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Once upon a time, go-go dancing only involved waxing your abs and shaking them around for tips while unimaginatively bumping to the music.
But thanks to the increasing sophistication of clubgoers—combined with the fact that the long-running burlesque revival isn’t going away due to the need for sexual entertainment in a whitewashed city—a lot of extra pressure has been put on go-go dancers’ pelvises. Suddenly they have to move in more interesting ways, and from a sexual bump-and-grind, it’s basically become performance art and a way higher form of half-naked club entertainment.
At the forefront of this movement is New York’s most bodacious go-go boy, Go-Go Harder, 25, who doesn’t just strip, he plans it, plots it, disrobes it, presents it, and truly works it.
I spoke to the rising club star about the artistic vision behind his mojo.
Hi, Go-Go. First off, where did a disrobing guy like you come from?
North Dakota. A little town called Minot, but sometimes they call it “Min-OH” if they want to sound sophisticated.
And your dream was to come to New York and strip?
No, I moved here to be a very serious actor. I thought I’d be Biff in Death of a Salesman or something, but I fell into nightlife and enjoyed it, so I started taking that to the next level. I lost my job as a waiter, and then a friend of mine got me a job at the Cock.
Did you have to audition?
No. I just showed up. I met [promoter] Daniel Nardicio shortly after that, and he helped launch me. He started employing me on Fire Island, and then I met performers World Famous *BOB* and Dirty Martini, and they set me on the path of burlesque. Daniel decided to have a Boylesque party, and we had to have numbers, which *BOB* and Dirty judged. I still do the same number, “Hot for Teacher,” where I’m a horny schoolboy.
How would you describe your stage presence?
I think I’m an edgier boy next door. I have this apple-pie quality that I think people find charming, and when you couple that with a striptease, it takes on a dirtier edge that titillates a little more. I’m a sluttier Richie Cunningham [from Happy Days].
Do tattoos up your naughty-boy ante?
I only have one right now, but I started working at the Glamour Garage in Brooklyn, and they’re going to hook me up with really cool ones.
What’s the key to neo-burlesque appeal?
There’s a lot more time and effort that goes into burlesque as opposed to straight stripping.
There’s always a gimmick or a scene. They’re three- to five-minute numbers that you create, and they’re usually funny and worked out. In New York, we do crazier comedic pieces that are political, too, though mine aren’t that political. A lot of people think the act of being naked or stripping is a political statement in itself. I just really enjoy it. I’m attracted to pieces that are strong and entertaining. I’m like Cher in Burlesque. I just want to be wild!
Why is the burlesque revival still going so strong?
I can’t really speak for women, but there are a lot of boys getting into it because it’s not just dancing. People have an exhibitionist side that they want to explore.
How long do you prepare a number?
A number is like a monologue. No good actor would walk into an audition without really having researched the piece. The performances I’ve given are the same way. You’re creating this monologue, from the costume to the dance to the actual removal of the costume. It takes at least a solid month. The “Hot for Teacher” one I feel like I’ve finally finished, and I’ve been doing it almost two years.
Where do you do better: straight events or gay ones?
I find that usually I can go over better with straight audiences. Gay men tend to be a little more pessimistic or weird about it because it’s not a drag queen.
Do audiences get sexually turned on by what you do, or is it just entertainment?
My shows are intended more to entertain, but the line between entertaining and sexually turning them on is pretty thin.
Like the G-strings! Does anyone ever cross the line and start grabbing you?
Sometimes when I’m go-go dancing, I have to really smile hard at someone and get their hand off me. But usually onstage, no one can get at you. People are intimidated by that fourth wall.
Do you ever get totally naked?
Of course. There’s a show called Revealed [at Under St. Marks], where that’s the whole gimmick—everyone takes everything off by end of the number. I don’t do that everywhere. I practice selective nudity!
What has been your wildest costume—or lack thereof?
I have this great costume—a big red sparkly gas mask and a giant purple boa with tassels on it. I wore it for the piece where I visually interpreted Allen Ginsberg’s poem “America” at the Low Life 5: Flaming Queens show at the Howl! Festival last June.
People must have howled. When you look in a mirror, do you see someone devastatingly gorgeous?
I wouldn’t say that. But I think after moving to New York, I realized people found me attractive, especially working in nightlife. I guess I’ve always felt lucky because I was the awkward theater guy in college, always off in corner reading Arthur Miller. I didn’t come into my sexual prime until New York.
Would you ever go back to legit acting?
If I found roles that interest me. But what attracts me to burlesque is it’s a way to create, to make a number. I’d miss having that control.
It’s no Arthur Miller play! How do you get your discarded clothes off the stage after the show?
There’s usually a “stage kitten” who runs out and collects the clothing, but at plenty of bar shows, I’m backstage saying, “Oh God, I’ve got to get that stuff.” I try to get a friend or promoter to do it—otherwise people will steal your things. At Bowery Poetry Club, someone stole one of my favorite jockstraps, which I threw into the audience. I didn’t know whether to be flattered or angry.
I’m sure you can get it back on eBay.
What’s your relationship with Daniel Nardicio?
We’re lovers now. We live together in Brooklyn. I’d say we’re pretty happy. If he tells you something different, shoot me a message on Facebook. [Laughs.] He’s a former actor, too. He has a respect for performers who sometimes get lost in nightlife. When you come from a performing background, you’re a little more sensitive to the performers’ needs.
Can we say your birth name?
Sure. It’s Chris Harder. My last name is actually Harder. [Pause.] Again, it never really made sense until I moved to New York.