical characteristics."

However, even in their provocatively short skirts and periodically topless, most of the young women, far from being erotic, looked pale and exhausted after several hours of dancing, notwithstanding the efforts of some second-tier celebrity guests egging them on with patriotic slogans and jokes.

Some attendees, including journalists, were critical of the marathon.

Prominent feminist and writer Maria Arbatova, who was invited to the opening of the show, left the club after half an hour.

"It's a sad sight. These girls are young, many of them are still growing and here their body is deprived of water and undergoes nervous stress," the Izvestia daily quoted Arbatova as saying.

No dancers were taken to the hospital, according to a report in Saturday's Kommersant, which quoted an unnamed doctor as saying the girls' heart rates and blood pressure were normal.

Nonetheless, the daily was critical of the event, derisively comparing it with Sydney Pollack's 1969 film "They Shoot Horses. Don't They?" about a merciless Depression-era dance marathon with a large cash prize. Ironically, "horse" was a word Russian women sometimes called themselves with pride, referring to their ability to toil endlessly and carry on through hardship.

Valentina Pokrovskaya, a former ballet dancer who spent many years in the United States, was not shocked by news of the competition. Accustomed to the rigorous training of the Soviet ballet school, Pokrovskaya said Sunday that if dancers are in good shape, it is possible to survive such a marathon, especially for Russian women.

"Even American men say that Russian women have strong legs and a strong heart," said Pokrovskaya.

Nadezhda Surina contributed to this report.