Irate over a proposal that could eventually slash the number of strip clubs in New Orleans from the current 23 to seven, dozens of exotic dancers on Tuesday aired their frustration at what they said is an ill-informed attempt to regulate morality in the French Quarter.

The dancers made their feelings known at a City Planning Commission hearing on the proposal.

Dancer and aerial performer Virginia Sibley said her job, one of several she holds, allows her to care for her and a relative’s children and sick mother.

Other dancers chose not to speak but instead donned pink signs, clearly aimed at city officials, that read “Let Us Dance.”

It was the first time in memory that dancers showed up in large numbers to publicly defend their trade, which has become the subject of renewed debate in the past year over whether and how to regulate the establishments.

Sparking the dancers’ ire was a study the Planning Commission staff released last week that proposed capping the number of Bourbon Street strip clubs at 14 and instituting new spacing requirements designed to break up clusters of clubs in single blocks. As existing clubs close because of increased enforcement of existing laws, that number could drop to seven, the study said.

And because the city’s nine clubs not on Bourbon Street are not authorized under zoning laws, they would not be allowed to reopen if for any reason they close for at least six months — meaning that in time, the total number of clubs citywide might also drop to seven.

The Planning Commission made no decisions Tuesday. It will forward the study later to the City Council, which requested it be done. The council will hear from the public again and is likely eventually to vote on the study’s recommendations.

If the council agrees with the study’s suggestions, it would be a further blow to an industry after the council voted in January to ban all new club employees younger than 21 from dancing nude or partially nude. The Legislature this year passed a similar statewide limit.

The study supports those who have long claimed that strip clubs are linked to human trafficking, prostitution and illegal drugs in and near the French Quarter.

That debate intensified last June, when 19-year-old Jasilas Wright, a dancer at Stiletto’s Cabaret on Bourbon Street, died after being left on Interstate 10 in Metairie by a man investigators said was her pimp. Soon afterward, local Covenant House leader Jim Kelly called on the council to place age restrictions on dancers working in those businesses.

Later in 2015, at least a half-dozen French Quarter clubs drew sanctions from state officials over allegations of prostitution and drug dealing on their premises.

Strip club owners and employees who turned up Tuesday to protest the study, however, said city officials are scapegoating an entire industry for the bad deeds of a few.

“I have never once been trafficked in my entire career,” said Stephanie Montgomery, a dancer at Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club. “I have never worked in a club where prostitution was running rampant. ... We choose to work in this industry because of the voice it gives to us.”

But the Rev. Rob Courtney, of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Kelly and a handful of other study supporters said the issue wasn’t about regulating morality or taking away workers’ paychecks. “I’m not here for the clubs who are following the rules. I’m here for those who aren’t protected,” Courtney said.

Kelly added that if every club followed existing city laws, none would need to close.

City and state laws forbid sexual activity at the clubs. They prohibit customers from touching dancers and ban performances offstage by partially nude dancers. They mandate that all employees carry police-issued identification cards.

Clubs are often out of step with those rules, however, critics say. They also say even a cap won’t have the outcome the clubs’ opponents want if local and state police don’t continue the sort of enforcement crackdowns that led to temporary club closures last year.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on June 29 to clarify a point made by Virginia Sibley.

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA​