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He’s part of a rare breed. A male stripper who has managed to survive for almost 20 years in a cutthroat industry that’s renowned for more downs than ups. And during two decades of shimmying in his jocks, Sydney-based performer Dave Hughes has seen it all.
From fending off boy-hungry cougars in Sin City, to the rise of the full-frontal obsession; fasten your seatbelts as this industry veteran reveals the truth about the world of male stripping — the naked truth.
„Oh, I’ve seen everything“ he tells news.com.au, chuckling. „I’ve had women follow me home, I’ve even had women tail me in their car back to the hotel. They’ll try to drag you into the toilets … especially older women who have a thing for younger guys. Heaps of things.
„It’s funny, because if guys did it to girls, it’d be totally different, but when girls do it to guys, no one seems to care. In fact, it’s regarded as being funny. There’s a definitely double standard there.“
Now working as part of Sydney Hotshots, the 37-year-old has been in the game since he was 19. But the hunk’s journey to the stage began when he was only 15.
„My big brother was part of Manpower, which was a big show back in the 90s,“ says Dave. „He’s 10 years older and I just looked up to him so much. He was travelling the world, stripping for a living, and I just wanted to be like him.
„I was lifting weights from the age of 15, and at 16 I was giving girls lap dances in high school. I did my first strip routine at my year 12 formal where I stripped out of my tux. I had a couple of guys as backup dances — we were right into it!“
Though Dave doesn’t recall any jitters back then, when he dipped his toe into the family business for the first time professionally soon after leaving school, it was a different story.
„I was living on the Gold Coast at the time and needed rent money,“ he remembers. „I was so nervous and everything went wrong.
„Usually your routine goes for 15 minutes, but I ended up taking all my clothes off within one minute, so I had nothing to do for 14 minutes. I was just walking around. It was horrible! But the girls loved it anyway. Back then it was way simpler.“
In a case of ’shake it till you make it‘, Dave joined a local group to learn the ropes („living on the Gold Coast I’d get about five or six gigs per week at various nightclubs“) before making the leap and joining what was then Australia’s biggest strip troupe, Manpower, at the age of 19, which led him to Las Vegas. A city that would become his home for the next decade.
„That was the height of my career,“ he reminisces. „I was making really good money and it was a real eye-opener, because I’d see women behaving exactly like men.
We’d get bachelorette parties and girls on spring break coming to town for only a few days. Every night they were trying to drag us out. You’d end up going out and then next thing you knew it’d be 10 in the morning. It was crazy.“
The definition of Sin City. With alcohol in the mix and inhibitions loosened, this is hardly an environment that’s conducive to maintaining a long-term relationship. When we surmise that the then-Lothario had a different girl every week, we’re bang on.
„Yeah,“ he says matter-of-factly. „It might even be for a few days. But you were never lying to any of them — everyone knew where they stood. Being from Australia we had an advantage straight away — American girls love that you’re different and that you talk differently. Over there if you sound like a bogan, so much the better!“
Horny women is something that comes with the territory. And while these days Dave takes more of an MC role („kind of like Matthew McConaughey’s character in Magic Mike“ he says), he’s observed a recent trend among female audiences: They demand full-frontal.
„They used to say that women didn’t care about seeing it all,“ he muses. „But as I’ve gotten older, they seem to want to see it more and more. It’s just expected now. I reckon it’s because girls see so much d**k because of phones and social media. Now women will often get upset if they don’t see it — they might even want their money back.“
Given the expectation that audiences get to see the full, ahem, package, are male strippers concerned about how they ‚measure up‘?
„Some guys might not care,“ says Dave. „The guys that are comfortable with themselves don’t. I’ve got ten friends who I work with regularly and I’ve seen them naked and they’re not super-endowed. Then there’s guys who are huge — you see them backstage — and they might not even do fully naked strips. It’s funny.“
So, does size really not matter as a stripper? „As long as you’re alright, not really,“ he replies. Translation: you don’t need to be huge, but you can’t be tiny either.
For most of us, the only real insight we’ve had into the world of male stripping has been through the Magic Mike franchise. And in the first flick there’s one particular scene involving a backstage penis pump and the character of ‚Big Dick Richie‘.
„You still always have a fireman and a cop — that hasn’t really changed — but the new ones are the SWAT or commando personas. Girls love them! You never see navy officers anymore, so that’s one that’s fallen out of fashion. It’s a shame as that’s what I used to do.
„But what really has changed is how you dance out of a costume. Now it’s all about hip-hop and acrobatics. Audiences love it when guys can pop lock, which is hard for muscly guys — if not impossible. Backflips and gymnastics are great. If you can do that, then girls will go crazy.“
While easy girls and fast money hold obvious appeal, when Dave reflects on the last 20 years, it hasn’t only been highs. Turns out, the life of a male stripper has crashing lows too.
„Sometimes it does my head in a bit that I’m still doing it,“ he admits, „Sometimes I crave a normal life. But then, on the other hand, I’m travelling around, it’s good fun and I make decent money. But then it can get lonely when you’re on tour for a long time.“
And this is the irony of stripping: Dating is tough. After all, it takes a special kind of woman who’s comfortable with their other half getting naked for crowds of flesh-hungry, drunken ladies.
„I’ve had girlfriends in the past,“ he says. „Most have been pretty cool, but I don’t think any girlfriend would like you doing private shows — no girl would like that. In the end though, they always get jealous and there’s some sort of drama over your job. It’s not easy.“
Now that he’s contemplating retirement and the days of a different girl every night are behind him, could fatherhood be on the horizon? „I hope so, one day. Yeah,“ he says.
But given his unusual past and experience, Dave is under no illusions about migrating to a more conventional life.
„I know I’m never going to have that normal ‚white picket fence‘ life,“ he concedes. „I guess it’s going to be something a bit different … but you know what, I’m cool with that.“