By 10 p.m. last Thursday night, Nina Ross was dancing at the West Hollywood strip club Crazy Girls, where she made $600. She, in fact, didn’t go to bed until some time after 5 a.m. Less than five hours later, though — 9:45 a.m. to be exact — she was up to write copy for the trio of weed Instagram pages she manages, film three videos, mentor strippers who pay her to teach them how to pull more men into the VIP section and talk to the owner of Crazy Girls about changes she wants to implement at the club.
To some, the 25-year-old is a dancer and model; to others she’s a cannabis connoisseur, educator and social media manager. But in reality, she couldn’t be one without being the others. With a blunt in her hand and false lashes over her perfectly shadowed brown eyes, Ross has made a business of being blazed and beautiful — to the point where she’s ready to quit dancing for good.
If you learned to roll a joint on YouTube, Ross is probably the one who taught you. At one point, her YouTube channel dedicated to the craft, Ninas420life, had millions of views. “I was gathering a presence before I started dancing in that market. Hip hop kind of goes side by side with it. When you’re in a hip-hop club and cannabis is allowed, people actually start to come to you,” she says. “Everyone knows that if you come to the club and spend enough money on me, I’ll smoke you out and that’s part of the fun. They’re like, ‘Oh my god, we can smoke with Nina.’ That’s a fan thing. People love to watch me smoke on YouTube and on Instagram; so when it’s in person, it’s that much more special. It’s like a meet-and-greet — only I’m dancing for you and naked.”
At the moment, Nina also runs the social accounts for numerous L.A. cannabis shops. “I discovered that it’s the same demographic — primarily men. While you can’t smoke at a lot of clubs, I can still advertise it on Instagram, making videos of smoking and dancing. It’s a double whammy when you put it together in a video. If you look up the hashtags ‘ganjagirls’ and things like that, there’s just millions of posts of hot girls smoking.”
Even before Ross began stripping, she’d been considering it for a while — tending bar at a strip club in South Carolina when she was 19, etc. A few years later, though, she was going through a divorce and had moved back to L.A., where her family lives. Her dad helped her get a job as a cocktail waitress, a position she says she wasn’t very good at because she could barely carry a tray. And so, she was also working at a dispensary, too. “Even if I was making $2,800 a month, that isn’t enough to sustain yourself in L.A.” She was sending out her resume as well — she has a degree in business from the Florida Institute of Technology — but hearing nothing back.
Soon enough, she’d maxed out five credit cards just paying rent and covering bills. She told herself that if by Christmas she didn’t have enough money to cover January’s rent, she was going to dance. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy, and a few days before Christmas, she was auditioning at a strip club in Santa Monica. “I was wearing these bright red boy shorts, Hooters-type material,” she remembers. “Imagine Hooters shorts in red — with black fishnets underneath, six-inch Pleasers and a black bra that wasn’t even padded. And a side ponytail.” (Booty shorts and six-inch heels are a dead giveaway of a newbie.) She wasn’t hired. But a few days later, she tried Sam’s Hofbrau in Downtown L.A. It was Christmas Eve, the club didn’t have many dancers working. Nina walked out with $500. The next night she worked, she made $600.
That was three and a half years ago. Since she was already somewhat of an internet cannabis personality, stripping and weed became completely symbiotic just as soon as she was open about her new job. That took about four months —- her father came into the club one night and stumbled upon her there. Though it was obviously an awkward encounter, she ultimately had his support. “He said, ‘I’ve been going to that club for 20 years, it’s safe.’”
For the last few years, Crazy Girls, a famous Hollywood hip hop club, has been her home base. But now, Ross is ready to retire from the business. She announced the decision officially on Instagram on November 28th:
“I came to realize that I was making more money at home with all of my other businesses than at the club,” she says. “I was a lot thirstier three years ago, and now I can’t keep up. I need to be able to stay focused on my other businesses. Stripping has never been a sustainable career, so as soon as you start finding your value outside the club, you have to take a leap of faith and go before you fall into the same trap of chasing quick money all over again.”
Part of her ability to retire from stripping grew from her presence on WorldStarHipHop, a popular video aggregate site that shares videos of Ross twerking with their 21.3 million Instagram followers. With that kind of popularity, fellow dancers often look to Ross for advice, a lifeline she’s figured out how to monetize. She offers some of what she knows for free on her YouTube channel — for example, “3 Beginner Tips That’ll Make You A Better Dancer,” “What She Keeps in Her Work Bag” and a series of twerk tutorials. But if you want her best stripping advice, you’re gonna have to pay for it.
Want to learn if becoming a stripper is right for you? She has a $20 recording for that. Want comprehensive training on becoming the top-earning dancer at your club? She books five days of hour-long video conference calls for that. You can even pay her to do your makeup and take your glamour shots.
Somewhat similarly, she recently began managing Crazy Girls’ social media accounts and runs its new hire orientation, something she’ll continue to do despite the fact that she’s hanging up her Pleasers. In this regard, Crazy Girls is somewhat of a unique club. It relies heavily on social media to build an audience. Dancers aren’t allowed to keep their job a secret and must post on their Instagram accounts every time they work. You’re also much more likely to get hired if you have a large social media following.
Still, Ross doesn’t necessarily recommend a social media presence for all dancers. “I don’t want girls to think, ‘Oh, she’s doing it this way and is successful so I’m gonna do it and be successful too.’ I mean, you can find success if you replicate someone’s methods, but it’s not always for you. If remaining anonymous is important to you, you can’t even chance it. You can’t even have a private page. Anyone could make a fake profile and request to follow you, and then boom, you’re not anonymous anymore. It just depends on what you want to do. I’m here in L.A. to be influential.”
To that end, she adds, “2019 is the year. I feel it in my bones. My body can’t take [dancing] anymore, and my brain is outgrowing the club rapidly. Last month I was a dancer; this month I’m taking pictures of the dancers. Next year, I want to do so many things. I want to be verified on Instagram. I want to be financially independent from the club. I want to complete my stripper training library.” Additionally, she envisions holding live cannabis events and possibly developing cannabis products of her own.
She also connects her departure from dancing with California’s new laws regarding independent contractors. For years, dancers haven’t been considered employees at the club. They’ve been able to set their own hours, but have had to pay the clubs fees, work without the guarantee of pay and have no means of organizing as workers. However, with these new laws, clubs will be required to identify dancers as employees and pay them an hourly wage. Dancers may now have to adhere to a set schedule, but they’ll be able to unionize and enforce other worker protections as well.
“A lot of girls are afraid and they’re uneducated [about the change],” Ross explains. “But it’s actually in our best interest that we become employees because then we can get unemployment, be eligible for benefits and form unions, which a lot of girls have been wanting to do for decades.” Ultimately, Ross also believes dancers will begin to make more money under these rules since clubs won’t hire as many girls and those who are hired will make an hourly wage in addition to tips.
Of course, she already has two recordings for sale on the matter. “I’m never off. If you’re passionate about something and you know you have bigger things to come, it’s not that much. I’m grateful for every time I put myself in a new seat at the table. I’m never too tired for it, or if I am, let me smoke a blunt, and I’ll come right back.”
Lucky for her, that’s all part of the job, too.