Dancer Jesse Morales is like a real-life Channing Tatum from Magic Mike —
Morales, a Dallas native who was born in Cleveland, Texas, had dreams of becoming a dancer from a young age. So when he made that big, scary trip out to Los Angeles to pursue his dreams, he did any odd job he could to make ends meet until he ran into Tatum on one of those jobs. The chance encounter helped score a starring role in a live, all-male revue show based on the Magic Mike movies that girls' nights out and bachelorette parties across America have turned into a certified pop-culture phenomenon.
"The Magic Mike vibe kind of fit what I always liked to do," Morales says. "Now the intention is just way more — what's the word? — extreme compared to what I was doing in high school."
Morales is one of 13 hardworking dancers doing 10 shows a week at Club Domina, a standalone theater at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas built just for the Magic Mike Live experience. The show features a mix of a live play that tells the story of an aspiring dancer who finds a career as an exotic male dancer and an all-male revue with shirtless guys grooving to the music while a crowd of women
Morales' love for dancing comes from his parents, who met at a dance hall and whom he remembers as always being on the dance floor at weddings, parties and school dances. Morales first pursued dancing as a possible career in high school and earned a reputation for it among his classmates.
"I became the dancer in my school all through high school," Morales says. "The teacher and other people's parents kept saying I could be a professional and that I should move to L.A. and do that."
Morales saved enough money from selling cars for two years after graduation to make a break for the West Coast with a friend, along with whatever was left over from dance classes he took at Dallas' Power House of Dance and the Centre for Dance. Once he was in L.A., he found an agent within a week and started training even harder while working any job he could on the side to cover the rent.
"I realized that I had the passion, but I needed to sharpen my skills," Morales says. "I needed to be able to dance bigger, and performing was something I felt like I naturally had, but I still had a lot to learn from teachers and choreographers."
His patience and hard work paid off a few months later when he scored his first big job as a backup dancer for Beyoncé at the Grammy Awards. Other smaller but noticeable dancing jobs followed, such as performing in an opening act for singer Raphael Saadiq in the 13th season of the ABC reality competition Dancing with the Stars, being a backup dancer in a music video for former New Kids on the Block member Jordan Knight, working alongside the hip-hop group LXD on an episode of Conan O'Brien's late-night show and performing onstage with Mariah Carey in her live Las Vegas show.
The second Magic Mike film, released in 2015, offered Morales a chance to perform at movie theaters across the country as part of an incognito promotional tour. He says he and his fellow dancers would hide in the audience and pop up before the screening started to dance for the women in attendance. Morales says he got the audition for his Magic Mike gigs through choreographer Teresa Espinoza, who worked as an assistant choreographer on the first film, but he also met Tatum's wife, Jenna, while working as a limo driver in L.A.
"I performed on the red carpet for the second movie, and I met Channing again," Morales says. "I was like 'Hey, do you remember who I was? I was your freaking limo driver, and now I'm one of your dancers.' It was just a cool moment because that's how L.A. works. You never know who you're going to meet and who you're going to work for down the road."
Morales' Las Vegas show started last February, and it's been a big success. More than 100 shows have packed the venue with women and some men.
"Even the movies don't represent what we do in the show," Morales says. "Those are more along the stereotypes. If I was explaining it to a stranger, it's kind of like a Vegas show that meets a male
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Part of the show involves the dancers leaving the stage to perform for some of the audience members and bringing a few lucky attendees on stage. Morales says the dancing may be erotic in nature, but it's done tastefully and with strict rules.
"They get something much more genuine and respectful than what they're used to seeing or hearing about," he says. "The majority of the time, everyone loves it when that comes because it's the way it should be done and we're classy guys. We have rules that we follow, and we make sure we don't make anyone feel uncomfortable or disrespected. Every once in a while, you get the opposite. We get women who've been waiting the whole time for their moment, and they get crazy with you or they put their hands on you, and sometimes we have to tell the women no."
Of course, the ladies who ogle Morales in his show may feel like he is dancing for them, but he's really dancing for himself.
"As a dancer, you're so used to being pushed to the back or dancing for someone or something," he says. "As a performer, to have your own show and own stage where you can be yourself and express yourself the way you want to in a show where I can be myself is truly unbelievable. That's all performers want to do, is be their best selves and express themselves and, hopefully, everyone appreciates it."