“Antonio the Italian Stallion” is a former Chippendales dancer who now performs at a strip club in Manhattan and at private parties. I observed Antonio (not his real name) over the course of several months, both at work—where the 41-year-old transforms into a cowboy, fireman and UPS delivery guy—and at his home in Ozone Park, Queens. There, amid his collection of fitness trophies, life-size cutouts of himself, and photo portraits of him with his wife—which have served as romance novel covers—Antonio opened up about his life and his work.

“As a dancer, I like to make women feel comfortable with their sexuality. I want them to laugh. I want them to remember me. I want them to remember the event. I don’t mind being naughty, but at the same time I want to be classy and respectful. I want them to say, ‘Wow. That guy was unbelievable, very confident on stage.’ I offer a complete dream. A fantasy.

I think of myself as Elvis Presley when I’m out there. If you’ve seen Elvis on stage, he’s very sexy, very charming, very energetic, very charismatic. And the girls loved him.

You can’t think of yourself as a piece of meat. Think of yourself as an entertainer.”

“I don’t think a lot of the guys today really care about their performance so much. They go out there and they kinda wing it, a little sloppy.  Kinda just banging themselves around. A girl’s not gonna remember a dancer flipping her over and throwing her around and rough-handling her to the point where it’s not sexy anymore.

You have to give every woman the same amount of attention, no matter what they look like, no matter how nice they smell or how horrible they smell. It basically comes down to the same thing: I want every girl to enjoy me. I don’t want one girl to say, ‘Oh he didn’t like me!’ For me to just dance for the girls I am attracted to would be ridiculous. I’m not really attracted to anyone—I’m married.”

“I’m very hard on myself when it comes to my physical look and appearance. I started working out at fifteen years old. Back then I was hard on myself and I’m still hard on myself today. Although I know I’m extremely good-looking, sometimes I think I’m extremely hideous as well.

I turned my basement into a full-fledged working gym. I train up to twenty sessions a week, and I do really well with it. And I work as a male fitness model and [model for] romance book covers—modeling my body, modeling with other women, modeling with my wife as well. I’ve made a pretty good living out of being a pretty good-looking guy.

I was always in shape, always ripped. But it’s not the body or my looks why I do so well in dancing. The reason I do so well in dancing is because I’m professional and because I take my job very seriously. There’s a lot of guys with good bodies and great faces but they are such idiots, they can’t take anything seriously, and they don’t last a year dancing.

I think when people think about being a dancer, they think you have no brain; you’re just a piece of meat, a body, a sex symbol. But there’s so much more than that. We can express ourselves naturally. We are free. I think dancing is therapy for me. Stripping is therapy. You become a different person for that short period of time. Any performer knows what I’m talking about. I’m not an actor; I’m 100-percent Antonio.”

“I’ve been married now since 1999. I’ve been with my wife since 1993. She was cool from the start. Obviously, we don’t talk about it—she’s not going to hold up a sign behind me and say, ‘Go Tony ,’ but at the same time she understands what I do and accepts it. Is she supportive of what I do? No. But at least she accepts it. ”

“The girls are crazy. I can do a show and if one girl gives me a dollar bill right off the bat, they all wanna give me money. If the first girl I go to doesn’t wanna give me money, nobody gives me money, so it definitely is a snowball effect. I can go to one girl and give her a hug, and she’ll try to attack me and kiss me, and then they will all try to attack me and kiss me. It’s really crazy. But if I go to one girl and she turns away when I go to kiss her on her cheek, they all do the same thing. They all kinda follow the leader.

Every girl wants what every girl wants. I know with guys, if one guy doesn’t like a particular girl, that doesn’t mean I’m not gonna like her. But women tend to do what other women do—or want what other women want, or have. If I go to my friend’s house and he’s got the most perfect wife, I’ll say, ‘Wow I have to get me one of those.’ But if I was a woman and I went to my friend’s house, I’d say, I have to have thatguy.”

“I come from a family of all girls. I have four sisters, I’m the baby. My family all looks Italian, but I’m the only model in the family. But I think I’m definitely shy. I was always shy as a kid. I lost my mother and father at a very young age, both to cancer. The day my mother was buried, I went out and danced, did a couple private parties. It was a Saturday when she was buried. The day of her funeral I just wanted to get it out of my head. After the funeral I ate with my family, then I told my father I have a couple of parties to do. And he was like, ‘You’re gonna work tonight?’ And I was like, ‘I have to.’ And he shook his head and he understood. He understood. It had nothing to do with being disrespectful to my mother. I just had to. And this is another great thing about dancing—it’s a great way to escape yourself and become a different person where you’re free. It’s a freedom.

I think everyone gets depressed. Depression runs in my family. I can relate to getting depressed. It’s not about falling, it’s about getting up.  I’ve always said, ‘A man can fail many times, but he’s not a failure unless he gives up.’”

“My first time dancing, I tried out at a club called Escapes on Long Island. I wasn’t even 21 yet. I tried out, and they said, ‘Do you have any kind of costumes?’ I said, ‘The only costume I have is a Santa Claus costume.’ But it was crazy ‘cuz it was in December. It was around Christmas. It was a real Santa Claus costume. The hat, the beard, I put a couple of pillows in my stomach. So I came out as Santa Claus, waving and everything to the ladies. I was dancing to a song by Elvis, ‘Santa Claus Is Back in Town.’ Then, when it came to taking off my clothes, I really didn’t know what I was doing. I left my socks on as I was dancing. I was dancing with my white sweat socks on. And then I remember the owner of the club goes, ‘You did a great job, but next time you gotta take off your socks.’

I have cowboy, I’ve got construction, policeman, fireman, doctor, marine, Italian mobster, UPS and pizza delivery. There’s the John Travolta look—like a ‘Saturday Night Fever’ look. Whatever you want, I can do, too. The most requested are cop, fireman, and construction. One time I did a party, I was a burglar. I came through the window and everything. I almost got bit by the family dog.”

“I think all women love Italian men. I’m a huge Sylvester Stallone fan. His movies are fantastic. Probably my favorite movie of all time is ‘Rocky,’ without question. And it’s not just about boxing; it’s about life in general. It’s about overcoming obstacles, about becoming the best. I know every word, every fragment of every Rocky movie: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and the last one. They’re classics. I think we all have a Sylvester Stallone inside all of us. I think we all have a Rocky inside all of us. How that pertains to dancing, I don’t know. But I want myself to be inspiring, too.”

“I wanna be dynamic, energetic, the ultimate in what I do. And after doing it for 20 years, I have to say that I think I achieved it. I’ve done more shows I think than any male on the planet. Haven’t gotten injured, hurt, sick. Minimum of four to five private shows a week for 20 years, so do the math on that.

I don’t have any kids, unfortunately. The only thing I’m missing in my life is children. If I had children, if they are going to hear about my dancing, let them hear it from me. ‘Daddy used to dance. Daddy used to go in and drive women crazy. When daddy used to go to a party women used to look at him and drool used to come out of both sides of their mouth. And Daddy, when he danced, was this incredible dancer. Now he’s an incredible daddy.’

At the end of the day, my shows are clean, classy, elegant, intense, magnifying, electrifying and simply awesome. Because I’m awesome Antonio. And that’s the God’s honest truth.”

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Pearl Gabel is a freelance photographer and multimedia journalist based in Brooklyn.