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Thunderstruck! Inside Thunder From Down Under showroom

Women unleash the beast … and bond with each other

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Clint dances with a member of the audience during Thunder From Down Under at the Excalibur in Las Vegas on Friday, Aug. 5, 2011.
Photo: Leila Navidi

G’day, America. Scream. Yell. Have a drink. Because tonight is ladies night out, baby. Tonight, nobody is here to tell you, you can’t touch that. Any touchy-feely girls in the audience?

The response is so violent that boa feathers shoot skyward, a shredded rainbow drifting in white stage light. Women are howling, pounding tables and hoisting panties printed with “I Heart Dicks.” A few sit quietly, but even they wear expressions of bemused anticipation.

Clint dances on a table with the audience during Thunder From Down Under at the Excalibur in Las Vegas on Friday, Aug. 5, 2011.

This is not the PTA. This is Thunder From Down Under showroom on the Las Vegas Strip, where 400 women await a handful of oiled hunks known as “Australia’s hottest export.” The wildness is natural for some. For others it’s the drug of the moment, a 70-minute free fall into a world of fantasy and animal impulse that dissolves when the music stops. Few have seen the primal side of female nature so unfiltered, a phenomenon held in surprising reverence by men in pants that tear from hip to heel in less than a second.

Myth No. 1: Naked is naked

I never thought I would change my mind about those pants, and the idea that they could have any connection to authentic female arousal, let alone insight or empowerment. Maybe it’s because my first experience with a male exotic dancer made it impossible for me to eat Almond Joy without flashing back 13 years to the sweet coconut smell of his thong (and its contents) swinging an inch from my face. The rest of the bachelorette party bolted when his pants came off, leaving me trapped in a beanbag chair like a sick antelope about to be mauled by a greasy cheetah. I was beyond uncomfortable. I imagine he was too, exposed and gyrating for a lone spectator in various stages of amusement, panic and disgust.

Thunder From Down Under

That reaction has been studied from angles of psychology, social construction and cultural taboo. In The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and in Private, women’s studies expert Susan Bordo asserts that women are still learning to consume erotic media, that until recently, we lacked “cultural permission” to be voyeurs. Permission or no, I think sometimes the view just isn’t that appealing. But I agree with Bordo that: “Practice makes perfect. And women have had little practice.”

Las Vegas is apt training ground. The city is an outlet mall of pleasure, demanding that visitors do something here that stays here, to escape their own normal. For freelance writer Julia Buckley, that takes the form of rabid appreciation for Thunder From Down Under, despite her staid “Englishness” and distaste for nearly every other male revue.

“I found it one of the least sexy things I’d seen in my entire life,” she says of a different group she saw in Vegas, in which an overly tanned, overly cocky dancer mocked her discomfort and forced physical contact.

Thunder changed her mind with a milkman, a surgeon, a mailman, an executive and a construction worker. One by one, the stereotypes appeared, popping buttons, doing flips and flexing their pecs to the beat. Buckley says the routine worked because the performance had charisma and a tone that winked at the audience.

“The fact that they use humor is very inclusive. It breaks the ice and the nerves and gives you the feeling that we’re all in this together, and it’s a bit of a laugh,” she says. “It was very disarming—there’s a gentleness to it, despite their brash Aussie personas—so for the first time in a strip show, I relaxed enough to allow myself to sit back and enjoy it for what it was.” Within 10 minutes, Buckley texted a friend: “This is the best thing you’ll ever see.”

In the last year, Buckley has seen Thunder three times. She follows the social networks and nurses a crush (only half-jokingly) on a dancer named Ryan, behavior that’s refreshingly out of character.

“Usually I shrink from any kind of audience interaction, even clapping along to music … But at Thunder I will applaud, whoop, scream for Ryan as if there’s no tomorrow. It’s as if the words ‘you’ve been Thunderstruck’ switch off my filter.”

