Vaudeville may be dead, but burlesque is alive and well at the gym.
Young women are strip-teasing, pole dancing and stretching sultrily in group fitness classes that seem to boost their sexual self-confidence as much as their cardio.
"These people are school teachers, secretaries, college kids," said Donna Cyrus of the Crunch chain of health clubs, who has been programming sexy workouts since she was inspired by Demi Moore's performance in the 1996 movie Striptease.
"It's a great workout. My generation did a lot of aerobics," said Cyrus, who is in her 40s. "By the time the 20-somethings started going to the gym they were looking for different ways to get fit. They're looking to express their sexuality."
So Crunch obliges with classes like "Strip Bar", "Belly Moves" and "Sexy Stretch" that Cyrus says provide fierce workouts and build self-esteem as efficiently as they burn calories.
"Pole dancing is about upper body strength," Cyrus said. "They have to hold their body weight. Then they practice over and over to make the activity safe before going on to the next movement."
Then the lower body is used to climb the pole.
"After that it is doing inversions. This happens in an advanced class which Crunch, which never met a double entendre it didn't like, labels "Turning Tricks," she said.
There is also the male factor.
"Our studios are glass-enclosed so on any given night men are outside looking in. It's a very good meet-and-greet that's certainly helped our membership," she explained.
Not in: Heels
Jessica Matthews, spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise, says sexy classes can be great motivators.
"I'm a fan of these out-of-the-box classes if they get people excited," Matthews said.
"Pole dancing and strip aerobics tend to have great aerobic benefits, and belly dancing has a big focus on posture and core," she said.
"People like having a sexy repertoire," she said, even as she cautioned those channelling their inner Gypsy Rose Lee to stick to sneakers or go barefoot.
"I would not encourage any class to wear six-inch heels."
If not heels, Robin Antin, choreographer of the Pussycat Dolls, hopes those viewing her workout DVD will at least grab a feather boa or a scarf while gyrating to the Dolls' hits, such as Don't Cha (wish your girlfriend was hot like me).
Your inner Doll
"I wanted to teach it like a simplified version of a dance class," said Antin, founder of the girl group, which started out as a lounge act "Everybody has this fantasy of being a dancer."
Antin, whose upcoming book is called Finding Your Inner Doll, said despite the lingerie-like costumes and spike heels, her DVD is mainstream.
"It's great for moms and daughters," she said. "It's at Walmart."
You can take the workout out of show biz but you can't take show biz out of the workout. Crunch stages show days so their pole dancers can strut, or slither, their stuff.
"In San Francisco, in Los Angeles, in Miami, in New York," Cyrus said. "They'll all dress up and put on shoes, leg warmers, full makeup. They'll invite their friends and relatives. The place is packed. "
The sexy workout crowd is obsessed, she added.
"If there's no poll available, they'll stand there and wait their turn." - (Reuters/March 2010)