Chippendales is famously known for their risqué techniques and questionable strip shows but have come an incredibly long way since their formation in 1979.
Priding themselves in the unbelievable talent that accompanies a male burlesque show, the troupe of intimidatingly handsome dancers tour the world for approximately 300 days per year, ripping shirts and outlining their junk for fans everywhere.
For dancers like 33-year-old Joey Pena, Chippendales is much more than taking his clothes off on stage — it’s about living the dream. After dancing for most of his life and spending time in the military, performing in front of thousands of screaming (mostly female) fans is the experience of a lifetime.
The Badger Herald talked with Pena, who will be performing in Madison Feb. 26, about his life as a male burlesque dancer.
The following interview has been edited for style and clarity.
The Badger Herald: Have you danced professionally before Chippendales?
Joey Pena: I started out as a fighter, but my mom wanted to level me out so she put me in swing and salsa classes. All the dances I knew before Chippendales were always with a partner, so when I moved into dancing for Chippendales I had to take hip-hop and freestyle classes and quickly morph with their style. I haven’t stopped since. It’s been three years and I’m still going into the studio and still trying to learn new choreography and new styles. It’s ever evolving.
BH: What’s your favorite song to dance to?
JP: I think my favorite song that I’ve ever danced to, which it hasn’t been in a show, is R. Kelly’s “Cookie.” I personally don’t like dancing to “Pony,” I think it’s played out. That’s the song you hear played with strippers and I am definitely not a stripper. But performing-wise, we dance to Bruno Mars and I enjoy that.
BH: Do you have a particular genre you prefer to dance to?
JP: Chippendales are constantly updating their music and our choreography. We’re always trying to stay fresh and relevant in modern popular music. We are [the] top dog and we pride ourselves in being current and fresh to keep it exciting.
BH: Do you guys have a band on stage?
JP: We actually have certain parts of our show that display the talents of our Chippendales. We are blessed to have this guy named Mozart who is a guitarist and was supposed to open up for Slipknot — he’s incredible. We also have “America’s Got Talent’s” Justin Rhodes, who kills it every time he touches the mic. We have Cody Canyon, who’s parents started Cirque Du Soleil, so he does gymnastics, he’s our dance captain.
BH: What’s the weirdest crowd experience you have had?
JP: There’s a lot of crazy things that happen at every show. We had one last night, she just got up on stage and thought she was going to start dancing. I’ve had one girl get on stage and just [start] taking off her clothes. I’ve had girls throw their underwear.
BH: Is there full-frontal nudity during the show?
JP: I don’t think I would be a part of something so risqué. But women are getting to see something, they’re not going to be disappointed.
BH: As a dancer coming into the world of Chippendales, was it hard to get over being so exposed to such a large group of people?
JP: Yeah, my dance captain got mad at me because I was learning the choreography, and I had to turn around and shift my butt. He would get so mad at me because in rehearsal, I would know the choreography perfectly and then I’d get on stage and mess up the choreography. He finally pulled me aside and I said, “Well, I’ve never had to show my butt before in front of thousands of ladies so I get nervous and I forget!” It can be a little nerve-racking.
BH: As a dancer, is this living the dream for you?
JP: We have this sarcastic saying in the military that we are living the dream, this time I am actually living the dream. It has nothing to do with girls or fame or what anyone else might think, it’s being able to perform each night with thousands of women just excited to see you. Making somebody’s day is amazing. Also, getting to travel and seeing these amazing places that you would never otherwise see. It’s something I’ve been privileged to be a part of for three years. I work every single day with Chippendales and I’m truly privileged to be here.
BH: Going into this interview I never would have thought Chippendales to be a family experience.
JP: I just want to say this, every time a girl goes to purchase a ticket for Chippendales, they are going to have a good time. It’s something that my mom, who is “hardcore Mexican,” she can come and see it. It’s not only for older women, it’s for 18 and up. I’ve had my sister come to the show with all her friends, and although she had to close her eyes when I was getting on stage, it ranges from all types of age groups. We’ve seen fans come back year after year, and they bring their daughters and they become grandmothers and it’s become a traditional thing. It’s not something you’re going to have to hide. It’s something where you can be saying, “Oh, let’s go out and drink … or we can go see a Chippendales show.” It’s become an alternative for a girls’ night out and it’s becoming more popular to do this. Chippendales realized that and got away from the more raunchy stuff and became something that is very classy and very cool to be a part of. It’s a Broadway production sprinkled with titillation.