I am a brilliant journalist. I’m beautiful, smart and funny. I’m cute like a little sister. I’m no bullshit; I’m like your mother, and you dig my style. But that said, you only like me platonically.
The Tuesday night before New Year’s Eve, I arrived at an apartment in the Financial District that serves as sleeping quarters, classroom and office for The Art of Charm, which offers weeklong, $3,500 charm school classes. One of the school’s founders, 35year-old Johnny Dzubak, lets me in; tonight, he’ll be a coach as we go out in the field.
The apartment looks like a boys’ dorm suite, with a room full of bunk beds off to one side, a small kitchen, a black couch in the living room and a magazine with Megan Fox on its cover by the toilet. Men wait expectantly, almost all dressed in oxfords, and their hair is gelled up in uniform spikes.
When Johnny stood in front of them, they all hushed up. It was 9:18 at night and time to leave for a bar on the Lower East Side. “We’re going to a place called Arlo & Esme,” Johnny announces. “You all have a game plan of what you want to work on.” Kim Ellington, another coach and the only other female in the room, wore scarlet lipstick and thigh-high black boots. She reminds the class that there will be a “base camp” set up at Arlo & Esme where they can bring anyone they meet. Johnny reminds them to perform introductions, because it will cause them to be “high value;” Kim, who is 36, adds that if they know anyone who walks past them in the bar, to introduce that person immediately to anyone they happen to be chatting up. The young men all nod, prepared for their mission. They’ve heard this before—it is the second night of the weeklong class and they’ve already discussed how to present themselves as high-value when meeting new people ad nauseum.
The Art of Charm’s story is a tale of two groups of friends joined together over a common interest. Johnny, Kim and their friend Joshua Pellicer started doing relationship coaching and holding seminars in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, about two years ago. After gaining exposure on the popular “Pickup Podcast” on iTunes, Pellicer was tapped to host a Sirius Radio show, “Game On,” and the group, along with pupil-turned-CEO Benjamin Klein, began to travel the country peddling its message.
For most of 2008,The Art of Charm traveled across America, teaching threeday boot camps and growing its business. The group would book a room at a hotel in Orlando, Charlotte, Austin, Chicago, Kansas City, Las Vegas or Los Angeles, alerting clients to the boot camps through the podcasts.
Classes focus on five steps: Attraction Arts, Rapport, Seduction—the core teachings—as well as Relationship Management and Success in Life, which are more advanced.
Coaches, however, are not accredited by any institution, Benjamin says.The biggest misunderstanding about the program, Benjamin tells me, is that the philosophy of The Art of Charm is the same as VH1’s dating show The Pickup Artist or Neil Strauss’ book The Game:Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists. “It may come from those roots, but it’s not the same,” Benjamin says. “Players lie—everything we do is from a position of integrity, not do a magic trick and some pickup lines.”
That Tuesday night, walking to the subway station across the street from the apart
ment, Brian, one of the students, sidled up to me. Brian is 26 and paunchy, resembling Mall Cop actor
Kevin James. He’s wearing a brown corduroy jacket, a button-down shirt
and jeans; his eyes sparkled and his smile was easy. Recently laid off,
Brian told me he lives outside of Boston and had been working in sales.
Brian found his way to a weeklong class after chatting with
Berto, one of the business-side employees, over MySpace. Berto, Brian
says, suggested he attend a four-hour Art of Charm seminar, and he
liked it so much he signed up for the weeklong course.
hard to believe Brian is taking a charm school class because we chat so
easily. He speaks openly, telling me everything from how he hopes to
write a children’s book one day to how he’s “unconsciously incompetent”
around women. As we stand on the subway platform, him talking and me
scribbling in my notebook, Brian grabs one of my hands and twirls me in
I am taken aback by the twirl, but not so much as
when Brian tells me I’m cute like a little sister—an odd thing to say
to someone he’s known for 20 minutes.
At this point, I start
to get suspicious. Marc and Dewey come to my side as we walk out of the
subway station. Marc, 23, flew in from California,
where he works three minimum wage jobs. He seems naturally charismatic,
like Brian. Can they both really have such a hard time meeting women?
