Exotic dance defense is her 'niche in life'
By JAMAL THALJI
Published February 12, 2007
First and foremost, she is a dancer. She teaches dance, writes about it, researches it and lectures on it. Judith Lynne Hanna also has degrees in political science and anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley and Columbia University.
All of which made the professor the ideal expert witness to help out a Seattle woman on trial for touching her own naked body - at a strip club.
Or so Hanna thought. She and the stripper's attorney went over all of the questions beforehand.
Except this one, which came up at the trial:
"If you eliminate or wipe out exotic dance," the lawyer asked, "would it affect the other arts?"
The professor was stumped.
"I said yes," Hanna said, "just on the theoretical assumption that art influences each other.
"Then I started digging for actual examples."
That was 1995. She's still digging.
Which is how the matronly, gray-haired woman strippers like to call "Dr. Ruth" got her start defending scantily clad women and their employers from those who want them out of the business of being scantily clad.
Said Hanna: "I found my niche in life."
* * *
Until becoming involved in the Seattle stripper cases, Hanna had studied forms like ballet, tap and African dance.
"I didn't know about table dancing," she said. "But those of us in academia have an intellectual curiosity to find out."
So began years of research and study of exotic dancers and adult establishments. As a defender of exotic dance, she has run the usual media gamut of newspapers, radio and TV.
Now a senior research scholar at the University of Maryland, the 70-year-old travels across the country as an expert witness in defense of exotic dancers.
Which is what brought Hanna to Pasco County.
The county has rounded up dozens of strippers in five raids since 2001. But prosecuting those arrests is proving problematic, especially when Hanna takes the stand for the defense.
All six strippers on whose behalf she testified were acquitted. The sixth not guilty verdict was read Wednesday.
The two dancers who were found guilty did not retain Hanna.
Lawyer Luke Lirot, famed for his defense of adult entertainment, met Hanna a decade ago. He doesn't go to court without her.
"Let's say that the ones we didn't win," he said, "she didn't testify."
* * *
So what is Hanna telling jurors?
Exotic dance is an art form, she said. It has a purpose, a rhythm and a message - albeit an erotic one.
"It communicates through body motion and gestures to the senses using proximity, touch, music and costume," she told jurors at Wednesday's trial, "and it has its own aesthetic standard.
"Exotic dance is an art form in the sense that it is a learned skill. It's creative, it's imaginative."
Her testimony is certainly exotic. Like when she describes a contemporary dance in which "the female rubs her buttocks against the male's groin."
"She's so personable, so professorial," Lirot said. "I don't want to use the word 'homey,' but that's just the term.
"She's not confrontational. She's not trying to sell you a bill of goods like a lot of expert witnesses you come across. When she testifies, it has the ring of truth, it's the emotion in her heart."
As an expert witness, Hanna charges $200 an hour plus expenses. At one Pasco trial in which she testified, she made about $1,000. But she could make the same lecturing, she said, and other experts get a lot more.
She has even declined to testify at times - but would not say what those clubs wanted her to say.
"If it doesn't exist in reality from my research or other people's scholarly research," she said, "then I can't testify."
* * *
Hanna and Lirot share a common bond: a zealous belief in the First Amendment's protection of free speech.
Even if you dance naked for a living.
"She doesn't say exotic dancers should be licensed or abused or scrutinized any differently than someone in the New York City Ballet," Lirot said. "She feels if a dancer chooses to have contact with another human being and it doesn't rise to an illegality and is a way of conveying a message, then that dancer should be able to do so, certainly in a free society that values artistic creativity."
Said Hanna: "I don't believe there's a governmental interest in telling dancers how to move or how to dress. I think it's an infringement on the First Amendment."
What about those offended by what goes on in adult establishments? Hanna retorts with what she finds offensive: "Women are being hassled by all this. I find that offensive.
"It's the governments and the vice squads and the prosecutors. But it's also the people who want to impose their morality on other people."Jamal Thalji can be reached at (727) 869-6236 or
You can't keep track of Pasco's exotic dancers without a scorecard - or a case number. The Pasco County Sheriff's Office has arrested dozens of dancers since 2001 on misdemeanor charges, but in court the results have been mixed. Those results are being tracked by the lawyers who represent the majority of the dancers. They count 60 resolved cases. Last week, two pleaded out, two had the charges dropped and one went to trial and was found not guilty. Here's the latest tally:
30 Agreed to plea bargains.
17 Had charges dropped or dismissed.
5 Entered a pretrial intervention program.
6 Found not guilty by a jury.
1 Found guilty by a judge; adjudication was withheld.
1 Found guilty by a jury and adjudicated guilty.
Source: Defense lawyer Brandon Kolb
[Last modified February 11, 2007, 21:42:26]
[an error occurred while processing this directive]