FEATURE THE CHIPPENDALES
hey have more bodyguards than
the Beatles. more knickers thrown
at them than Tom Jones. and
middle-aged women queue for
hours to see their shows. American
male strippers are here. and
% they‘re promising the ultimate ‘Ladies' Night Out’. So far. Britain has played
enthusiastic host to the Dreamboys. the Adonismcn of I lollywood. the Chippendales and the Men Of America. Across the country. old Victorian theatres and concert halls are shaking to the pulsating music and pelvic thrusts of rival groups. each promising a classier and raunchier act than the others. It‘s hard to know exactly when or why going to see a male stripper became a respectable activity — quite respectable enough for Edinburgh’s august L'sher llall — but the novelty seems to be catching on.
Officially. they are ‘dancers‘. their performances combining martial arts. gymnastics and dance routines with a showy peeling off ofclothcs. down to a small but sturdy G-string. Invariably. the men insist that there is nothing crude or salacious about their performances. but audience reaction does not always bear them out. 'It was a full six minutes before the first trouser button came undone.‘ gushed an excited Oxford journalist. ‘and by then. the audience was wild.‘ ‘I was absolutely gobsmacked when I set eyes on them.‘ said another punter who saw the Chippendales in Glasgow on their last Scottish tour. lfyou could compare male strippers to
fast-food chains. the Chippendales. so named because their deep tans and chiselled muscles are supposed to put you in mind of
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They’re big. they‘re beautiful and they’re checking into a venue near I you. Blushing Miranda France talked to a Chippendale and an i Ultimate Man of America and found that there’s more to stripping than biceps and G-strings.
fine teak furniture, might describe themselves as the McDonalds of their field. The Chippendales are the brainchild of Steve Bannerjee. In 1979 he converted a rundown disco into a ‘Disneyland for Women‘ — soon to become one of Los Angeles‘ most infamous hot spots. with women queueing round the block before performances and waiters doubling up as
There are now 105 Chippendale 'hunks‘ in all. and troupes ofthcm are despatched to the remotest ofareas. Like Billy Graham and the American evangelists. converting Europe is their latest mission. Trips are planned for the continent: there are i calendars. a range oflingerie. playing cards and other ephemera. Then there‘s the video ‘Tall. Dark and llandsome' which has our muscular chums dancing. singing and performing ‘humorous musical vignettes‘ — a bit likethe Monkees. butwithoutthe clothes. '
American women love it. But we‘re not like that. are we? Chippendale John Ford (Mr July on the 1991 calendar) thinks we are. ‘Surprisingly. the reactions pretty similar. We thought British women would be more reserved but they‘re really not.‘
If the deep voice is anything to go by. John's quite a beefy guy. But he’s not a bimbo. “This is not a typical strip show.‘ he insists. ‘this is done professionally. We have sets that we travel with. a sound crew and I think we have better guys than most groups you'll ever find. It takes a lot to become a Chippendale dancer. I mean. they actually have scouts that look all over for them constantly. and they only send out what they consider are the best guys. I think that‘s
what sets them apart. To wrap it up in a word. it‘s just a very classy show.” i
And it‘stough. John had to serve a trial i period as a waiter and club host before he I could join the troupe. These days he has no I time for sight-seeing. cinemas or l relationships. As to the classiness of the show. my video blew a fuse just as the first pair of trousers was dropped. leaving me irritated but curious. What I did see — a few choreographed pelvic thrusts — was disappointingly reminiscent of Pan‘s People. ‘ although perhaps not the right line-up for
Top of the Pops.
Until now. trying to interest women in male erotica has been difficult. Playgirl’s sales improved when they abandoned full-frontals and opted for showing men only from the waist up and the ‘Page 7 Fella' has never been anything to write home about. Women who go to see strippers invariably go in groups. and much ofthe appeal of going to see a male stripper seems to be the chance for revenge: ‘You hear a lot ofthem i saying that their boyfriends or husbands are in the pub.’ says Mr July. ‘so why can't they have a night out too?‘
For Billy Arena. the leader of the Men Of America. stripping is an entirely different thing for men and women. “For women it's not really a sexual thing. The attitude is totally different. I think for years the gentlemen have been going out to see female strippers and the women had no place to go. They had to stay in the closet, so to speak — stay home and cook. In the States, whenagirlwalksintoaclubthere‘sa ‘ multitude of men ready to hit on her like she’s a piece of meat. Here they can come down. let their guard down and have a good time.’
The stripper’s buzz-word is ‘pampering‘. These are women who need cherishing, say the organisers. conjuring up visions of weary. fortysomething Shirley Valentines with fat husbands at home shouting for their tea. But the roles may not be as reversed as they seem. according to Ajay Close. feature writer at Scotland on Sunday and experienced striptease voyeur. 'In the main. male stripping hinges on audience participation and. even though the women are in the majority and the men in the minority. the sexualfrz’ssmz continues to be about women doing things against their will. There’s a huge trend ofwomen going out to Ladies’ Nights in massive gangs. Chiefly they‘re going for a laugh.‘
So ifeveryone agrees that women are in it for the laughs. how long will they keep on laughing? Is the joke really that good? Male strippers have been performing to rapturous audiences for fifteen years in North America. and the appeal shows no sign of wearing off. If Billy Arena‘s predictions are right. the same could happen here. like it or lump it. ‘It‘s here to stay. basically. I'd say that girls are interested in seeing
good-looking men and men are interested in ; seeing good-looking girls and. as long as we have that kind of attitude. it's always going 5 to be around. There’s new ground to be a broken.’
The Chippendales will be appearing the Glasgow Pavilion on Sat 16 and Thurs 201101 and at Edinburgh ’5 Usher Hall on Thurs 13 and Fri/4Jtm.