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drkrm editions : Vivienne Maricevic : Male Burlesk


drkrm editions released the book Male Burlesk by Vivienne Maricevic. She writes:

The Ramrod, Big Top Lounge, Unicorn, The Crazy Horse, Chez Elle, and HomBre, were the clubs I photographed in. Walking by the Metropole on Seventh Avenue, near 49th Street in Times Square, NYC, in the early 80’s, a man handed me a pamphlet advertising a new club for women, featuring male burlesk dancers. It was called “The Crazy Horse”. Immediately, photographic images started to appear in my mind while walking up the flight of stairs to the venue. The place was garishly decorated in red velvet, lots of lights were flashing, as nude male dancers, discoed to Donna Summer’s “Last Dance.” It was the afternoon and devoid of customers and I must have looked as strange to the owner, as they did to me, upon entering alone. The owners had just opened the venue and were friendly. While sipping wine and talking to them about my photographic work that I was doing at the time, which was male nudes, they made me feel welcomed. They agreed to allow me to photograph the dancers, who wanted to be photographed and since the majority of dancers are exhibitionists, they wanted to be photographed.

Returning the next week, the venue had switched to a gay audience. Michael, the manager said, “we weren’t making any money, now look, it’s crowded.” The men who frequented “The Crazy Horse” varied from blue-jeaned, 18 year olds to business-suited 60+ year olds. They enjoyed looking at the continuous dancing of the varied dancers. The dancers and I became friends over the months that I spent photographing there. They all looked forward to my return and laughed when seeing photographs of themselves, which I gave them. There was talk of decorating the walls of the venue with my photographs, but the venue eventually closed.

Wandering around the area, I noticed other male burlesk clubs and the names of others from the dancers, who would also seek new places to work and dance. I met Peter at The Ramrod on West 49th Street, after he finished dancing to Chic’s “Baby, Do It Right”, “seen one, seen them all”, he said about nudity. He was in it for the money and loves dancing for an audience. He’s from Brooklyn, 24 years old and has a full-time job during the day. Since he was in the Navy being undressed in front of men came natural to him. “I dance to the lights not the men in the audience.” He considers himself to be straight and does not make extra money being with men, as many of the dancers do.

Not seeing Nicki one week, I asked Michael were he was. “He’s vacationing in Mexico with a man he met the other night here.” Nicki is sexy and confident. Clad in a silver-lame jumpsuit, he couldn’t wait to tell me about his Mexican adventure, when we met. “The sex was terrible, but the vacation was fun.” This is why he enjoys dancing, meeting people, getting lots of attention and doing things spontaneously, is his forte. He’s a sexually oriented guy and well suited in a business that oozes with sex.

A number of the dancers move from club-to-club. They live the same way, from one rooming apartment building to another. Many of them didn’t have phone numbers or addresses to give me, so I’ be able to stay in touch. Hustling is a way of life for the male bulesk dancers, either by selling their bodies or drugs for money. Money is the key word in their lives and is spent as soon as they get it. From the latest gold-charm to dye for their hair, money run through their hands like water. The pay range for male dancers can start as low as $5.00 dollars, a performance at “The Ramrod” and as high as $300 a week at “Chez Elle.” A rundown dimly-lit gay movie theater on Eighth Avenue, “Eros” features two male dancers, three times a day.

The most notorious club is “The Ramrod has fifteen dancers at each performance, starting at 11:00 am til midnight. The Ramrod features dancers who are known in the pornographic movie industry, with names as “The Italian Stallion”, “The Fury” and “12”. A dancer from “The Crazy Horse” introduced me to Daryl who manages “The Ramrod”. He told me I’d be able to photograph the burlesk performances, but excluding the “love teams”. I thanked him, since cameras were not allowed on the premises, nor women. Walking down the dark corridor of the theater, led me to the closet-like dressing room, where the dancers stayed til they went on stage, where I mingled among them. Seeing my photographs, which I would bring with me, most wanted to be photographed and welcomed the attention it gave them. Upon hearing Lou Reed’s “Take a Walk on the Wild Side”, which Anthony started gyrating tom, made me rush to the front of the stage to photograph him. The dancers at “The Ramrod” are more sexual in the performances, than elsewhere. Constantly, touching themselves and going into the audience to be touched by the customers, gives “The Ramrod” the reputation that it has, which is sex is available. A dark room in the back of the theater is for intimate rendezvous with the dancers for a fee. “Hombre” which opened for a short time on 53rd Street, featured 4 dancers, six times a day. Costumes ranged from slick black-leather cowboy outfits to an American Indian who danced in a circle of fire. “Big Top” on Broadway is open 24 hours, which also had additional rooms for dancing, eating and swinging.

Going to “Chez Elle” was a club for women and men had to be accompanied by a female to enter. Admission was $12.00 with two drinks and a whistle. One dancer, who I met there, Vinnie, is an actor who had a part in the movie “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.” “It’s a steady income and I have my day’s free to audition”, he told me and wears a construction worker outfit on stage. Frank, a model during the day, is a bespectacled schoolboy on stage. The women were all having a great time, screaming out innocent advances and blowing their whistles. Returning to many of the clubs, to connect with the male dancers who had befriended me, I was told and noticed that many weren’t there anymore. I would ask, where’s Anthony? “He’s still in bed, can’t move or eat”. I kept hearing this over and over. Then, the lights went out, the whistles stopped blowing, gay clubs started to close, many were padlocked, such as“The Ramrod”. The early history of the AIDS epidemic in New York City began with rumors in 1981 of a “gay plague”. The rest is history.

Vivienne Maricevic


Vivienne Maricevic : Male Burlesk
drkrm editions
Essay by Charles W. Leslie and Rob Hugh Rosen
ISBN 978-1-7361070-3-4

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