SKOWHEGAN  — Tipping strippers during exotic dance shows in Skowhegan got the OK from selectmen last week, but with a caveat — gratuities couldn’t be solicited by a dancer or paid by a patron while the dancer is performing.

That was among the amendments proposed for the town’s Special Amusement Ordinance after some hot discussion by members of the public and business owners alike.

The proposed amendments, along with a proposed Obscenity and Adult Entertainment Ordinance, will go to the voters at Town Meeting beginning at 7 p.m. June 10 at the Skowhegan Opera House.

If voters approve the proposal, the changes, including the required height of the dance platform, hours of entertainment shows and proximity to schools and parks, now will allow dancers to leave the stage after a performance to collect tips from patrons. During performances, the dancers are not allowed to be closer than 10 feet from attendees.

Discussion last week came after eight months of deliberation by the Skowhegan Planning Board, an adviser from Kennebec Valley Council of Governments and appeals by a business owner to make new rules that would be less restrictive for a venue that serves alcohol and presents exotic dancing. Residents said they wanted it to be easier to conduct performances, which generate income for the promoters, along with other businesses that offer lodging and dining services.

Debate centered on shows produced at T&B’s Celebration Center with all-male revues similar to the “Magic Mike” and “Magic Men” shows, in which muscular men dance for a mostly female audience.

Jason Gayne, executive director of the Skowhegan Chamber of Commerce, said he supports less restrictive language in Skowhegan’s Special Amusement Ordinance. Morning Sentinel file photo by Doug Harlow

Jason Gayne, executive director of the Skowhegan Area Chamber of Commerce, said he supports the less restrictive language because of the financial effect patrons of the show who want more direct contact with exotic dancers have on the local economy.

“If we did not change this, one of the concerns is that we could not have these once-a-year events, which the business would not make money on,” Gayne said. “Locally with this event, we benefit by them staying in the local motels and eating in local restaurants. It is usually in the tune of about 3,500 people for that weekend, so not just one business loses but many.”

The existing ordinance, first enacted in March 1999 and amended in 2004 and again last year, also forbids “fondling, mingling or caressing in the establishment between any patron and any dancer with the intent to sexually arouse or excite a person’s sexual desire.”

Skowhegan Town Manager Christine Almand said selectmen felt it was appropriate to remove the tipping prohibition for exotic dancing. Staff file photo

The tipping portion of the ordinance has always been a part of the rule, Town Manager Christine Almand said. Terry Washburn, owner of T&B’s, requested that section be removed so that he could get back to the business of promoting shows.

“With this, person-to-person direct tipping — the patron could tip a dancer,” Almand said of the proposed amendment. “They can’t be dancing any closer than 10 feet of a patron. The ordinance makes it less restrictive.”

Once the dancer stops dancing, he can go into the audience and receive gratuities, she said.

“The selectmen felt that it was appropriate to remove it, based on Terry Washburn’s request,” she said. “From what I understand, he’s been holding a couple of these per year for several years. I think he said 10 years. Exotic dancing. As far as I’m aware, he’s only had male exotic dancers. However, this ordinance is not gender specific.”

Almand said she hasn’t been to any of the shows but has been told that there has been physical contact between dancers and patrons in the audience, which is not allowed under the ordinance.

“I don’t believe that they get naked,” she said, adding that there have been violations of the existing ordinance, and each time the venue has been asked to stop the violations and they have complied.

On the gratuities issue, Washburn told selectmen last week that he would like to see that portion of the ordinance removed. With that in place, he said, he can’t make money because people won’t attend the shows.

“If I can’t do that, the show won’t come here,” he said.

Ordinances elsewhere in Maine offer similar restrictions about location, and some continue to ban tipping exotic dancers. Much of the language of the rules target mostly female dancers, but Almand said Skowhegan’s ordinance is not gender specific.

Terry Washburn, owner of T&B’s Celebration Center and bowling alley in Skowhegan, asked that the tipping provision for exotic dancers in the town’s Special Amusement Ordinance be amended so that he could get back to the business of promoting shows at his establishment. Somerset Community TV 11 image

In the towns of Gray and Gorham, for example, tipping dancers is prohibited: “No patron shall directly pay or give any gratuity to any dancer and no dancer shall solicit any pay or gratuity from any patron.”

Other Maine towns allow nudity or alcoholic beverages but not both.

Maine law does not prevent nude dancing. It limits such performances by requiring that they occur in a place where they cannot be observed from a location outside the performance location.

Joel Greenwood, community planner at the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments who has assisted Skowhegan in finding middle ground on the Special Amusement Ordinance, said there are varying ordinances around the state aimed at regulating “adult entertainment.”

Greenwood said most of the local ordinances are based on a State Planning Office model published in 2005.

“They don’t really usually mention male or female dancers specifically, but more general anatomical areas that are prohibited from display,” he said.

In Waterville, City Manager Mike Roy said no exotic dancing currently is happening in the city, but if there were, tipping dancers would not be a problem.

“No dancing in Waterville to the best of my knowledge and I did check with the police,” Roy said in an email. “IF there were dancing, and if said dancing was in a place with alcohol but said dancing did not expose any forbidden areas, there is no prohibition against tipping.”

T&B’s Celebration Center in Skowhegan. Morning Sentinel file photo by David Leaming

As the ordinance stood in Skowhegan last week before selectmen voted 4-0 to remove the tipping restriction, no tipping was allowed at all, at any time. The idea of possibly having a “tip jar” somewhere on the premises was rejected.

During discussion last week, one woman, April Foss, stood to tell selectmen that the whole point of attending exotic dance shows is the fun of the interaction with the dancers.

“The whole point of a Magic Mike show coming to Skowhegan is the point of tips,” she said. “It is the point of the dancers coming down and the interaction of it; and to stop that, and you don’t make that possible, the only one losing out is the business.”

She said people would not go to the shows and would go to another town to enjoy the shows, and Skowhegan would miss out on the business.

Noting that town officials don’t want to hurt businesses in Skowhegan, board Chairman Paul York took motions to eliminate the tipping portion of the ordinance. The rest of the board agreed with a unanimous vote to allow tipping, but not during the dance itself.

Voters will get the final say June 10.


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