Lee Frank is a regular contributor to ViewZone Internet Magazine and lives in New York City where he also writes humor for MTV, Men's Health & Fitness Magazine, Playboy and E's TALK SOUP. In this latest feature, Lee was challenged to become a Chippendale Dancer, complete with physique and movement, in just 100 days of training. Can it be done?
I'm a complete and total fraud. I have as much business writing a fitness story as I do performing brain surgery on the President. My resemblance to the guy photographed in ViewZone is as strong as my resemblance to an African dung beetle. You want the truth? I haven't set foot in a gym in ten years, and you couldn't pay me to exercise. That's when I meet Eddie Prevot, personal trainer, former Chippendales dancer - and man with a message: "I don't care what kind of shape a person is in. I don't care how overweight they are. There's nothing to keep anyone from getting the body they want, except themselves." "Okay," I tell Prevot, "I want to look like Fabio."
Prevot says I can have a body like that. All I have to do is follow his training program. This is what hes saying to me. But Prevot says he can prove it. Like how, I ask. He says he can train me, and in one hundred days, I could pass for a hunk and perform in his Chippendale-type show. C'mon. Professor Higgins has a better shot at passing me off as a princess at the Grand Duke's ball. And besides, why would I possibly allow myself to be transformed into a muscular sex-object and throw myself at hundreds of screaming female sex marauders? Don't ask stupid questions. Here's The Prevot's Method - and how it changed me from Lee Frank into Beef Frank.
I meet Prevot at this serious muscle-head gym in New York City called Pumping Iron. I am the puniest guy here. For me, this place is Pumping Irony. Prevot is built like, well, a Chippendale dancer. He is six-three and, with a long blond mane and lionly face, he has the razor-cut physique of a Greek statue. Sure, I want to have a body like that. Just tell me what to do.
Prevot is built like, well, a Chippendale dancer. He is six-three and, with a long blond mane and lionly face, he has the razor-cut physique of a Greek statue.
He has me do twenty minutes of aerobics then he works me out on free weights and machines, blowing out chest, shoulders, triceps. I hate lifting weights. They're so, well, heavy. I take copious notes. But soon, I become woozy with exhaustion. My coordination goes funny. My penmanship deteriorates into a an illegible scrawl.
By the time I am ready to leave the gym, my arms are dead. Prevot says I must eat 20 grams of protein and 50 grams of complex carbohydrates, six times a day. "The most important thing," Prevot tells me, "is your diet. Diet is 60%, gym 20%, and rest is 20%."
A couple of cans of tuna at the supermarket seem to weigh as much as a Pontiac. So instead, I get some protein shake and oatmeal from a health food store. Taste is less a consideration than weight. At home, I feel like I should lie down to recuperate, but the soreness is isolated in my chest, shoulders and triceps. The rest of me is spry. I lie down anyway, but feel stupid and get back up, realize my arms are useless, and I lie back down again. Prevot said my arms would be exhausted in 48 hours, but he is wrong. They could not be any more sore than they are now.
The next day, we work on legs, biceps, back. This is just as grueling as yesterday. Except now, my arms are so burned out, my pen feels leaden. I am standing on the surface of Saturn. Prevot wants me to lift weights in ways my arms don't go to begin with. When I walk, er, stumble out of the gym, I thank him and immediately think, what for? This guy has put me through more physical torture than I've experienced since overnight camp, and I'm thanking him?
I find myself kissing up to Prevot, just like I kiss up to my barber so he won't give me a screwy haircut. I don't want him causing me anymore pain than is absolutely necessary. The relationship you develop with a personal trainer is sort of like the chatty relationship you develop with your barber. Prevot tells me about himself, about how he went to college to study mechanical engineering and he worked as an engineer for a couple of years and one day walked into Chippendales to earn extra money as a bartender and how three years later he was a star of the biggest show in town and making ten-times more in front of the spotlights than he could behind a drafting table. Prevot says now he writes and sings, and his dream is for his band to take off.
