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Dancer's Wild years laid bare
For more than two decades, a pumped, oiled and tanned Rick Wild gyrated his way around nightclubs in all-male revues, stripping to his G-string and thrilling women across Florida. "(Male strippers) were superstars back then," said the 52-year-old Valrico resident, who now works as a real estate agent. "We had the rock 'n' roll hair, wore T-backs and girls went wild. And it wasn't a bad thing to make the girls scream." With today's opening of "Magic Mike," a Steven Soderbergh film starring Channing Tatum, looselybased on Tatum's early career as a stripper in Tampa, the art of male stripping will be thrust into the spotlight. In the movie, Tatum plays Mike, a dancer in an all-male revue at the "Xquisite" nightclub in Ybor City, where he teaches a young, inexperienced dancer how to strip.Every night, the hunky men perform choreographed routines, and leave the stage with wads of dollar bills stuffed in their G-strings. It's a life Wild, whose real name is Rick Pitts, knows well. In the 1980s and '90s nightclubs such as Stingers, Club Joy, Whiskey North and Mark Twain, offered all-male revues as a way to bring in women. Pitts and his cohorts — who performed in five-men groups with names such as "First Class Male," "For Ladies Only" and "Florida's Fantasy Knights" — were booked five days a week. About 30 percent of the shows were bachelorette parties and the rest were ladies night revues. "(The shows) would easily draw capacity crowds of 250 women," Pitts says. "We made so much money; we had to drop it in a bucket sometimes because we couldn't fit it all in our G-string." Pitts said the best male strippers spent hours honing their dance skills with a choreographer, tanning and working out. But, he says, it was the costumes that really worked the women into a tizzy — before the clothes came off, of course. "You were giving them a fantasy when you walked out on the stage," said Pitts, who dressed as Rambo, a gigolo, a kung fu instructor, and his most popular get-up, an Indian chief replete with a traditional feather headdress. "You became that character and they appreciated it. Then, you took your time taking it off. I always did. I wanted to keep the costume on as long as I could. The more they screamed take it off, the longer I would take. I loved performing. I always have." In 1980,Pitts was working as a custom van specialist in Tampa when he became a different kind of body man. The outgoing teenager, who always was the first on the dance floor, got his first taste of stripping at a friend's bachelorette party when the scheduled dancer backed out. For the U.S. Army veteran, stripping was supposed to be a one-shot deal. "I didn't know what I was doing," he recalls of his first time. "I just started dancing and doing what I thought they wanted me to do, take off my clothes and be sexy. I got down to my boxer shorts. They seemed to like it." So did Pitts. When an old Army buddy suggested he try out for a spot on a male revue show at a West Tampa nightclub called Miss Lucky's, Pitts was hired on the spot. Every Monday, he and four bare-chested hunks starred in Miss Lucky's Get Lucky Male Revue. He adopted Wild as his stage name, when one of the disc jockey's introduced him that way. He later danced under the moniker Rick Savage. For the next two decades, Pitts undulated at clubs from Tampa to Fort Myers to Lakeland and Miami, giving lap dances to brides-to-be and other willing females. Pitts even performed a striptease on a "Sally Jesse Raphael Show" about male strippers. "I took the work very seriously," Pitts adds. "We did just enough to embarrass them, but we always tried to keep it classy." And the ladies could get rowdy, too. On one occasion, Pitts, says, a woman with scissors cut his G-string. Another put ice down the front of his thong. Did the guys ever feel exploited? Definitely not, Pitts insists. "It was our job," Pitts says. "We put a lot of time into our performances and we entertained the ladies. We gave them what they wanted and they rewarded us for it. But we never took ourselves too seriously. It was part of the job." Pitts says he earned good money as a stripper in the '80s and '90s, the prime decades of the industry. Dancers made around $200 in tips on a good night. But the industry took a dive when nightclubs began undercutting each other and the novelty of male dancing began to wear off. "When I danced, it was something guys aspired to be," says Pitts, who met his wife at one of his shows. "Wherever you went you were treated like a rock star, girls knew who you were — it was a big deal. Now you see a guy walking on the beach in a thong you're going to laugh; it's just not cool anymore." But there's still a market for beefcake dancers. Pitts runs a website called floridastrippers4you.com where visitors can choose male and female strippers for private parties. Pitts, who hung up his thong last year, says he has no regrets about his career as a stripper, which he credits with keeping him disciplined and fit. He says he's still flattered when he's recognized by women who saw him dance back in the day. "When you hear someone say, 'You danced at my mom's bachelorette party before I was born,' you know you've been doing this way too long," says Pitts. "But we had a blast doing the shows and performing together. I did my time and I loved it. I always look back at that time and smile."
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