What's so erotic about Exotic Dancer National Competition? 

Too many clothes, not enough nipple exposed.

Gaara was her name. She had long, dark hair, modest curves and the face of a schoolteacher. Adorned in garb that made her look like a cross between a genie and a belly dancer, she was the first to take the stage. Two bareback men with toga sheets tied around their waists carried her out on an Egyptian bed before she jumped into a tub filled with water. She began doing splits and throwing posters into the audience as she literally wet herself with an Aladdin lamp. But it wasn't until she broke out in a series of handstands and back flips that a nipple popped out of her costume, instantly reminding the crowd of the occasion at hand.

We were at a strip club after all -- Atlanta's Pink Pony South -- and Gaara's nipple was supposed to be the main event.

If you've ever been to a ball game with cheerleaders (or a Janet Jackson concert), and subliminally wished to catch a glimpse of an areola or some forbidden flesh, you know how torturous an experience that can be. Like a hybrid between a Vegas stage show and a birthday-suit showdown, the Exotic Dancer National Competition is not your typical strip tease.

While the average stripper is forced to spray and wipe down her own pole, exotic dancers have a stage crew that puts up swings, sets up water hoses and bathtubs, and prepares any other props necessary for their scene. Strippers encourage people to make it rain and when they're done they grab every dollar in their vicinity. Exotic dancers don't even expect money, but if someone decides to show some monetary love, the same crew that's drying up the spot for the next girl also picks up the bread.

Once judges voted on the top three contestants in both the master and newcomer categories, the remaining finalists were set to perform and compete. For the next two hours, patrons of the Pink Pony South watched six competitors execute circus acts, magic tricks and gymnastic feats. When the finalists came out in evening dresses to receive such awards as Fanciest Fanny, Best Breasts and Most Beautiful Face, I couldn't help but notice some of the in-house pole dancers grimacing as if they had much more to offer in those categories. While most of the folks fixated on the stage appeared to be close supporters of the girls, it was obvious that some were just waiting on some more nipple action.

But it was slowly dawning on me that exotic dancing is not always erotic. One woman constructed a penis balloon. Another came out in a samurai suit with a sword and nunchucks. And one sexy vixen attacked her chastity belt with a fake buzz saw spewing equally fraudulent sparks.

But the woman dressed as Bumblebee from "The Transformers" was the most peculiar. She gyrated to Chris Brown's "I Can Transform Ya" and could easily have won first place in a Halloween costume party, but seeing Bumblebee grind on a pole disrupted my childhood memory of the cartoon. When she finally revealed her 34Cs and tightly sculpted backside, the crowd seemed as relieved as I was to replace the mental image of the booty-popping robot.

Still, I felt slightly sorry for these contestants as I pondered their lot in life. Are exotic dancers glorified strippers with too many other talents to ignore or chorus line rejects with mildly entertaining abilities that would go unnoticed if they were fully clothed? Furthermore, why was H2O a part of every act? What makes bathing so sexy anyway? My baths bore me to pieces.

As for the grand prize, I didn't hang around long enough to find out if Honda endorsements or "Good Morning America" interviews came with the crown. The Exotic Dancer National Competition is wonderful if you want to be wowed — just don't expect to be aroused.

Got any Atlanta nightlife plugs? E-mail them to nightlist@cln.com.

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