Reality check: I have set out to develop the buff body of Fabio and have succeeded in achieving the physique of Quasimodo.
Okay, Prevot was right. In 48-hours, my arms feel like cream cheese. I didn't think they could get any more sore, and yet they are. I can't lift them above my shoulders. I need help on a date getting my jacket on and off.
Reality check: I have set out to develop the buff body of Fabio and have succeeded in achieving the physique of Quasimodo.
In the gym, Prevot never stops studying my body. I find myself staring into the mirror more often than I feel comfortable with. Says Prevot, "Male dancers become the epitome of narcissism in order to fulfill a female fantasy."
I am beginning to understand the price narcissism extracts: I am training three hours a shot, four days a week, never more than two days in a row. Though Prevot says to stay focused on the muscles you're training, I find the only way I can deal with the physical exertion of weightlifting is to zone out. Training is a thoroughly self-absorbing way to pass the time. It makes me wonder about the strapping individuals I always see here, and what voids they are trying to fill.
"I would say that most guys who get into dancing," says Prevot, "are doing it as an ego thing. You have to feel comfortable in front of people. You don't get stage fright," he asks, "do you?"
I tell Prevot I perform stand-up comedy at the clubs in New York City, and I feel okay on stage.
"So you know what it's like to open up to a bunch of strangers. Dancers are out there undressing and exposing themselves. But in reality, most of them are very very insecure. They're searching for women to give them acceptance, approval, or acknowledgment."
"I think initially," says Prevot, "the motivation that brings people into the gym is a desire to change their appearance, so they can feel more comfortable with themselves. But if you really stick with it, training becomes something that's pleasurable."
Prevot can't make it. No workout today. I feel like Homer Simpson stumbling upon a jelly donut. Yahoo!
I do not find the gym pleasurable. I do not feel energized after I work out. I leave the gym and I want to lie down. We have some brutal storms in New York City and occasionally there is a message waiting for me at Pumping Iron saying Prevot can't make it. No workout today. I feel like Homer Simpson stumbling upon a jelly donut. Yahoo!
Three weeks into training, I realize I am bulking up when I am unable to sit between two fat ladies on the bus. A short time ago, this would have been an easy squeeze. Prevot is concerned I'm not losing enough fat from my waist. I can't pinch more than an inch, but Prevot says it's enough to keep my abs from getting that washboard look. I assure him I am doing my aerobics, and I'm sticking to my diet. Eating six times a day, my jaw muscles hurt more than my biceps. Prevot is stymied.
"I've actively trained for 13 years," he says, "and I've tried every training method and discovered what works and what doesn't. If you haven't walked the walk, you can't talk the talk. I know if somebody does this, and follows this kind of eating plan, and trains with this kind of frequency and does these kind of exercises, they're going to get results. It's guaranteed. But I don't understand why you haven't lost this fat."
He says to follow him and we amble across the gym, past all the big, brawny guys - to the biggest, brawniest guy there. He is enormous. His name is Carlos. Everybody knows Carlos. Carlos is king of the gym, the warrior-philosopher, sort of a cross between Eisenhower and Yoda. Prevot tells Carlos that I'm not losing my fat. Carlos says nothing and nods. Prevot tells Carlos about my training schedule and diet. Carlos thinks for a moment. "Don't eat any carbs after ten o'clock," says Carlos. Okay, I won't.
There are some famous studies where psychologist William Sheldon categorizes personality types by physique and build. Around week five, my diet kicks in and I begin to see changes in my body - along with changes in my personality. My muscles become more defined, and my body begins to develop some shape. If I'm not quite V-shaped, then neither am I O-shaped. I find I'm more relaxed, laid back. Though this could also be attributed to exhaustion. Because the other thing is that it's been raining like the great flood, and Prevot hasn't been able to make it to the gym. I, on the other hand, have turned into the kind of person I used to feel sorry for: I've been going to the gym six, sometimes seven days a week.
