By Nathalie Bonney @NathalieBonney
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Videographer / director: Marius Anderson
Producer: Nathalie Bonney, Ruby Coote
Editor: Tom Buckman
She may be the same height as a toddler but there’s no question Cassandra Cannata is an adult. The 30-year-old, from Colorado, works as an exotic dancer; travelling the US and performing at gentleman’s clubs.
Cassandra told Barcroft TV: “I travel the country to different gentleman's clubs and perform my shows, doing acrobatics, climbing the pole, just having an adventure.”
The stripper has even appeared on stage with rapper Snoop Dogg - “that was a lot of fun. He's quite tall compared to me.”
Born with Cartilage-hair hyperplasia, a rare form of dwarfism, Cassandra has been able to maintain an active lifestyle and do everything a regular-sized person would.
She said: “I can cook breakfast; I can brush my own teeth. It's just as far as like driving a car, I would have to get pedal extensions, or hand controls, because I'm small.
“But I can still do the things that somebody five and a half feet can do. I just have to work a little bit harder, and get things that will adapt to my height.”
Despite keeping up with the physical demands of her job – Cassandra’s abs are something to behold – she increasingly finds walking long distances a challenge.
Cassandra said: “Currently my dwarfism affects my hips quite badly right now. Walking long distances is hard for me. I can still do my acrobatics as far as handstands and climbing the pole.
“I can't do the splits anymore. I used to be able to do that as a child. I did gymnastics, but I'm looking to have a hip surgery when I'm finished with my dancing career.”
When she’s not on stage shaking it in a bikini (or less), Cassandra likes nothing more than to spend time at home with her family and dogs. She currently lives with her mother and sister Laura, who at 3ft tall, also has the same form of dwarfism.
While these two sisters may be similar heights, their professions and characters are as different as can be: Laura is training to become a minister.
Cassandra said: “As far as me being the world's smallest dancer, and her being the world's smallest minister - pretty different ends of the spectrum there.
“Me and my sister, I’d say we are complete opposites. I am more physically active doing the sports stuff. And my sister is more book smart.”
Despite their different career paths, Laura is supportive of her sister: “I will support her in whatever decision she makes. Sometimes I worry about the decision she makes, not all the time, just sometimes. But it's always out of love, not out of disapproval or anything. It's more like, ‘are you going to be safe?’ And then when she assures me that she is, then I am ‘okay, then go and do your thing’.”
For Cassandra, growing up with a sister who was also small has been a tremendous bond.
She said: “She went through things before I did emotionally, physically, kids picking on her, dealing with school and everyday situations that if I had an issue, I would be, ‘Hey, how did you handle this situation with kids making fun of you? What can I do that would help me?’
“And because my sister has rheumatoid arthritis, and is not as strong as I am, I would help her with the physical stuff.”
Going under the stage name of Sassee Cassee, Cassandra got into exotic dancing almost by accident.
She said: “I first started dancing when I was 19 years old. It came about I was on the Jerry Springer show when I was 18. An agency reached out to me: ‘Would you like to join our company? Travel the world to different clubs and make money?’ And at 19 years old, I was like, ‘hell yeah, of course!’
“And that's kind of how it all started. I didn't choose this job. I was asked to do it.”
Cassandra has turned down offers to do porn: “It's not something I want to do with my life” and also had to refuse her fair share of dancing gigs: “This one club in Las Vegas wanted me to come out on stage in a diaper and a bonnet, and then take my clothes off. I told the guy ‘Oh, hell no’.”
The small stripper has also faced backlash from other people within the Little people community.
“A lot of people in the Little People community, they have come at me saying: ‘You're giving every Little Woman a bad name, because you're a stripper. People think that we're strippers too.
“That's not to blame on me. That's to blame on the individual that is saying that. I'm sorry that I have the confidence to do this.
“I'm just going out there proving to the world that I can do any job that somebody tall can do. And it's not me exploiting myself, it's me just be normal and decided that hey, I want to be a stripper, make money.
“I've been dancing for about 11 years now and I would like to do it, as long as I can.”