When Joey Pena emerged from a two-and-a-half-year military tour of Iraq, he did what he says most veterans do: He applied for a Mesa police job to be close to his family, who lives throughout the Valley.
“I made it to the interview process, but toward the end, my heart wasn’t in it,” says Pena, who now lives in Las Vegas. “It wasn’t an avenue I wanted to pursue. I started looking at other things, like modeling and going to school.”
The chiseled, handsome veteran of the 82nd Airborne was referred to the Chippendales by his agent.
“I thought they were dirty strippers,” Pena says with a laugh. “My mom was a ballerina. Strippers don’t know what a plie is. They have no idea what it means to spend hours rehearsing.”
One night, Pena had a little too much to drink while out with his agent, who then took him to a Chippendales show. He enjoyed the camaraderie between the dancers and the upbeat attitude.
“I later auditioned and I killed it,” he says. “I was the Latino guy they wanted.”
Pena said initially it was awkward because of his values and morals that were reinforced during his six years in the Army.
“In the military, we’re all about pride and honor,” he says. “The most difficult part for me was showing my butt. I ran a lot without my shirt on, but it was a little hard to take off my pants.
“I love performing, though. I’m giving my best self and presenting my true self on the stage. I still get the little kid jitters.”
His audition was five years ago. Besides dancing, he hosts and he works in Chippendales’ management, running the back end of the business.
“It’s an eye-opening experience,” he says. “I’m learning how the structure goes, learning promotions and marketing. I’m doing investments, too, and I’m planning to go back to college.
“Our company is one of the greatest companies to work for. They’re really good about working with us. They don’t want to lose us.”
Pena is part of the traveling team and the group that performs regularly in Vegas. He knows how to woo the ladies, he says.
“My favorites are the old ladies,” he says. “They’re just sitting in the chair, quiet. When I go out in the crowd, I sit right next to them, put my arm around them and show them a good time. That’s what makes it for me.
“The pretty girls always get attention. I want everyone to feel like that. I want the little old lady who came in from the casino to feel like that. She needs a little lovin’.”
Chippendales, Wild Horse Pass Hotel and Casino, 5040 Wild Horse Pass Boulevard, Chandler, 800.946.4452, wingilariver.com, 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Friday, August 10, $25-$250.