It was 10 p.m. on a Wednesday night in Dallas and the guys of La Bare were putting on their costumes, just so they could take them off moments later.
Dozens of women filed into this male strip club and pulled out their dollar bills. One woman, the manager of a local fast food restaurant, is a regular. From her front-row seat, she doled out $140 to her favorite dancer.
“That’s just a little bit compared to what I normally give him,” she said.
This is the real life version of “Magic Mike,” that indie hit starring Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum, which tells the behind-the-scenes story of male strippers. “Magic Mike” also featured actor Joe Manganiello as one of the strippers.
“Everyone loved the movie,” Manganiello said, describing the reaction to “Magic Mike,” but he said that viewers wanted to know “more about the guys, who these guys were, and who they date.”
Manganiello and his younger brother, Nick, decided to delve deeper into the mysterious world of male stripping, and ended up at La Bare in Dallas, which has been in business since the late 1970s. They originally thought about pitching a reality television series centered on the lives of the dancers, but ultimately decided to make their own documentary.
“No one had ever explored this, and people had just kind of sat back and had assumptions about it,” Joe Manganiello said, “but no one ever went in to explore it."
The documentary, called “La Bare,” will be in theaters later this month. Manganiello said that the performers defied his expectations in many ways.
“They’re really likable, cool, three-dimensional guys that I had written off in my mind,” Manganiello said.
“La Bare” features men like “Axl” -- that’s his current stage name -- a 26-year-old stripper from Arkansas who said that he came from a devout Christian family and was home-schooled until the seventh grade. In the documentary, he goes by a different stage name, Austin.
“When I first started at the club, I went through a kid-in-the-candy-shop phase,” he said. “My dad was actually more upset [about my stripping] than my mom was.”
Axl said he has an accounting degree and writes romantic novels on the side. Before he started stripping, he said he never really listened to popular music so dancing on stage did not initially come naturally.
“When guys would clap, I would clap off beat,” he said. “I was kind of hesitant about everything.”
But as dancing got easier, so did the lifestyle.
“I’ve never slept with a client for money. Although I have slept with clients because I’ve wanted to,” Axl said.
Another stripper featured in the documentary, Randy “Master Blaster,” would not reveal his age but said that he has been stripping for more than three decades. He also said that the money that he makes varies dramatically depending on the night.
“My range has gone from having a night where I made $89 to $85,000,” he said.
Another performer is Cesar Collazo, 33, a war veteran who found stripping after tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said that stripping at La Bare is a financial stepping stone to something bigger, and he approaches this full-time job with military discipline. He eats a strict diet and works out frequently, all to make sure that he stays on top of his game.
“It’s pretty intimidating when you come out there and there’s 600 women looking strictly at you and that’s it,” he said. “I’ve had the extremes, you rip your pants off and nobody says anything and crickets, and I’ve ripped my pants off and everyone screams.”
Creating a rapport with customers is important, because the men said that they only get paid from tips. They can end up going home empty-handed, or worse.
“In fact, you’re in the hole, because we tip out the runner and DJ regardless,” Collazo said.
The male strippers point out that their routines involve a lot more than simply getting naked and strutting on stage. They perform elaborately choreographed dances.
“They've got to learn how to twirl fire pots, or you know, the cop routine, or do this, or do this move, and that move, or aerial silks,” Manganiello said.
“We’re a show based on romance and fantasy,” Randy said.
The lifestyle can be fun and exciting, but it’s not always easy on their personal lives.
“There’s no way to date in this job,” Collazo said. “I’m old-fashioned, so I believe if I’m going to date someone, I’m going to date one person and give them my all.”
Manganiello said that the owners of La Bare want to expand their brand into new cities, and that he has been asked to sign on a partner. While he has not said yes, he admits that he is not done with stripping just on screen. The sequel to “Magic Mike” comes out next year.
“I don't know when I'm going be able to walk away from male strip clubs,” he said. “But I'm looking forward to that date, whenever it does happen.”