Dramatic, tension-building music begins the video link on the website of Pickup Artist South Africa. PUASA is the first company in Africa to offer a service that in the last decade or so has been successful in the developed world: Training men to attract women.
That online scene is a packed nightclub in Johannesburg, a kaleidoscope of electronic color lighting up a sea of people. Their bodies sway, their hands are aloft in worship of a night of revelry.
The camera focuses on several young women, who without exception are very attractive. One runs her fingers through her platinum blonde hair. As some couples dance, others embrace.
Everything is shot in slow motion and then a blurb emerges on screen -- offering men the chance to develop the tools and techniques for attracting the partner of their dreams.
"Pickup artists" are men who consider themselves skilled at finding and attracting partners. Besides South Africa, there are associations in other parts of the world, and quite a few are in the United States.
Women’s rights groups have slammed the PUA movement as sexist - and even misogynistic. But the men defend their “right to live good love lives” and deny discriminating against or abusing women.
At the helm of the local PUASA are Ryan Peimer and Josh Margolis, two average-looking men in their late 20s who claim the distinction of being Africa’s first professional pickup artists.
Before launching their business, they say they spent six years researching the laws of attraction and were mentored by Adam Lyons, a British PUA leader now living in the United States. They say Lyons was ranked number one pickup artist in the world at the group's world summit in Australia three years ago.
A boot camp on the art of attraction
The bedrock of this Johannesburg business is a course they call a boot camp. Peimer and Margolis charge men who want to be more successful finding partners 4,000 rand – about $380 – to attend.
“Our boot camps consist of two nights of theory and a couple of nights out in the field at clubs where the students [under our guidance] interact with women,” says Margolis.
Peimer says, “We teach more universal, psychological skills and techniques that don’t require guys to memorize a hundred lines, but rather to understand the art of attraction.”
“The response from South African guys in the past year or so has been amazing,” says Margolis. “Our boot camps are always full.”
On the PUASA website, clients extol the benefits of these seminars that Peimer and Margolis - in conjunction with fashion and style consultants - have helped them to meet partners. The results were "absolutely amazing,” says one. “Mind blowing,” says another.
It’s not just about sex
Margolis comments that success according to the PUASA guidebook isn’t necessarily about having physical relationships.
“Success would mean something different for every single different individual that comes on our course,” he emphasizes, explaining further: “You get guys that are really, really struggling with women; and for them just talking to a girl - that is success.”
Many of PUASA’s clients are now in stable, long-term relationships, the professional pickup artists argue. Like the man who met his fiancée on a boot camp outing.
“For me that’s far more rewarding ....,” Margolis says.
Techniques of attraction
Peimer emphasizes that he and Margolis don’t teach men how to manipulate or deceive women. “We’re not teaching guys these superpower techniques that are going to eliminate all women’s freedom of choice… It’s not how it works…
‘We teach guys how to flirt," he says.
As teachers, they focus on how women think and ways their students can be more attractive. They tell them to concentrate on the other person's needs, be honest at all times, be kind, make eye contact, position your body so that you are facing her - but don’t get too close or she’ll feel threatened. Never interrupt. Be confident, but not arrogant or aggressive.
“I think a lot of guys go in quite hard and they scare women off,” says Margolis. “So, the woman feels as if she’s been hit on. Automatically the brick wall comes up,” because she’s heard it nine times already that night. “You’re no different from every other guy who’s said, ‘Hey, you’re beautiful. Can I buy you a drink?’”
Ask for advice, but never lie
“A lot of what we teach,” says Margolis, is actually how to be respectful. “So, we teach you how to touch respectfully in an initial interaction. Part of that is to never touch in a sexual way. Touch in a very affectionate way, like you would a friend.
“The crux is that you want to come in under the radar and just have a friendly conversation.”
According to Peimer, one way to do this is to talk about topics that women enjoy, which he says includes relationships and shopping. “Go up to a woman and say, ‘I’m useless at shopping; could you please give me advice about a present I want to buy?’ Or ask her to help you to understand a relationship you were in. But don’t make things up. Never lie. Lying to women is taboo, in our book.”
Above all, says Peimer, men must be well-groomed and have good manners.
“We always say to guys, ‘There are certain things that are out of your control. You may not be the perfect weight. You may not have a Brad Pitt face. You may not be muscular. But you can control your grooming.”
“Looks, per se, don’t matter,” Margolis says. “It’s how you put yourself together and the effort that you make.”
Lessons for women?
At a bar in Johannesburg’s bohemian Melville suburb, a good-looking brunette named Tania sips on a strawberry daiquiri. Barry Manilow serenades her from a speaker a few meters from her head. The American singer croons, ‘I write the songs that make the young girls cry…’
She says she has no problem with men being taught how to approach women respectfully, if they want meaningful relationships.
“But if it’s a question of they’re giving them skills to chat women up to basically deceive them, that’s quite unethical.”
She says the video link on the PUASA website, where the man “boasts” of hooking up with a partner courtesy of the training he’s received from the organization is in bad taste. “It does cast a lot of doubt on their claims that they’re not about teaching men sly tricks, and that they’re not selling sex.”
Across the city at a club in Braamfontein, a dread-locked Leoni Mazibuko jives on the dance floor in knee-length leather boots, white ski pants and silver sequined top.
Mazibuko likes the idea that men are being taught how to relate to women. “This is good. As a woman … talking from the woman’s side … I really think some men, they need such techniques.”
She says more and more men who approach her don’t know how to be charming at all. “They are in your face and they’re drunk and they say disgusting things to you and then they expect you to go home with them,” she exclaims.
“If these pickup experts can teach men in South Africa not to be like this, if they can teach them how to charm me, then I’m on their side.”
Margolis and Peimer are not fazed by their critics. In fact, they’re preparing to expand their enterprise - in a surprising direction.
“We’re aiming to teach women who are struggling with their love lives how to [relate to] guys. That’s the next phase of our business,” Peimer says.
Then Margolis asks, “Now, would you go and tell those women that they’re the opposite of misogynists, that they hate men? Or that they’re sexist? No.”
Everyone, he says, is entitled to equal opportunities --for romance.