Dewey is another story. He’s sweet, intelligent and just as friendly as
Marc or Brian, but he’s more socially awkward. It’s not just
that Dewey, a college student in New Jersey, plays Dungeons & Dragons or tells me that the charm school classes have been like The Matrix for
him in terms of questioning his worldview. Back at the apartment,
sitting with Kim and waiting for the boys to get ready to go out, Dewey
tells me he has a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome.
at Arlo & Esme, I receive my second twirl of the evening, this time
from Dan, the best-looking pupil in the class. At the bar I order a
Coke—not a Diet Coke, a real one—and tell him the girls who order Diet
Coke in bars annoy me. Dan laughs and tells me, “I like your style!
You’re no bullshit, like my mother.”
At this point, I stop by
the “base camp” Kim mentioned earlier in the evening. It’s two tables
pushed together off to one side of the bar where a coach always sits so
pupils can stop by for a pep talk, advice or just chat. Before I could
settle there, Brian pulls me onto the dance floor.
the bar is staring at us—we were the only two people on the dance
floor. I didn’t want to be rude so I danced with him a bit and, of
course, was twirled once more. As we dance, Brian informs me that he is
“earning value” by dancing with me in front of other women because they
would see that he isn’t afraid to dance. He tells me he likes me
platonically, that he likes my tongue piercing and that he’s never
received oral sex from someone with one. Before I can be twirled again,
I excuse myself and found Paul. Paul and I hit it off almost instantly;
we carry on an hours-long conversation, always finding our way back to
each other at the bar. A lawyer from the South who heads up an Atheist
and freethinkers’ group, Paul is one of the least gregarious and most
reserved of pupils. Even though he isn’t the most handsome of the
students, he listens and holds eye contact better than any of them. I’m
surprised when he tells me he’s 41—but not as quite as surprised as
when he walks up to me, quite concerned that he had bothered a man by
offering to shake his hand. The Art of Charm is very pro-touching.
when Paul tried to shake a man’s hand at the bar, the handshake wasn’t
returned. “I don’t know you,” the man growled at Paul. With a look of
sincere concern, Paul says it was a “culture shock” for him to have a
handshake rebuffed. “It’s almost a germ thing,” he says. No, I tell
him, this is just New York,
and if someone touches you here, they’re probably trying to tell you
they’re mentally ill or they’re hitting on you. It turns out that the
teachers accidentally brought their students to gay night at Arlo &
Esme, which becomes clear as the bar fills up throughout the night.
Don’t be offended, I assure Paul, that man probably just thought you
were hitting on him. Paul smiles, bemused.
It’s after midnight
when I excuse myself from talking to Paul and make my way back to base
camp. En route, I run into a familiar face, Nick, with whom I worked at
a magazine a few years back. He was at Arlo & Esme with a friend
who is dating the coat-check girl; as we chat, he tells me he once took
a pickup class from Mystery and wrote about it. He becomes giddy when I
tell him Art of Charm students surround us. Brian and
Dewey come up to us and the conversation immediately becomes awkward.
and his friend are polite at first, engaging Brian and Dewey in
conversation. But within minutes, I noticed he and his friend are
smirking and sniggering at Brian and Dewey’s outsized responses. I feel
defensive of these guys who were just trying to be friendly, and I make
a hasty effort to separate the students before they are humiliated.
the cab ride back uptown, I think about how, years ago, I had found
Nick very attractive but never very nice. But I realize that night I
spent three and a half hours with men who were awkward, who said
strange things and tried way too hard, but I’d had a great time with
them. An amazing time, even. And despite the twirling and the dancing,
I’d rather be with guys like Brian or Dewey than guys like Nick. But
simply putting a pupil next to a smooth-talking New Yorker who could
take home any girl he likes—the kind of guy these coaches from The Art
of Charm convince them they can be—is telling.
Men like Brian,
Dewey, Dan and Paul are dropping thousands of dollars to allegedly
learn charm. Dewey told me, as enthusiastic as ever, that it was “worth
When a sweet but schlubby guy like Brian is up
against an old pro on the pickup scene like Nick, it’s apparent how
charming he already is.
> The Art of Charm
For information, call 917-720-4104 or visit www.theartofcharm.com