Eventually Prevot phones to check up on me. I tell him about how I feel so energized. I only need three hours of sleep a night. Prevot tells me I'm overtraining, that working out more than four times a week is detrimental since my muscles never get sufficient rest. He says that my newfound energy sounds more like insomnia, which is a symptom of pushing your body too hard. I back off.
When Prevot and I eventually manage to get together, he is knocked out by my progress. I've been training just over two months and-a-half months. "You're very close," he says. Are you nuts?, I ask. I'm going to embarrass myself. Big time.
"You're very close," he says. Are you nuts?, I ask. I'm going to embarrass myself. Big time.
"I've been thinking about the show," says Prevot. "First, you should come out and do stand-up. Later, you'll come out to dance in, like, sunglasses and a wig. Then, you rip off the wig and the audience will be completely surprised."
I explain to Prevot that this is the worst possible circumstance to perform stand-up. These women are there to see skimpily-clad guys, not listen to jokes. I tell him I'll can get the audience revved-up for the show, and I can do some bits - but to introduce me as a stand-up comedian to this crowd is the kiss of death. "Maybe we're overlooking the larger issue," I add. "Where are my bulging muscles? When do I get cut?"
"You'll get that look," he says, "once you get rid of your body hair." How do I do that, I ask, instantly regretting the question. "All the guys get waxed," he says.
If it means becoming a sex god, then I suppose I, too, can get waxed. Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.
At just around a hundred days of training, Prevot tells me it's time to learn a dance routine. "I'm also having an outfit tailored for you," he says. "Ah, gee," I say, "I suppose I'll have to buy one of those jockstraps." Prevot corrects me and says they're call t-backs. I go shopping with my girlfriend for a t-back at Manhattan's finest Upper East Side lingerie boutiques, but we only find goofy-looking t-backs. If this is all I'm going to be sporting, goofy not a look I'm aiming for. My girlfriend says let's get out of here, and we head down to the Village, where gay shops have a greater variety of t-backs than Ben & Jerry's has flavors of ice cream.
And speaking of ice cream, I am eager to get this over with so I can let my body return to rat turd. Prevot, sensing my impatience, informs me the time has come. There's going to be a show in Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey. It's a twice a-year event. It's called Man-A-Rama - 15 gorgeous men. Prevot says he just got off the phone with the club. "I made it 16," he says. "We're on for next Friday." We have arrived at the hour of our destiny. I'm going to humiliate myself in front of hundreds of women. They're going to be yelling: Ò"Put it on. Put it all on!"
I make an appointment to get waxed. Is it painful? Not unless you think having your hair ripped out is painful. Every single hair, barring my head, armpits, and about 18 strands on my groin. The woman who does this resembles the guy with the razor blades in his head in the Clive Barker Hell Raiser movies. She doesn't look anything like him, but resembles him, nevertheless.
I make an appointment to get waxed. Is it painful? Not unless you think having your hair ripped out is painful.
Prevot and I get together so he can teach me a dance routine. I show him my newly denuded body, expecting to see muscles popping out all over. Instead, my skin is freshly irritated and I am as pink as a piglet. "Go to a tanning salon," Prevot suggests. He then unveils my outfit. It is white leatherette, trimmed with sequins. The pants are held together with Velcro - designed to be whipped off in an instant. Prevot wants me to dance to a hard-rockin' song, and he chooses Motley Cru's "Smoking In The Boys Room." I have the physical grace of, well, Gerald Ford, and I am not a fast learn. But I take notes
and figure with enough practice, I'll nail it down. Lots of strutting and gyrating. Did I mention Prevot wants me to smoke a cigarette?
Prevot has spent the last three months getting me more fit than I've been in my life, and now he wants me to take up smoking? He wants me to roast in a tanning salon? Perhaps I should have explained that I'm allergic to cancer. I go to a smoke shop and buy clove cigarettes. They smell disgusting. I also buy some Johnson & Johnson Sundown self-tanning lotion.