Myth No. 2: It’s about male ego

Matty (dancers use their real first names onstage, and yes, they’re all from Australia) understands what it means to bust out of a comfort zone. Watching the Thunder veteran manipulate his nearly naked glutes to a wicked rhythm, you wouldn’t guess he used to dry heave before every performance.

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10 things to know about Australia’s hottest export
1. They’re all Australian.
2. They’re all straight.
3. They use their real names onstage.
4. Their billboard photo is not retouched.
5. They love American women (and their accents).
6. Tipping is not allowed.
7. Touching is.
8. The cast includes breakdancers, hip-hoppers and tumblers.
9. The guys say women in small, rural towns are the wildest.
10. The audience averages about 95 percent women and 5 percent couples/men.

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Beyond the Weekly
Thunder fans had a chance to guess the bloke on our cover for a handsome (literally) reward. Click here to see his video message to the winner.

“I’m surprised I made it from the bathroom to the stage,” laughs Matty, an Outback farm boy who dreamed of being an entertainer. Now the company manager and a perennial fan favorite, he still gets butterflies. “I do take it seriously. When I see 400 people in the room who have paid money to see us, I care if they have a good time. That care manifests physically,” he says.

Thunder has been one of Excalibur’s hottest resident attractions for nine years, and Matty has been with the show for that entire stretch. It was the first male revue to set up a permanent home on the Strip and, with the touring show, has built the brand into an international powerhouse.

Clint, one of the breakdancing specialists, says Thunder endures because it’s about more than a bunch of blokes in their underwear. Training includes “personality boot camp” and constant work on the four Ps: physique, performance, positive attitude and public image. The performers shape the creative life of the show, from staging and lighting to costumes and choreography, and their passion spins atmosphere that transforms women—something Clint has the metaphorical scars to prove.

“I think the girls get in this zone when they’re in here, and as soon as they leave those front doors it’s like they switch off again … I’ve had girls push me off tables, scratch me, slap ... and they come up to me outside of the showroom and go, ‘I’m so sorry. I don’t know what came over me,’” he says. “They might act like they want to tear you apart, but once they get outside the doors they settle down and they go, ‘That was so much fun.’”

You have to wonder how the new guys cope when the Thunder spotlight shines on them and their stripped-down bodies for the first time. Jesse, a professional rugby player in his former life, says the anxiety had surprisingly little to do with wearing a G-string.

“It’s a little overwhelming at first. But it’s not the fact that you’re nervous about the girls. It’s the fact that I didn’t want to scuff up dancing,” he says, laughing. “It was actually really exciting, to be honest. Really good.”

Clint says it can take anywhere between a month and six months to learn all of the routines in the show. New guys take them on one at a time, dancing in supporting roles until they get in the right groove. When they’re ready for a solo, Matty says their interests and tastes help shape the theme and the execution. Jesse took one of the classic favorites in Thunder’s repertoire—a pirate fantasy—and made it his own. While the acrobatics came pretty naturally, he takes a hip-hop class every week to stay sharp.

“It’s not just about having a good body,” he says. “You have to actually perform at the same time.”

“What becomes ultimately sexy,” Matty adds, “is knowing somebody could do something with that body as well. It’s not just muscle for muscle’s sake.”

Myth No 3: Nice girls don’t

Alex Lebron was in love with Australia before she won Thunder’s fake orgasm contest by enthusiastically groping the MC.

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Where's the beef?
American Storm Friday, 10 p.m.; Saturday, 11:30 p.m.; $50. V Theater at Planet Hollywood, 866-932-1818, american-storm.com.
Chippendales Monday-Thursday, 8 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 8 & 10:30 p.m.; $40-$60. Chippendales Theater at Rio, 777-7776, chippendales.com.
Men of OG Sunday, Wednesday & Thursday, 8 p.m.-4 a.m.; Friday & Saturday, 9 p.m.-1 a.m.; Olympic Gardens, 1531 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 386-9200, ogvegas.com/men.
Men of Sapphire Friday & Saturday, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $40-$90. Sapphire Gentlemen’s Club, 3025 Industrial Road, 796-6000, sapphirelasvegas.com.
Men of X Wednesday-Sunday, 8 p.m., $35-$45. Hooters Casino Hotel, 866-584-6687, menofx.com.
Thunder From Down Under Sunday-Thursday, 9 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 9 & 11 p.m.; $41-$51. Thunder From Down Under showroom at Excalibur, 597-7600, excalibur.com.

