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The Naked Truth

Exotic entertainment may not be right for new Whistler A new bylaw and provincial liquor law could change the way we look at public nudity — literally.

Exotic entertainment may not be right for new Whistler

A new bylaw and provincial liquor law could change the way we look at public nudity — literally.

Until recently Whistler has always been a freewheeling and liberal place, largely built from the ground up by squatters and hippies looking for a good time and a good place to build a skier’s Utopia.

On the way to becoming one of the top mountain resorts in the world, the vibe became a little (or a lot) more conservative. What was once hailed as a legendary party town, a kind of mountainside New Orleans, is now being flaunted as a family destination.

This shift in values and social politics was so gradual that few of the older residents even noticed it until it was too late. This paper is regularly flooded with letters from the community every time one of the old traditions or liberalisms comes into conflict with the new ethos.

Some recent examples of this include: the fallout over Dusty’s Last Stand; the persecution of drunken revelers on New Year’s Eve; the clamping down on beer drinking in public parks; the eviction of campers out of Lot 5; the cancellation of the annual Ullr party; and the threatened prosecution of buck naked sunbathers on the infamous nude dock at Lost Lake.

Of all the items on this shortened list of ideological conflicts, the battle over the nude dock was one of the most spirited in recent memory. Getting naked is one of Whistler’s oldest and most treasured traditions, and the mere suggestion that those days could be over prompted one reader to write the following tirade:

"Because of one ‘official complaint’ the city officials, in their infinite wisdom, are going to yet again take something away from the locals to appease the rich… As time has passed the RMOW is surpassing the few, small pleasures that the locals have and cherish to satisfy the one tourist who comes up once a year… The nude dock has existed at Lost Lake for more than 20 years."

Nudity is a part of Whistler, from the Toad Hall poster that defines the spirit of the old Whistler, to the Barely Whistler postcards that hang in every tourist shop. The recent Barely Whistler party attracted hundreds of skin enthusiasts, and every legendary party has involved a little T and A. Dusty’s Last Stand got a little racy. Punk band Blink 182 filmed a music video on the mountain that featured a group of nude female snowboarders. Nudity is almost a staple of gay week festivities, one of Whistler’s biggest draws. At the last Extremely Canadian Pimp and Ho party, Guitar Doug walked around naked for almost the entire evening.

While there is a huge difference between these largely spontaneous exhibitions and strip clubs, a new bylaw that limits where exotic entertainment (i.e. stripping) can take place could limit any kind of nude performance – that includes body painting (a new Whistler tradition), stripping by musicians, or nudity related to any other kind of performance.

The bylaw was initiated in response to "recent inquiries into the possibility of opening a venue to provide exotic entertainment in Whistler Village" that "has raised concern regarding the suitability of such an establishment."

The Boot Ballet, which now hosts exotic entertainment four nights each week (Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday – check your local listings) will be safe from the municipal bylaw – although the format could be affected by the new Guide for Liquor Licensees in British Columbia.

The bylaw, titled Exotic Entertainment and Prohibition Areas, No. 1510, prohibits exotic entertainment in the commercial cores of Whistler Village, Village North, the Blackcomb Benchlands, Creekside and Function Junction.

Exotic entertainment is defined as "a public performance in which the pubic area, genitals or buttocks of the performer, or in the case of a female performer the nipple or aureole, are exposed to the view of another person."

The job of enforcing this bylaw belongs to the local License Inspector, who has the power to suspend any business license if the conditions of the prohibition are not met.

In a way, the bylaw was a long time in coming. Capone’s (a bar that operated in the space currently occupied by Moe Joe’s) closed its doors after a three-month fight with the municipality over its bid to offer exotic entertainment on a nightly basis. Owner Dan Richardson exhausted his resources in the battle and was forced to sell. He blamed the municipality for putting him out of business.

The hastily introduced bylaw that would have made it illegal for C-licensed establishments to host exotic entertainment was eventually shelved once the province announced it would be doing away with license classes C through J in favour of a more streamlined licensing system.

Recently, when another proposal to host exotic entertainment fell in the hands of the municipality, a new bylaw was drafted. "Staff feels the careful planning and deliberate design that has gone into Whistler’s commercial and service cores will be compromised should exotic entertainment venues be permitted in the these areas… Exotic entertainment is at odds with the vision for these areas of Whistler and is therefore not supported as a use in these areas."

They have a point – putting a strip club in the middle of the village at this juncture would be the equivalent of erecting a mud wrestling ring in the middle of Disney World.

However, the current bylaw doesn’t make a distinction between paid and spontaneous exotic entertainment, or take into account paid performances where nudity is artistic license – body painting falls into this category, as would a musician’s decision to get up close and personal.

The idiom that "it’s only art if it’s well hung" seems appropriate in this case – it’s the not-so-subtle difference between Playboy and Penthouse, a strip club and a cabaret, naturalists and exhibitionists, perverts and voyeurs. To determine what side of the line a form of nudity falls under, you have ask what the intention of the exotic performance really is. To titillate? To educate? To express? To entertain?

Exotic entertainment is a definition that will have to be more clearly defined, and that will likely be tested in the future as the old Whistler and new Whistler collide. Adam and Eve aren’t ready to leave the garden to the serpent just yet.

Although The Boot Ballet has survived the Disney-fication of the resort, a new definition in the Terms and Conditions of a Liquor License by the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch are a little more stringent towards exotic entertainment.

The provincial law defines a stripper "as a performer or dancer who strips his or her body of some or all clothing during a performance," and an exotic dancer as "a performer or dancer who does not necessarily strip any or all clothing during a performance." Belly dancers, thank God, are specifically exempted from either definition.

An exotic dancer or stripper now has strict guidelines to follow during a performance which include: no audience participation; no dancing or performing on table tops or other areas beyond the approved areas; and no touching, sharing of food or beverages and no passing of objects between the dancer/sripper and members of the audience. In addition, "The performance must be confined to the stage area. None of it may be performed in the audience area."

It might take some time for provincial and municipal bylaws affecting the public exhibition of one’s birthday suit to catch on, or to be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. Until then however, it might be a good idea to keep your pants on in Whistler’s pubs and bars.