It’s been a tough year for dancers in the adult industry. In light of the closure of clubs during the pandemic, many dancers have had to scramble to make ends meet, pivoting to platforms like OnlyFans or dancing for tips on IG Live. So when a dancer at Sapphire Las Vegas accused Usher of using counterfeit money with his face on it to tip, dancers across the country rallied behind her.
On her Instagram story, a dancer who goes by @beel0ve posted a photo of the Usher-branded bills. “Ladies, what would you do if you danced all night for Usher and he threw this?” she captioned the photo, elaborating in a follow-up post that the money did not “have a trade-in value whatsoever.” The post was initially picked up by other dancers’ accounts and advocacy organizations before it made its way to gossip Instagram accounts like The Shade Room, with many online sleuths pointing out that Usher himself posted a photo of a clear briefcase filled with the fake money on his Instagram April 3rd, to promote his upcoming Las Vegas residency.
A representative for Usher was unavailable for comment when contacted about the alleged incident. In an email to Rolling Stone, George M. Wilson IV, the director of marketing for Sapphire Las Vegas, denied the story, saying, “apparently someone in his team left some Usher dollars on the floor to promote his Vegas residency. That is where it seems the confusion came in. But real actual cash was used for tips.” Wilson added that the musician was “a true gentleman and a great guest at the club.”
But many dancers who saw the posts were furious. “Dancers face stigma and have to deal with disrespect already,” says Crissa Parker, founder of the Dancers’ Resource, an Instagram account and app that allows dancers to submit ratings and reviews of the clubs where they’re employed. “This adds to that level of disrespect.” Gizelle Marie, a dancer who has previously worked at Sapphire Las Vegas, says the situation is exacerbated by the fact that many clubs have raised their house fees, or the fees dancers are required to pay club proprietors to perform, in light of the pandemic. “It’s just a waste of women’s time and money,” she says.
The story has also gained traction on social media in large part because Usher has built much of his public image as a supporter of exotic dancers, namely with the pro-stripping anthem “I Don’t Mind” and his cameo appearance as himself in the 2019 film Hustlers. There’s a well-established genre of dancers using social media to call out public figures who patronize clubs to boost their image, but fail to tip or compensate the dancers accordingly. “I feel like a lot of celebrities get their aesthetic from sex work and that helps boost their music and things like that. They use it for their gain,” says Gizelle Marie. “But a lot of them don’t pay homage to the actual sex workers themselves.”