The Grind

Boylesque 101: Inside The World Of Boys Who Shake And Shimmy

In a new monthlong series, writer John Russell takes us inside the burgeoning boylesque scene and learns some tricks of the trade along the way.

There are whoops and whistles, catcalls and applause mingled in with nervous laughter and Hole’s “Celebrity Skin,” all coming from the small studio above Brooklyn performance space The House of Yes.

Inside, six skinny white guys are watching one of their classmates strip for (what I assume) is the very first time.

Everyone has to do it. That’s what we’re all here for: to learn how to strip.

It’s the first exercise in the first week of Go-Go Harder’s monthlong “Intro to Boylesk” class—all the students have to give an impromptu, three-minute striptease to get us acclimated to taking off or clothes in front of people, and to make us aware of just how long three minutes—the length of your average burlesque number, according to Harder—can feel onstage.

I’m a good 20 minutes late to class, so I’m the last to go. Everyone else is already in their undies and I’m suddenly very aware of the fact that all I’m wearing is a T-shirt and jeans over my purple and black Calvin Klein briefs—hardly enough costume to spend three minutes shimmying out of.

Go-Go Harder

Full disclosure: This isn’t my first time dancing in my underwear in public. I used to pick up the odd go-go dancing gig here and there, usually in bars on the Lower East Side and Williamsburg. I’ve even tried my hand at boylesque, which is how I came to meet Go-Go Harder.

Chris “Go-Go” Harder is something of a nightlife celebrity in New York. The 25-year-old, who came to the city to be, as he puts it, a “serious actor,” has been performing burlesque for a little over two years now.

“I really fell into it,” says Harder, who is openly gay. “I was go-go dancing for party promoter Daniel Nardicio and he decided to have a boylesque night where we all had to create numbers. I really did it more as a task at the time, because I wanted to make my money for the weekend.”

I was there that night, performing alongside Harder. While the rest of the go-go boys, myself included, struggled to come up with cohesive acts for the show,

Chris was a natural from the get-go. His quirky, comedic “Hot For Teacher” number was tight. It had a story. It had a punch line. It had the makings of a viable act, and Harder still performs it to this day.

“From there I really found that I loved [burlesque], and I was lucky enough that two really great performers in the audience kind of took me under their wings and helped open my eyes to this whole different world of performance that I didn’t know was available to me.”

Since then, he’s developed his glittery, geeky stage persona as well as his skills as a producer and emcee. He’s serious about his art form, traveling to burlesque festivals in London and Las Vegas to learn from seasoned performers like boylesque vet Tigger! and burlesque divas Dirty Martini and The World Famous Bob.

As a result he’s become the go-to guy when gay bars and clubs in New York want a boylesque night. He’s produced and curated shows at Bowery Poetry Club, the Stonewall Inn, Splash and the Box, as well as co-hosting the long-running variety show “Meaner, Harder, Leather” with  drag queen Misty Meaner and burlesque queen Stormy Leather.

Now Harder is ready to share his hard earned knowledge and performance savvy with a new crop of would-be boylesque stars.

“The class to me is a stepping stone for new male performers,” he says, “And also a stepping stone for myself as a performer and a teacher.” Harder wants to encourage other male performers to explore boylesque as an alternative to go-go dancing or doing drag.

Jett Adore
Boylesque performer Jett Adore

Boylesque has taken root in New York, San Francisco and Chicago, but Harder would like a larger scene to emerge. “What I would love to see eventually is a boylesque festival and boylesque online communities. I mean, there’re so many different styles of female burlesque now,” he says. “There are with boylesque, too, but there just aren’t enough boys in each style doing them.”

Back to class: I’m trying  like hell to peel my clothes off as tantalizingly slowly as possible, but three minutes is an agonizingly long time to strip off just a t-shirt and jeans. Not to mention that taking off your clothes stone-cold sober in broad daylight is vastly different from dancing in your underwear on a dark bar with a couple shots. There’s an art to this—anyone who tells you differently is a fool.

The art of the tease—the lingering, the connection with the audience—isn’t something that shaking your booty above the heads of drunk guys at a seedy bar really prepares you for. There, you don’t have to make eye contact. There’s an aloofness you can get away with as a go-go boy that just doesn’t fly in boylesque.

Still, my new classmates whoop and holler supportively and, stripped down finally, I take my place with them on the floor of this little studio.

Next week: Meet the new class of boylesque stars!