I spend all day, everyday, practicing my dance routine and slapping fake tanning lotion on myself. After going through the dance a thousand times, I begin to get the hang of it. And after applying a full bottle of tanning lotion, my skin begins to take on a bronze glow, creating contrast between my muscles. Hairless and tan, I have developed an actual chiseled physique. Yes, I am beginning to adopt the appearance of a Chippendale dancer. I realize hairless and tan is a big part of the Chippendales' look. Things are looking up. I begin working on tanning bottle number two.
Prevot phones to give me some last minute advice: "Just remember," he says, "it's the women's night. We're there to cater to her needs and desires. In the show, the more real a guy is, the more of a fantasy it becomes. If a guy makes each woman there feel special, he's doing his job. And he can't do that unless he loves women. I think it's a complete myth that gay guys are dancing. I've come across one, maybe two gay dancers. If you don't love women, you wouldn't be able to do this. Most of the guys are engaged or they've got their girlfriends. They're not out banging around. Sure, the opportunity is there. But it's like working in a pizza parlor: you'd get tired of eating pizza after a while. Most guys would think that's ludicrous, but I think that's the truth. If you sit down to eat at a smorgasbord long enough, you're going to get a bellyache."
"Just remember... it's the women's night. We're there to cater to her needs and desires."
The night of the show, my body has a deep rich tan. In contrast, the palms of my hands are nearly black. They're a dead giveaway. Prevot told me the key is to be real. Now I can't even fake being real. I drive out to the show and I see several hunks hanging out by the side door. I go over and introduce myself, careful to shake hands with my palms down. They tell me Prevot hasn't arrived yet and point the way to the dressing room. There, I begin shooting the breeze with a bunch of hunks, when I realize one of the guys keeps playing "Smoking In The Boys Room" on his boombox. Trying to be chummy, I say it's a totally cool tune.
"Oh, yeah," says one hunk. "We're opening the show with it."
I remember the good old days when all I had to worry about was my dusky palms. Prevot arrives late. He is loose and comfortable. He moves through the backstage area and heads turn and dancers buzz. In this business, Prevot's a legend. The others clearly look up to him. Prevot is all smiles and good vibes, shaking hands and slapping backs like a high school guidance counselor playing buddy-buddy with a bunch of 10th graders. Prevot is taller and better built and more dramatic-looking than the others. He is a hunk among hunks. And I am in a tizzy. I pull him aside, and sotto voce, explain the snag.
"Okay, here's my idea," he says taking it in stride."You still go up and do a couple of minutes of stand-up. The m.c. will coax you into dancing, which is when you do your routine. Then the m.c. will come back and say, "Whatdya say, ladies, do you want to see how this song is really done? Then, he'll bring on the others. It will work. I know it will."
I don't have a better idea, so I put on my purple t-back, my leatherette break-away suite, and my Frye boots I spray painted white in the hallway of my apartment building last night. All spruced up, I look not unlike Elvis's little helper. The m.c. is a long-haired hunk, and for that matter, so are the bartenders and waiters. I am the only male under this roof who is not enormous. One of these guys is not like the other ones, one of these guys is not the same... The m.c. tells me there are 600 women out there and not to worry. He then introduces me to a mass of screaming female sex marauders. He introduces me as the comic. I walk on-stage to the bright light like it is the bright light people describe when they are about to die.
Six hundred women are packed into the club like goldfish in an aquarium. And they are staring at me like I'm tapping the glass. I explain that one of the dancers dared me to wear this outfit. I begin doing my act, and I actually get some laughs. The more dirty I get, the more they like it. It's their night. Give them what they want. They laugh, but you can hear their collective fingers drumming. They treat me with the sort of benign indifference reserved for the singer of the National Anthem. Great tune, play ball.
Sensing the mood the crowd, the m.c. returns: "All right, ladies, let's give him a big hand. We're here to see some dancing, right, ladies? Let's hear it! Do you want to see Lee take it off?"
Six hundred women are packed into the club like goldfish in an aquarium. And they are staring at me...
