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Slinky Productions

Taking it to the Poles

In a room in San Francisco, a group of ten women ranging from ordinary-looking housewives to willowy co-eds are laughing and exchanging stories about sex, confidence, shoes, and self-acceptance -- with the music pumped up extra loud. It may strike the casual observer as being a typical girls' night in -- except it's not night, and at the epicenter of the women's conversations is, rather than relationship issues, a floor-to-ceiling stripper pole.

With cardio striptease and exotic dance classes (which you can find everywhere from the gym to more specialized institutions like actress Sheila Kelley's S Factor) making more than a cameo appearance outside the strip club circuit, strip fitness is only appearing to gain momentum -- especially among fitness lovers bored with the same old sweaty gym routine.

Certainly, twisting around and hanging from a pole or doing gyrations in a coordinated fashion should be fodder for a challenging, glute-tightening workout, but for many purveyors of the trend, it's also about allowing women to find a more sensual way of expressing themselves and connecting to their bodies. And if you take classes with Catherine Rose, the founder of Slinky Productions (the first organization to offer exotic dance classes in the Bay Area, long before it gained ascendancy in the fitness world), you can also expect a non-judgmental, fun atmosphere ripe for helping you unleash your inner sex goddess as you burn calories.

Rose opened her studio doors in 2000 after years of being asked by friends and acquaintances alike to teach them some of the moves that she learned as an exotic dancer in the industry many years go. "There's a distinction between the pole dance classes and the exotic dance classes," says Rose, whose offerings attract women from all demographics: college students, housewives, and professionals. "Many of the women who take the pole classes are young and athletic, and they are already going to the gym or doing yoga, so they want something that allows them to physically exert themselves."

But whereas pole dance may require more athleticism or attract women more interested in working out than gaining body confidence, Rose's exotic and lap dance classes are the ones that tend to draw a more diverse assortment of women. "The women who take these classes are usually in relationships, and they want to learn something fun and spicy to show their partners," explains Rose.

Slinky Productions is markedly different from the sort of striptease and pole dance classes you might find at the gym or S Factor, in that Rose's workshops are generally several hours long, with a great deal of information and moves compressed into that time. The courses range from beginning to advanced classes in pole dance, lap dance for couples, and exotic dance in venues across the Bay Area.

"It isn't paced like other places, where you might take a series of classes and learn one pole trick every two weeks. You can take the classes over and over again, because the material that we cover tends to be very dense, so there is always room to perfect the moves," Rose (who also offers repeat students discounts) explains. And aside from workshops, Rose and her team of teachers also offer ongoing weekly classes.

The intimacy and bonding experience of a Slinky Production workshop is also another selling point of Rose's enterprise, which deviates from the mass-marketed tenor of more mainstream strip fitness classes. When I attended one of Rose's exotic dance workshops, there were ten participants altogether. In general, Rose's classes are limited to a small number of students and typically range from four to ten women. While it isn’t necessary, women are encouraged to dress up (e.g., boas, sexy lingerie, six-inch platforms) as they learn how to gyrate or do a “floor show".

While self-revelation isn't necessary for students to have a great time and learn some moves, the small class size allows for more personalized attention from the instructor, as well as a smaller likelihood of feeling self-conscious when you're asked to perform a move in front of a partner or the group at large, which is especially significant, considering that the classes can dredge up a lot of body image issues that may make women feel vulnerable before they feel empowered.

"A [Slinky Productions] class is all about helping women to reconnect with the parts of themselves they may have pushed off to the side," says Rose, who is accustomed to meeting women who come to her classes precisely because they feel separate from their bodies. "I often hear from a woman after she leaves a class that she felt more grounded, powerful, graceful, and sexy. She steps into a sexiness she didn't even know was hers to begin with. And because the material is so accessible, women can easily do the moves, and the idea of being a 'sexy woman' isn't just an unattainable fantasy."

Rose notes that the art of exotic dance, striptease, and pole dance has become demystified and assimilated into the mainstream, especially with the advent of fitness classes focused on helping women feel more sexy and confident. “Little by little, that whole world is available for mainstream consumption, but many people who are interested in it might be freaked out by a real strip club,” notes Rose. “On some level, the foundation for stripping and taking a pole dance class is the same. It’s fitness, it’s a feminine art form, it allows sensual expression for women that isn’t available in most parts of our culture. But there are many organizations selling classes in pole dancing that wouldn’t encourage their students to be professional pole dancers. There’s a need to sanitize the dancing in order to make it more acceptable for the mainstream.”

Even as exotic and pole dance have become legitimized in gyms and dance studios like Slinky Productions (and sometimes, even in high school P.E.), there continues to be a market for the consumers who “actually want the vicarious thrill…and want to know what it might be like to be in the industry.”

While the content is always pre-planned in advance of the classes, Rose and her small team of teachers always pace a workshop to cater to the women in attendance and their levels of comfort and expertise. As Rose expands her business to include online classes and memberships, it’s clear that Slinky Productions will continue to offer women something they may not be likely to get at their local gym: the experience of the eroticism, power, and inherent sexiness of the female body, imperfections and all.