Images via Santiago Felipe, Wijadi Jodi, Leland Bobbe

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  • Cam

    Honestly watching, it just looked like a guy imitating a middling female stripper.

  • JoeyO'H

    Ugh. Don’t like boys who look like girls. Pass!

  • Josh

    @JoeyO’H: Totally agree!

  • j

    @Cam: @JoeyO’H: Get over yourselves. Also this is brilliant. <3 How long until we get a "Boylesk" movie, eh? :P

  • Joe

    Would someone please explain to me what the fuck “get over yourselves” means? It just seems like a catch all phrase some use when they don’t want to actually explain themselves. And is the rule now this: you may only post a comment if you agree with me?

  • Little Kiwi

    i just think that gay men who still live in fear of gender-nonconformity and subscribe to baseless gender-norms are kind of sad.

    The Boylesque shows are a blast, Harder is an absolute doll, and guys that have a knee-jerk reaction of “omg that’s girly” reveal more about their insecurities than they’re likely aware of.


  • Michael

    I am so sick of faceless cowards slamming people when you know damn well people like Go Go Harder wouldn’t give you a second look if he were out cruising. I have met Mr. Harder a few times and the reason why he’s so successful is because he’s one of the nicest guys around. It’s absurd some of you are trying to trash him.

  • Joe

    @Michael: Michael, can you point out exactly where you saw someone “trash” Harder in the previous 7 posts? I can see that some have offered an opinion as to the art form but not about him personally.

  • Josh

    @Little Kiwi: Lil Pee Wee – spare us you dime store psycho babble – it’s laughable as usual.

  • Little Kiwi

    oh “Josh” and your various fake aliases. You know, having multiple conversations as different people in order to make it seem as if there’s a group of people rallying behind your “point” only makes you look insane.

    have a nice day, Sybil. ;-)

  • Ogre Magi


  • JayKay

    I’m a bit confused, when exactly do the boys show up?

  • Cam

    How interesting.

    I apparently hate gender non-conformists because I don’t think that this performance was “BRILLIANT”

    Gee, or it could be that I’ve seen plenty of plays, shows, dancers, theater, etc… and I thought that this performance seemed like an amateur performance that any and every single straight man who has ever been to a strip club has seen from a warm up act before the main show.

    If it was in a frat house and one of the brothers did it, sure it’s funny. But for somebody who is making a living at it, again, it just looked amateur.

    As for getting over myself, the fact that you think there should be a movie about this shows you are just a wee bit biased.

  • Josh

    @Little Kiwi: Lil Pee Wee – I assure you that items 3 and 10 are my only posts on this thread. A topic of such silliness would hardly be worth my time to set up an elaborate conspiracy to make it seem that my opinion is shared by the majority. You sound like some kind of silly fan girl.

  • mike128

    Is it just me or does the term “openly gay” sound sort of antiquated? It’s as if that would somehow be a surprise. And in the context of this article… wouldn’t we assume that most of the boylesque dancers are openly gay>?

  • Disgrace Jones

    Have to give a shout out to the male burlesque / performance art going on in Seattle, which includes, well, me! Here’s a couple of my solo acts: (wrote the lyrics and singing live) and (sci-fi night!)

    Then here’s a duo:

    And a group act which includes a film we made and a live act (John Waters style):

    Thanks for doing an article on male burlesque! And if you’re in Seattle, look for your local, character driven, shameless showman Disgrace Jones.

  • JoeyO'H


    If you like boys who look like girls, that’s your preference. But honey, I’m gay, not st8, I like men. That I won’t get over, ooookay?

  • JoeyO'H


    That’s what it is, a catch phrase with little or no meaning.

  • JoeyO'H

    @Little Kiwi:

    Oh my God. Insecurities? Really, If you don’t agree with someone their balls get twisted. It’s not a knee jerk reaction, it’s preference and I am entitled to my preferences. If you like this, go for it, but don’t fault me because I don’t like what you like.
    The same could be said about men who like boys who look and act like girls- Insecurities within their own masculinity, but I could really careless.

    I’m sure the show is fab, but not for me.

  • Little Kiwi


    it’s not what you like, it’s how you are about it. you prove me right. keep living your way. it has nothing to do with “going for” anything. i’ve also enjoyed female burlesque performances and i’m certainly not straight.
    that you guys have to state that you’re not “sexually attracted” to this performance, or the performers, only proves me right.

    by all means, boys. keep calling Harder and his buds “girly” – it won’t make your dads any less ashamed of you.

Comments are closed.