Boylesque 101 Part 3: My Body, My Act

As part of an ongoing series, writer John Russell takes us inside the burgeoning boylesque scene—and learns some tricks of the trade—with New York entertainer Go-Go Harder’s “Intro to Boylesk” class.

By my fourth week in this boylesque class, I’ve begun to notice something: None of the guys are all that focused on being sexy.

We’ve talked a lot about our acts, our characters and the stories we’re trying to tell on stage. But, oddly, in a class that’s basically building up to a performance where we have to strip in front of people, no one has brought up being seductive.

“I think we’ve all been thinking about it. Maybe we haven’t been talking about it,” says Gordon, a.k.a. Flesh Gordon.

Actually, I’ve spent so much time and energy thinking about my act—choosing my song, choreographing my moves, putting together a costume, worrying if my big reveal at the end will read—that I’m only just now starting to think about my body. Or, rather, I’m thinking about the go-go boys I see dancing on bars nearly every night of the week, with their perfect abs and pecs and asses, and I’m more aware than usual that I don’t look anything like that.

Anyone familiar with the neo-burlesque movement knows that it’s uncommonly welcoming of different types of bodies: Female burlesque stars like Dirty Martini, The World Famous Bob and Darlinda Just Darlinda don’t exactly the lean, silicone-enhanced Barbie dolls you see in Victoria’s Secret catalogs. Maybe it’s the retro nature of the genre, which harkens back to an era with different standards for sex appeal. Burlesque is, in many ways, the antithesis of titty-bar stripping. It rewards rather than punishes women for having real bodies, curves and all.

Watching my classmates perform these last few weeks, I’ve noticed a similar sort of break with convention: There aren’t any Ryan Gosling or Kellan Lutze physiques here. We’re not exactly a room full of Jonah Hills, but you get what I’m saying.

“I definitely think it’s a different game with men doing burlesque,” says Ethan, a.k.a. Charlie Horse. He’s one of two straight guys taking the class. “I think, in general, men aren’t usually looked upon as an object of sexual attractiveness. We’re not commodified that way, physically.”

I point out that, in the gay world, not many would agree with him.


Even a casual perusal of the comments on my first two posts about boylesque showed readers engaging in juvenile gender tyranny and body hatred—snarkily wondering when the “men” would show up or calling one performer pictured in the posts a “flat-chested young lady.”

Mike, a.k.a Johnny Panic, shares some of my insecurities: “I’ve always thought of myself as super skinny, kind of twerpy. Like, I’d never put myself in the category of someone who has an idealized figure,” he says. “I think doing [boylesque] has lent me so much more confidence and courage. And this realization that I can be proud of my body.”

“You don’t have to be a classically beautiful boy-next-door type to feel like you can perform,” says our instructor, Go-Go Harder (above). “Certainly though, there are male performers who win an audience over with their sex appeal. That’s just as valid to me, just as important.”

Harder himself skates the line between the two. He’s an undeniably attractive guy, with a gym-toned physique and a handsome face. But he camps up his looks with glitter and sequins. “Ultimately, I think this style just allows you to find your strengths as a performer,” he says, “Whether you’re more of a comedic, physical actor, or more of a good old-fashioned stripper—there’s no shame in either.” Still, he cautions, the performance demands a lot of performers. “You can’t just go on stage and tell a joke—but you can’t just go on and get naked, either.”

Some of the other guys in class have also brought up the issue of context. The audience is coming to see a burlesque show, not a Chippendales revue. And while burlesque does involve a significant erotic element, that eroticism can come across in so many ways other than what a performer’s naked body looks like.

In fact, the more subtle, the more inventive, the more unexpected that erotic factor is, the better the performance will be.

“What I really like about boylesque,” says Ethan, “is that there is a lot of opportunity for you to exude sexiness  through personality. I feel like a lot about how you display yourself, how you present yourself and the sort of shticks and shenanigans that you present onstage really lead to what makes you seem attractive. It’s not purely an objectification.”

When I bring up the difference between the sort of guys who make a living go-go dancing and the sort who do boylesque, Gordon sums up the issue pretty neatly: “Go-go dancing, your body type is more important because that’s all you’re working with: your body and the movements you’re making with your body. You’re just being someone who is hot and desirable. [Boylesque] isn’t really so much about that. Here, we’re doing something that has more layers. Literally and figuratively.”

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