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.