The first time Atlanta writer Dana Hazels Seith attempted to interview Blondie for the new Clermont Lounge coffee table book, No Cameras, the legendary dancer threw her out of her Ponce de Leon Avenue dressing room. For good measure, Blondie also tossed Seith on her second and third attempts to talk to her.
“You have to realize, this is Blondie’s turf and I was an outsider,” explains Seith. “That first night I showed up in the dressing room, I’m thinking, ‘Well, the owners have hired me to write this book and here I am, the girls are gonna love me!’ Blondie walks in, gives me one look, sees me in her space and says, ‘Get out!’ When Blondie walks in the door, she’s ready to friggin’ work. Blondie and [fellow veteran Clermont dancer] Barbie both make a lot of money there and I was taking away from their time to make money. They were there to work and so was I, but in a different way. Barbie has two kids and she’s there to work her tail off, literally.”
In the end, snagging an interview with the centerpiece of No Cameras took over a year. “To tell a dancer at the Clermont Lounge, ‘I want to tell your story,’ that requires a lot of trust on their part,” says Seith. “These women have been burned in the past. Bad. By journalists either mocking them or people exploiting them. I was probably too empathetic with the girls. Their lot in life is different than mine. There are things I learned in interviews that I absolutely would not repeat. As a writer, I also had to ask myself, ‘How much of this really needs to be told?’ There were some really tough interviews. Some of the stories I heard were really sad. Some were incredibly funny and others were just gross. I found myself drawing lines with various things. The last thing I wanted to do was exploit or mock them. I just wanted them to be happy with what I wrote.”
Clearly, Seith achieved that. On Wednesday night from 7 to 10 p.m., Seith, along with the book’s photographer Artem Nazarov and the Clermont’s dancers will host a signing of the impressively designed $40 book.
When Seith, a former CNN journalist who had never stepped inside the storied 49-year-old strip club, first signed on for the project three years ago, the Clermont’s owners Tracey Brown and Kathi Martin originally envisioned a wordier, text-driven book. But after Portfolio Center Press agreed to publish the project, the look and feel of the book became bigger and more visual.
“They gave me a photographer to collaborate with and it changed the direction of the book in a great way,” says Seith. “With Artem Nazarov’s photographs and Ryan Wood’s design work, it became this work of art. Quite honestly, I still don’t know how Artem managed to get those amazing photographs inside the club with the lighting the way it is. There’s this beautiful blue hue to many of them.”
There’s entire section in No Cameras dedicated to the club’s dancers and some of their stories will haunt readers. Cassy has been dancing at the Clermont since 1986. Next to a two-page black and white photograph of her prepping her signature move, Cassy reveals: “You know, I’m an older woman and I don’t have the best body in the world, so it helps to have something to do to distract them.”
Says Seith: “Cassy is one of three women I interviewed for the book who have stuck with me, even now, long after I’ve finished writing. They’re braver than I’ll ever be. Cassy realized, ‘I’ve gotta have something.’ Blondie has her Pabst cans, Barbie has her tattoos and Porsha has her Little Red Riding Hood costume. For Cassy, it’s lighting her nipples on fire. She’s doing what she needs to do to earn a living, and she’s a grandmother. For me, that comes down to one word: brave.”
While spending nights at the Clermont conducting interviews and researching No Cameras, Seith says she initially told herself she was just one of the girls. Then the truth set in. “I had different choices available to me in life. That’s the bottom line. Your reality can come down to having an education or a good dad or even a good first boyfriend. It’s easy to judge people when you don’t have the same vantage point. We’re not leading the same lives. But ultimately, I realized I could be a voice for them.”
And what would Seith tell other women who have never stepped inside the nearly 50 year-old Atlanta landmark? “For me, it’s incredible that there’s a place for women of all shapes and ages to go and make a living. Both Margaret Cho and Anthony Bourdain touched on this theme in their interviews for the book, too. As a woman, it’s empowering that a place like the Clermont Lounge still exists.”
The Clermont Lounge will host a No Cameras book signing with Dana Hazels Seith, Artem Nazarov, Blondie and the other Clermont dancers Wednesday night from 7 to 10 p.m.