MOSCOW (Reuters Life!) - A well-waxed man wearing knee-high leather boots climbs into a cage suspended from the ceiling of a dancefloor and starts gyrating to screams.
This male stripper, with sinewy biceps and a tiny green thong, could be part of a traveling show in a small English pub or a fixture at an Amsterdam nightclub, but in Moscow he is a regular employee at a strip club just for women.
When the Soviet Union fell in 1991 — a country that banned homosexuality and nudity on TV — Russia underwent a sexual revolution.
Strip clubs began to crop up in Moscow, and the city became notorious for its vodka-fuelled 24-hour partying, prostitution and smoke-filled bars.
Of Moscow’s 40-plus advertised strip clubs, just under a third offer male striptease — some exclusively.
“Women in the West want to go to striptease, but they feel they can’t because their society and culture won’t let them,” said Vladimir Gagarin, the manager of Krasnaya Shapochka, or Little Red Riding Hood, which eight years ago set up shop on the city’s main drag as Moscow’s first male strip club.
While male striptease for women is found in most European capitals, it is often reserved for pre-marriage ‘hen nights’ or Chippendale shows.
In Moscow it is part of a typical night out.
“It’s rare to see beautiful men’s bodies, I feel good here,” said 27 year-old sales executive Yana, glancing up as two more scantily clad men take centre stage under red lights.
Unlike some of their western counterparts, Russian women like Yana tend to view and enjoy striptease.
“The average western woman, if she were to go to a male striptease, would be considered somewhat of a pervert,” said a 29 year-old American teacher watching the show.
“Whereas here women appreciate the male body. There’s no concern about traditional values,” she added, declining to give her name.
Jose, a 26-year old male stripper from Madrid, moved to Russia three months ago to cash in on the boom.
“I came here as there’s more business,” he said, readjusting his headband over a mass of black curls.
“It’s better here. You can do private dances for the women, in Spain that doesn’t even exist.”
Jose danced on Thursday night for an audience including a pregnant woman and a middle-aged couple eating dinner.
Unlike the female version, male striptease rarely involves full nudity. However a range of services is offered in the ‘Crazy Menu’ displayed on Krasnaya Shapochka’s bar.
For 4,500 roubles ($184.2), a woman can receive an ‘erotic massage’ from a dancer, and for 3,000 roubles she can drink her cocktail off the barman’s chest.
But club workers say sex is not a priority for the women.
“It’s not a sexual thing, it’s a social thing,” said Gagarin in one of Krasnaya Shapochka’s private satin-lined back rooms.
“Girls come here to speak to each other, the bouncers, the waiters and the dancers heart to heart. They have a shoulder to lean on.”
The audience’s age ranges from 18-65, strippers said, but most are professional women in their 30s.
“Girls come here for fun and relaxation. Socializing between men and women has deteriorated in Russia, very few men know how to treat women,” said 25-year old stripper Sergei, who undressed as American pop-singer Justin Timberlake for the night.
Krasnaya Shapochka, which will build two more male strip clubs in Moscow this year, has around 50 strippers, who each receive an average monthly salary between $2,000 and $4,000, exclusively from tips.
Entrance fees are 500 roubles for women, 3,500 roubles for men.
Offers to purchase sex or unwanted harassment from audience members is rare, bare-chested men wearing kilts and transparent sarongs said.
“We are here for fun. We don’t pay for sex,” said a 26 year-old tennis coach from Moscow, also declining to give her name as she watched a thong-wearing man emerge from a tanning bed near the stage.
“Sometimes we ask the dancers out and take them to dinner and coffee, it’s a nice way to make friends.”
Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman, editing by Paul Casciato