“They used to call us ‘go-go boys.’ ‘Male stripper’ came later,” says François Tessier. Now 54, Tessier, dapperly dressed in a crisp white shirt and black slacks, spent a good part of the 1980s undressed.
Tessier got his start at Club 281 – now called Le 281 – Montreal’s only fully-nude male strip club for women. Patrons knew him by his stage name: Mr. Personality.
“All the girls liked him. He had an inexplicable charm,” recalls Joanne Morin, who worked the bar at Club 281 in the same era.
On Feb. 19, Tessier and Morin returned to their old haunts, along with nearly 60 former employees of the club, most of whom were strippers, for a reunion marking the club’s 35th year in business.
Patrons, advised of the event on the club’s Facebook page, celebrated too. On weekend nights, it is not unusual to see women lining up to get into the club, a popular downtown destination for girls’ nights out and bachelorette parties. But on that Friday, there was even more anticipation than usual – and some of the women in line were grandmothers.
Solange Aubin Salvail, 64, first went to Club 281 in 1982. Her husband brought her. “He wanted to show me what it was,” she said. Now retired and widowed with five grandchildren, Aubin Salvail remembers when a private dance could be had for $5. “I came to see if the guys changed. It’s certain they’ve aged,” she said.
Annie Delisle, 45, took over the club in 2003, following the death of her father, France, who founded it in 1980. France Delisle, who owned a female strip club at the time, came up with the idea when he saw male strippers in Miami. “He said, ‘If women can dance naked, why can’t men?’ ” his daughter recalled.
The club, which moved in 2003 from 281 Ste-Catherine St. to its present location on Ste-Catherine, just east of St-Laurent Blvd., can accommodate 420 patrons. It was a full house for the reunion.
Delisle took to the stage to invite the old-timers up for a group photo and thank them for being part of the club’s history. Two dancers from the ’90s prepared a special number for the event, and there was a tribute dance to 80s-style stripping, performed by a current employee wearing cowboy boots – and not much else.
Delisle, who grew up around the business, has observed that men and women react differently to striptease performances. Men, she said, tend to be quiet when they are at a strip club: “Guys drink their beer. Women laugh and scream.”
Delisle also finds that male strippers get more respect than their female counterparts.
“My dancers are often seen as superstars,” she said. “They’re recognized at bars and at the grocery store.”
Steeve Dubé, 48, worked as a dancer at the club from 1986 until 1996. Dubé’s teenage sons like to tease him about his former occupation. “Sometimes, they call me ‘Steeve the stripper,’ ” he said.
The striptease business was good to Dubé, who grew up poor in St-Henri. As a teen, Dubé enjoyed breakdancing. One night, he was practising his moves at Chez Parée, a female strip bar, when someone suggested he audition at Club 281. At the time, Dubé was working at Farine Five Roses, but he gave that up when he realized how much more he could earn as a male stripper. “The first night, I made over a $1,000,” Dubé said.
By the age of 21, Dubé owned a home in Laval and was investing in real estate. He met his wife, Janie, at the club. At the time, she was working as a librarian.
“I gave her my number and I said, ‘I’m going to have kids with you,’ ” Dubé recalled. Today, the couple and their boys live in a lakefront house on the West Island.
If his sons wanted to take up stripping, Dubé says he would encourage them to do it. “I’d say, ‘Go for it. But don’t take drugs or alcohol, and come out with the cash,’ ” he said.
And does Dubé still dance for Janie? “I want to, but she doesn’t want me to!”
Like Dubé, Mario Dumas, who worked at the club from 1982 to 1984, met the mother of his children while he was on the job. “My stage name was Burt – because I looked like Burt Reynolds,” said Dumas, 57. But not long after he and his girlfriend got together, she gave him an ultimatum: “She said, ‘It’s me or your job.’ ”
Dumas, who was a mechanic before he got into stripping, used his savings to buy a garage in Repentigny. He eventually sold the garage, and now owns a paving company.
Dumas said it was not only his girlfriend’s ultimatum that made him give up stripping. Despite the club’s no-contact rule barring patrons from touching the dancers, Dumas said there were customers who did not play by the rules.
“Some of the ladies who drank groped me. I felt like enough was enough.”
These days, Dumas walks with a cane – the result of a motorcycle accident last summer. Despite his bum leg and a receding hairline, Dumas said he does not mind growing older. Nor does he feel jealous when he sees the new crop of strippers at Le 281, most of whom are in their 20s. “They all have the same style. We had our own style,” he said.
After six years working at Club 281, François Tessier – the former Mr. Personality – went on to perform at strip clubs in Windsor, Quebec City and Gatineau. Tessier gave up stripping in 1992, when he found work as a receptionist for a government agency in Ottawa. He did not include his stint as a male stripper on his CV.
“But some of the girls in the office recognized me from a strip bar in Gatineau.”
My stage name was Burt
Tessier says he paid a price for his years as a stripper. “There was an aftermath. I missed the easy money, the easy living, the attention of women,” he said, and later became hooked on gambling at video lottery terminals. He was finally able to quit gambling in 2011, with support from Gamblers Anonymous, as well as counselling.
These days, Tessier works as a salesman in his brother’s Ville-Émard pawn shop. There, his personality continues to serve him well. “My ease for getting along with people always followed me,” Tessier said.
Delisle felt it was a bad idea for Tessier to perform onstage at the reunion, since he was out of practice — but Tessier would have liked to.
“My legs still want to dance.”
Monique Polak, Postmedia News | March 3, 2016 1:17 PM ET
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