“You can touch anything you want, except my hair,” Marcus said, grinning impishly at Lebron. It was the first male revue the 21-year-old Californian had ever seen, and she seized the day and that beautiful man.

“At that moment I honestly just thought to myself, when am I ever going to get this chance again? I’m standing in front of this hot guy, my dream type of guy. I just went for it,” she says.

Lebron was there with two friends who now call her Party Girl, though she’s always been the shy one. She says you feed off the collective energy, actually cheering on your competition for the attention of the men onstage. Watching Clint’s solo, the intense eye contact and body contact, she completely bought the story of the SWAT soldier apologizing to his woman, another audience member selected randomly from the crowd.

“I think as hot as it was, every woman was envious at that moment, because it was romantic, too,” Lebron says, touching on a key distinction between revues such as Thunder and strip club-style, in-your-face nudity without even a hint of context. “Girls feel the same way in that show as they would in a real relationship. All they want is to be noticed and shown affection, that someone is thinking about them even just for a second.”

The ability to take women on such journeys, Matty says, is one reason the performers don’t feel like raw meat dangled in front of hungry wolves. Plus, the meat knows better than anyone that many of the wolves have partners or boyfriends or husbands to whom they can’t hold a candle, no matter how cut their abs. To illustrate, he tells a story about MC Marcus taking an elderly woman onstage for a little fun.

“Her husband, who must have been 97 in the shade, walks up those stairs, has his fists cocked like Jack Dempsey, ready to throw down,” Matty says. “It was funny, but also it was heartwarming, because after what must have been 60 years of marriage, he still felt that way about his wife, and no young punk was going to take away her honor.”

The Thunder fan site is wallpapered with affectionate praise from grandmothers and young bachelorettes alike (probably the same ones who paw Clint in the heat of the moment). The enthusiasm of the fans keeps the show and its leading men energized night after night, fans like a pair of girls who drove nonstop from Canada just to see Thunder and then drove straight back.

“You come to work and you’re maybe tired or something, and you’ll meet girls like that and it’ll just lift you,” Clint says.

But do they ever tire of the attention? “It’s a very hard thing to get sick of. I’ve often told people, if you gave me a shovel and told me I had to dig a hole in the middle of the desert, it would be just fine as long as I had hundreds of people screaming that it was the best hole someone’s ever dug,” Matty jokes. “Having people compliment you is a wonderful part of the job.”

Not everyone has nice things to say about the male revue genre. To skeptics, it’s nothing more than exhibition, a silly, raunchy display of man and muscle. At least in Thunder’s case, Buckley would call it a playful escape. And the sexuality in the show, which is what sells tickets, could be described the same way she sees her crush Ryan’s smile—part cheeky, part genuine enjoyment, part kind.

Thunder is, weirdly, an awesome place to celebrate women and bond. There’s a really supportive atmosphere in the shows—not just between the women, but with the men, too … It’s the girls choosing whether they want to touch them or flirt with them or just stare, dreamy-eyed. We kind of have the power,” she says, listing the three most important lessons she’s learned inside the secret world of the showroom. “That although women can be competitive bitches, give them a drink and a semi-naked man and they rediscover some sense of the sisterhood. That there’s no inherent dichotomy between being a feminist and enjoying male strippers. And that if an intellectual snob lets go for just a second, they discover that there’s something beautiful about having hot men smile at you, dance for you and pour water over their bodies for you.”

After the show I go through my own checklist. Aroused? Armed with new insights? Empowered? Check. Check. Check. My compliments to the milkman.

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Erin got her first newspaper job in 2002 thanks to a campfire story about Bigfoot. In her award-winning work for ...

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