The naked truth about male strippers

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So late last night, I went with a  bunch of gal pals to the 10 p.m. screening of Magic Mike at Chinook Centre.

At least, that was the plan. However, we seriously underestimated the appetite of Calgary women for an abtastic serving of Hollywood man meat. When I went to buy a ticket at about 5:45 p.m., I was told the late-night sneak peek was sold out. Many indignant Facebook postings followed.

All week, we’ve been having fits of giggles in the newsroom as we chatted about the movie (and watched the NSFW trailer, purely for research purposes). For the uninitiated, Magic Mike is the latest Steven Soderbergh film. Loosely based on the experiences of its star, Channing Tatum, the movie tracks Mike, a guy who has it great working as stripper in Tampa, Florida. But he realizes that life can’t be all lap dances and gold thongs. It’s been getting solid reviews, with many a writer pointing out that exploring subcultures is Soderbergh’s wheelhouse, body glitter be damned. And it doesn’t hurt that the ad campaign includes the chiselled physiques of co-stars Matthew McConaughey, Andrew Pettyfer and Joe Manganiello of True Blood.

There’s one thing some reviewers have been missing, however. While there is bare bums aplenty, full-frontal is not Magic Mike’s bag. As FFWD Weekly’s Danny Austinwrote, “I know next to nothing about male stripping, but aren’t penises kind of the point?”

Umm, no. Most definitely not. In another lifetime, in a land, far, far away, I was known to frequent a ladies’ night (or three) with a gaggle of girlfriends. And back in the day, the male rippers in Vancouver went the distance, as in the full monty. However, the big reveal, as it was, always came up short (ahem). Ladies night is all about fun, not having some pencil pushed in your face. Not for nothing is there an emcee to goad the crowd on, to direct the groundswell of energy created by women letting loose in a safe environment and get everyone going. There are (were, I should say, not having been to a ladies’ night in more than 15 years) games, prizes and dance breaks so the girls could shake their groove thangs, too. Then, when the dancers were done, the bar doors would open to the men, who would try their luck in a room full of amped-up women.

In a article, Charlotte Cowles visits Hunk-A-Mania, the Manhattan location of a male-strip-club franchise.  (When did this happen? As co-workerGwendolyn Richards points out, “We really get the shaft in Canada. Actually, we don’t.”) Cowles talks to the dancers about their wardrobe, but other topics take over the undies debate. (FYI: briefs win.) “Really, the women look more at each other than anything else. They’re far more interested in snapping photos of themselves — sometimes with the strippers but more often just on their own — and their friends. The men understand this completely. ‘When a man goes to a female strip club, a lot of times he just wants the proximity to an attractive woman, and it’s a sexual thing,’ said D (a dancer). ‘But a lot of women who come here aren’t in a sexual mood. They’re in a silly mood and they want to share something that’s novel with their friends.’ Ironically, the experience winds up being much more about female friendship than it is about sex.”

That was totally true of my time at ladies’ nights. I couldn’t tell you a thing about the routines, the six-packs or the costumes. What I do remember is the good times I had with my friends, the shrieks, the laughs, the capital-F Fun. And I’ve also seen women strip. I used to work at a nightclub and would pick up the occasional shift in the establishment’s neighbouring pub that featured exotic dancers. Some men came with their friends and treated it like a social outing, albeit one with a smorgasbord of silicon on view. But the guys in gynie row (front and centre) weren’t whooping it up or laughing. Rather, all their attention went to the woman (or women) on stage. It’s like if they concentrated hard enough, the dancer would stop mid-routine, look directly at them and decide then and there that this was the guy for them. I always found it more sad than sexy.  Double standard on my part? Maybe.

At ladies’ night, though, the dancers got that it was a lark, a bit of fun and something, that when you think about it objectively, is kind of ridiculous. I mean, dancing around in front of a crowd of strangers, removing your clothes in a routine choreographed to Euro-trash disco? How can you not laugh at that? One of my best friend’s boyfriends was a stripper, and one of the guys I worked with at the nightclub went that route, too. (Other male co-workers, it should be noted, were just happy to take their clothes off in public after a few hours of drinking. Must be genetic.) With the guys I knew, just like the other male dancers, the end of the routine was anti-climactic. The big “ta-dah!” reveal was generally followed by a quick cover-up and a little bow. (Note: that is bow, as in bend, not bow, as in gift wrapping, although that might be a fun way to end a routine.) Any protracted displays of the dancers’ equipment was inevitably met with averted eyes and flat-out “I really don’t need to see that, thanks”. We get it: you have a penis. Good for you! Now, let’s move on, shall we?

So while the girls and I are sad we missed Magic Mike Thursday night, we’re not upset that we didn’t get to see Channing Tatum in all his glory. Rather, the good-spirited camaraderie, the sharing of laughs and time spend with friends is what we  missed out on. We’ll just have to plan it for a night when the other women in Calgary aren’t as eager for a ladies’ night of their own.

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