Lapdancers aren't valued primarily for their dancing ability, a study has found.

They no longer need dancing skills because club owners prefer women who are better at "hustling" for private dances rather than performing, researchers suggest.

Owners have compensated for falling profits in the economic downturn by demanding more money from their performers, according to researchers Dr Teela Sanders and Dr Kate Hardy from the University of Leeds.

They told the British Sociological Association's annual conference today that club owners had relaxed standards and increased the fees women pay to have the opportunity to dance, in order to remain buoyant.

The researchers said: "It was unnecessary to have any dancing skills whatsoever, let alone the ability to do athletic tricks on the pole. The core skill necessary shifted from performance to hustling for private dances."

Dr Sanders and Dr Hardy surveyed 197 dancers, interviewed 35 women and visited 20 strip clubs and pubs in the largest research project of its kind into the strip club industry in the UK.

One dancer complained about what she said was a fall in standards. She told the researchers: "You'd see some girl who wasn't very pretty, couldn't dance, had a crap outfit, making a lot more money than you because she was there to make money, not to enjoy herself and be creative, so she would be pushier."

The study showed that "house fees" - the money women pay for the chance to dance - had increased. The fees averaged £80 in the south of the country and £20 to £30 in the north. These fees were profitable for clubs, so they often hired many dancers.

Dancers also have to pay around 30% commission, on top of tips for other members of staff who direct big spenders their way for private dances. They are also hit with large fines for minor transgressions, such as chewing gum. Some dancers are even fined for calling in sick, the study showed.

These additional costs had driven down dancers' incomes, so that average shift earnings now were £230, compared with £280 they received for their first dance job.

The researchers said: "Overall, there was a consensus that the cost for dancers of working in a club was increasing in order to cover business overheads, specifically the wages of the other workers in the club, and ensure the owner makes profit even when dancers made comparatively little."

Rather than an increase in demand from men, the researchers said the money clubs were taking from dancers played a major part in clubs remaining buoyant in the downturn, "rendering the lapdancing business a low cost investment with high returns and little risk to club owners."