Dancer Joel Mendoza became a Pride Parade poster boy without even knowing it

GRAND OLD FLAG | Joel Mendoza’s Stars and Stripes bikini briefs made him a popular ‘click’ in a photo slideshow of Dallas Pride last fall. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor

Joel Mendoza was an Internet celebrity for months … and didn’t even realize it.

If his face doesn’t look familiar, don’t feel bad — it wasn’t his, umm, face that made him a star. Think lower. Lower. Yeah, you got it.

As one of the dancers who performs at the Tin Room, Mendoza became one of the marchers last September in the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade. Well, marchers isn’t quite the word for it. He stood on the float performing for the crowds on that drizzly Sunday afternoon. He also caught the attention of Dallas Voice photographer Chuck Marcelo, who was attracted to the leanly muscled Latino in the Stars and Stripes bikini and leather harness. Marcelo snapped a picture (which was cropped to cut off Mendoza’s head) and it was uploaded to the Dallas Voice website’s photo gallery. Of the dozens of pictures in that slideshow, Mendoza’s happened to be picked as the “featured” image — the first thing visitors saw when they logged on to the page.

And it created something of a sensation.

The slideshow was hugely popular for weeks, with viewers no doubt drawn to the sexy pose of Mendoza shaking his moneymaker. Some people were offended by the photo (and others showing scantily clad folks enjoying Pride); we even added a “PG gallery” after that for more wholesome images.

But Mendoza’s picture remained a draw.

For everyone, it seems, except Mendoza.

“I had no idea,” he says humbly. “When I saw it, for a minute I thought it couldn’t be me.”

Really? And none of Mendoza’s fans at the Tin Room, where he performs on weekends, mentioned the photo to him, or even recognized him from the parade? Nope.

“Every bar brings their own crowd — maybe the people in our crowd do not go to parades,” he offers.

And maybe they didn’t suspect the 24-year-old UNT grad, who by day works as a paralegal at a real estate and bankruptcy law firm, capable of such steamy posing.

Certainly few law clients would suspect the well-spoken young man comes alive onstage when the clothes come off. It kinda comes as a surprise to him, too.

“I work 9 to 5, take my tie off, put my underwear on and work 9 to 2. I might be a stripper dancing in my underwear, but I’m a very shy guy, though when I’m onstage

I’m not as shy as off. It’s like a switch you flip,” he says. “You have to have some personality [when you perform].”

Before he began stripping, Mendoza was already a dancer — he even did a number with the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders last year during a half-time show. He started working at the Tin Room earlier this year, after starting out at BJ’s. Being a sex object with tons of hits online, however, has made him think about just how many people have seen him dance.

“I was shocked in a way — like, ‘Whoa!’ It makes you wonder how many phones you might be on [taking pictures that can turn up somewhere],” he says.

Still, he’s proud to be a dancer (he’s out to his family — his mother has even seen him perform at clubs) and had a blast during the parade.

”It was amazing. The weather was bad, people were waiting there for hours in the rain and it was cold, but having all those people cheer for you was just quite an experience,” Mendoza says. He specifically bought the flag briefs at Skivvies (“that was the only pair they had left”) because the patriotic colors put him in mind of the parade. “I thought I could use this.”

As for the controversy over getting nearly naked in public … well, he’s reflective about it.

“Everybody’s different. It was a parade, it was gay Pride — a celebration! If you’re gay, you know what a gay Pride is gonna be like. If you are gonna feel offended for somebody wearing a thong, maybe you should not be there. Skip that float.”

Everyone else is happy not to skip it.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 7, 2012.