I wouldn't describe what happens next as a roar which sweeps through the crowd. I wouldn't say the audience is more excited than the audience when Ed Sullivan brought out the Beatles. I would say, though, that some women whooped it up. So they hit the music, and I start my dance routine only a few beats too late.
"..Did you ever have one of those days when it seemed like everyone's on vacation..."
I dance with attitude, in fast-motion, trying to catch up to the song. Finally, I find my place, and I light my cigarette, take a drag and toss it to the ground. I strut right, promenade left. I look at the teeming mass of female sex marauders and I lose my place again. It's improv time. I find my place in the song right around the time I start peeling off my spiffy leatherette jacket. Oh, yes. I am channeling Bobby Darrin, twirling his microphone at the end of its cord, a Vegas show stopper. I whip around my jacket. I'm back in the groove. I sashay forward and pivot. I swoop down, my back toward the crowd. Guitar solo. I unzip the zipper running up my right leg. I unzip the zipper running up my left leg. I stand and clasp my thumbs behind the lone snaps which are holding my pants together. I pinch my fingers. Here's where the guitar gets pretty. I outstretch my arms, taking my pants with me, poised triumphant, like Rocky at the top of the steps. Women are shrieking their approval.
I cruise into the front row and an fetching blond ponies-up my first dollar tip as the m.c. announces, "That was great, ladies, but do you want to see how this song is really done?"
The music starts over, and this time, the five hunks take the stage. They dance and gyrate in tight formation, steamy, highlighted by smoke machines and strobe lights. They rip these woman into a frenzy. I have gotten exactly one dollar by the time these swarthy hunks blow me away. All eyes are fixed on them, and nobody is paying me an iota of attention. I freak and scoot back to the dressing room and get on my civilian clothes. I return just as Prevot begins his routine.
Prevot is sublime. He is a quantum step above everyone else, and you can see why the man is a legend. He sings, he recites poetry. He sizzles, and women swoon. Prevot dominates the show. He is the Bill Gates of male dancers. Prevot takes longer than anyone else to disrobe, and when he does, the place goes absolutely wild. He once said, "The shows are very liberating for the audience. Socially, I think women are expected to behave a certain way, at least according to most men. When they come to a show like this, there's no man looking over their shoulder with all the have to's and supposed to's, so they can come out and get completely uninhibited. They make guys look boring. When guys go to a go-go place, they drink beer, sit, stare, and fantasize. Women get crazy. I've realized that women know how to have more fun than guys."
Women are animals. They are treating me like a sex-object.
Prevot dances into the crowd for tips. He works the crowd like a motivational speaker peddling his collection of tapes. He locks into each woman, gives her her moment. His t-back bulges with bills, and I must remember to ask him about paper cuts.
I see how Prevot is totally unencumbered by self-consciousness. I return to the dressing room and put my t-back back on. I come back with a new attitude. I plunge into the crowd and dance my buns off. I entertain each woman one at a time, dance with her, put my arms around her. Woman are patting my butt, and when I turn to see who it is, the culprits pretend it's not them. I begin to get tips. Okay, only $11, but that includes one five. And I give one woman back a dollar when she asks for a reward for pointing out my jewel was hanging out. Hey, she earned it.
Women are animals. They are treating me like a sex-object. On the other hand, a few hunks treat me like I'm a rodeo clown. The guys charge women $10 to take a photo with the group. When I casually shuffle over to the outskirts of the gang, one guy says that I don't have to stand here. Someone is taking himself a little too seriously.
And no, I don't let my body return to rat-turd. As I write this up I realize I now have the actual bod I wanted for about two months in junior high school. Prevot said that the whole idea of training was to change the look of your body and to make it healthier and more functional. "Weight training is important to develop muscle strength, but it's only a way to get even more enjoyment out of the activities you already love. People who aren't in shape are huffing and puffing at the slightest activity. It's not fun. It's like their bodies are nonfunctional, bored."
"Weight training is not an end in itself," he said. "It's one of several means to an end. The goal is to be healthy and functional and have a balanced body."