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Layer of latex a stripper's safeguard
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THE strippers at US nightclub Sammy's have a few tools of the trade: thongs, garter belts stuffed with dollar bills, 15cm 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-coloured latex to comply with the state's anti-nudity law, one of the most restrictive in the US.

The head of a group of adult  clubs, Angelina Spencer, says the settlement is similar to agreements 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 legally a nylon swimsuit and spray-on latex are 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.

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 fulfil his threat to throw out the entire statute as unconstitutional.

``The choice we were faced with was some covering or no covering,'' Chief Deputy Attorney-General Keith Miller said. ``We decided it was better to have these coverings than nothing at all.''

The latex bikini is all but 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 you see a thin, shiny coat of something on parts of the dancers' anatomy.

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

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

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 was ``preposterous''.

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