Throbbing techno music mingled with the high-pitched echo of more than 500 women’s screams to create a deafening wall of sound.
As the house lights dimmed, each audience member focused with rapt attention on a tiny corner stage outfitted with two large banners touting “Fifty Shades of Grey” and a dozen chairs, a physical foreshadowing of what was to come.
In a nearby bathroom converted into a greenroom, six men lifted stools and jumped up and down like prize fighters waiting to enter the ring.
“Tonight there are no husbands, no bosses, no boyfriends and what you do is nobody’s business but yours and mine,” a voice boomed over the loud speakers.
On cue, all six men ran onto the stage and into a storm of hormones. Women yelled, poked their friends and reached for the stage. It was bedlam on par with The Beatles.
This was the moment these women had been waiting for.
These are the men of Chippendales.
Manager Tony Valentine and his Chippendales made their first, but likely not last, appearance in the Des Moines area on Saturday at Miss Kitty’s in Clive. The six men played out a myriad of fantasies with glitz and showmanship, encouraging the more than 500 women present to leave their inhibitions at the door.
“You see that guy?” said Allicia Bogart, 33, pointing at dancer Zach Archer, 22, “I just want to dip him in butter and lick him clean.”
For the women, this may be a night out of a paperback romance novel, but for the men, this is their grind.
Hours before taking the stage, the men, fully clothed, gathered around noon in the lobby of a local hotel, waiting to go to rehearsal. They’d left Indianapolis, where they performed the night before, at around 2 a.m. and drove through the night.
“You have to be a road dog if you want to be in the business,” said Valentine, owner of Tony Valentine’s Girls Night Out Featuring the Men of Chippendales.
Valentine, 54, is a 35-year veteran of the stripping business. A former disco dancer, Valentine said he became friends with the Chippendales founders and some of the original strippers when he visited Los Angeles.
“They wanted me to stay out there with them, but I was 18, and I wasn’t going to move to California,” Valentine said. “I came back to Ohio, and some years later a guy tracked me down to create a strip show.”
Valentine is abrasive. He’s the type of guy who uses F-bombs like conjunctions and drives way too fast. But he genuinely loves what he’s doing, cares for the guys in his group and tries to keep them in line, which, considering the men range in age from 22 to 31, can be a difficult task.
“To run these guys is like running the Yankees because you’ve got to realize that men have football, basketball, NASCAR, wrestling (and) deer hunting,” he said. “If a man wants to go see a stripper, all he has to do is put his jeans on, call his buddies, go get some hot wings and go see some strippers. It doesn’t work that way for women.
“What do women have? The Home Shopping Network and this.”
The guys’ afternoon rehearsal is more like controlled chaos than organized practice. Half of the men unload trunks of costumes, while some set up props and others attend to the music. When the men do finally take the stage, Valentine, a sort of auteur of strip, watches closely, barking out changes.
Brandon Stone, 31, a dancer for almost seven years and a licensed lawyer, sat stoically at a high-top table. Stone, an introvert by nature, got into stripping after graduating from Tulane University Law School.
“I didn’t really know exactly what I was going to do, and I needed to study for the bar exams,” Stone said. “I needed a job that I could work at night and study during the day.”
Most of the men with Valentine fell into stripping in a similar way: The hours were convenient, the money good and the performance rush unbeatable.
“Even with a crowd of 100 or 200 girls, if the energy is there, you will get goosebumps,” said Eli Johnson, 28, a Mercedes-Benz mechanic who dances only on weekends. “When you step out in front of 700 girls, and they’re all screaming for you, there’s no feeling like that in the world. I’m getting goosebumps thinking about it. I’ll probably get them tonight because I haven’t performed in a while.”
Emcee Dan Banion, 37, a five-time Chippendales calendar man, agreed: “I am not really shy, but I am kind of more to myself. I am not the life of the party. I am not the one everyone hangs around, but give me the microphone, and it’s kind of like superman putting on his cape. My character completely changes, and I go into show mode.”
Outside of entertaining, the men spend a lot of time at the gym.
“You’ve got to be good-looking, and you got to be built,” Valentine said of the requirements to be in the group, adding that manners are important, too.
In the hotel’s fitness room, Archer sneaks in a biceps workout before the show. A power lifter and soon-to-be insurance salesman, he looks like the embodiment of Stretch Armstrong.
“I am focusing on lifting again, so I have to make sure I get as much sleep as possible and never drink,” said Archer, who was discovered at a gym by fellow dancer Johnson, “I used to drink a little bit, but it hurt my body, and I just thought, ‘Why am I wasting away my body?’ ”
Despite working nights in bars and clubs, the men steer clear of the party aspect of the job. They want to have fun (and did later that night), but not at the expense of their performance or physique.
“To get your body to a certain level, it’s a lifestyle, not a hobby,” Johnson said.
“You can drink and you can party, but it’s going to wear you out,” he continued. “It’s going to affect your stage performance, so I eliminated all that … If you can bring it, you can bring it, and you don’t need to be drunk to do it.”
The line wrapped around Miss Kitty’s an hour before showtime. The men readied in a tornado of costumes, helping each other dress and line up quick changes.
“You guys have got to stop losing those thongs,” Valentine yelled.
“This is the calm before the storm,” Johnson whispered.
In the main room, the excitement was palpable.
Nikki Scar, celebrating her 32nd birthday, surprised her mom, Brenda, with tickets to the show.
“When I was little, she had a Chippendales calendar, so I tricked her,” Scar said. “I said we were going to dinner, and we came here instead. She had no idea.”
Jolina Horton came with her friends, who bought the tickets as a gift for her 40th birthday.
“I saw the line and the Chippendales sign, and I was like, ‘Wow,’ ” she said. “When they introduced the 6-foot 5-inch guy (Stone), I was like, ‘This is going to be a good show.’ ”
The show consisted of a few group dance acts, a routine based on the “Fifty Shades” series and two “hot seat” sessions, which were essentially lap dances. Touching was encouraged. The men, who were incredibly flexible, used the chairs to support themselves as they grinded and contorted on top of blushed women of all ages. Whether working the crowd, dancing or running to the green room, the men didn’t stop moving for two hours.
And the women didn’t stop screaming.
After the performance, Valentine packed up while his dancers mingled with the waiting women.
“I have been doing this my whole life,” he said, collecting clothes, “and I know the goods when I see the goods, and tonight, this was the goods. This was worth it for us, and we are definitely coming back in six months.”
“Iowa showed me some good times today,” dancer Donny Matthews, 25, said. “Dancers feed off of energy, and the crowd was really giving it to us. We aren’t there to just make money and go home, we’re there to entertain the crowd. They pay to see us, so it’s about putting on a show.”
Within two hours of the group’s final bow, Valentine had the van loaded. His men had about two hours to themselves and strict orders to be at the hotel by midnight, when the group would head back east.
They had a new town to get to, where a new room of women would be waiting for a show.
After all, you’ve got to be a road dog if you want to be a Chippendale.
Chippendale manager Tony Valentine goes over the danceChippendale manager Tony Valentine goes over the dance numbers with Eli Johnson and Brandon Stone before a performance at Miss Kitty’s in. (Photo: Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Register)