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This Workout's a Grind

Fitness instructor Jeff Costa leads a sexy style of dance aerobics for the uninhibited: the Cardio Striptease.

April 04, 2002|VICTORIA LOOSELEAF | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Janet Jackson's "Throb" is cranked up full blast as 50 bodies slither back and forth across the wood floor. The group slowly rises in unison--with precision that would do the Rockettes proud--and heads start to swing with abandon, hair flying. A guy with a shaved head wearing a custom-made dog collar attached to a single, cut-out leather sleeve beseeches the group's members to touch themselves.

"Run your hands over your body. Enjoy yourself," coos Jeff Costa through his headset microphone before demonstrating a perfectly executed series of spins.

What's up in this mirror-lined room that's steamy from sweat? "Fosse" auditions? A new type of primal therapy? Kundalini yoga?

No, it's Cardio Striptease, a workout that was dreamed up by 31-year-old Costa, designed, he says, both to build self-esteem and shed pounds while shedding clothes.

Working out at a health club has always embraced a kind of exhibitionism, and at Crunch Gym, beautiful faces, hard bodies and six-pack abs are already displayed with some abandon. But channeling sexual energy into exercise has taken on new meaning since Costa began teaching his class last June.

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Thursday May 2, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 1 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction
Participant's name: A story about Cardio Striptease workouts in the April 4 Calendar Weekend misspelled the last name of retired secretary Thelma Ostrow.

"A few things motivate people," Costa says after class, his eyes sparkling, his buff arms glistening from perspiration, "and those are sex and working out. I put them together."

Costa has emerged at the forefront of the competitive world of fitness classes, where a new thing--spinning, candlelight yoga, Tae Bo, Pilates--can become all the rage.

Born in Cape Cod, Mass., the limber-limbed Costa studied French, English and dance at Boston University before joining the Boston-based jazz company Impulse Dance in 1994.

In 1997, the dancer-choreographer moved to Los Angeles, where he has since carved out a niche for himself in the health and fitness arena. Besides teaching Cardio Striptease, which he recently launched at Crunch's Tokyo, New York and Miami branches, Costa also teaches step aerobics, hip-hop, an aqua fitness class and advanced aerobics at health clubs around town. In addition, Costa teaches on cruise ships, has appeared in music videos and has, on occasion, strutted his well-toned body up and down a model's catwalk.

But it's his bump-and-grind routines that have brought Costa a measure of prominence. Cardio Striptease, a name he trademarked, has been written up in Playboy and the New York Times.

"Stripping," he declares, "is boring, but striptease is hot. At gyms there's always an element of sex, with people meeting each other, looking at bodies, flirting. Let's not pretend it's otherwise."

Costa sounds like a positive-thinking graduate of a Tony Robbins seminar when he explains the popularity of Cardio Striptease. "Middle America wants to know how to be provocative, how to be seductive. 'Moulin Rouge' is a huge hit, Victoria's Secret commercials are all over TV. Cardio Striptease is going to be the next Tae Bo," Costa says confidently, referring to Billy Blanks' phenomenally successful workout that blends aerobics with boxing and martial arts.

If the swollen attendance at Costa's class is any indication, it appears the fitness guru is on to something. His pupils range in age from 18 to 70-something, 80% of them women.

Only a handful of men show up each week to throw attitude, gyrate and shamelessly preen. A Beverly Hills real estate agent who declined to give his name but gladly stripped off his shirt, flashing some skin while bumping up against a girl doing squats and lunges, said, "Here I am, a straight guy, who thought the class would be too girlie. But I think Jeff's special and can pull this off. It's fun [and] it's really good exercise."

Some classes feature tear-away pants, feather boas and stripping poles, but this evening's workout involves an erotic routine performed around chairs. (Eat your heart out, Liza Minnelli.) Most of the students have removed at least one article of clothing before the routine ends. In addition, those who wear them begin snapping their thongs.

Included is Michelle, a 33-year-old accounting coordinator for a cosmetics company, who flaunts her black-lace thong. She takes the class, she says, because it celebrates sensuality. "But I think I need kneepads," she notes, "because crawling around on the floor is tough on the knees."

Retired secretary Thelma Ostlow, an admitted "senior citizen," chooses to sway rather than crawl on the floor. But, dressed in sweats, she doesn't hesitate to fling her T-shirt off and twirl it over her head. "It makes me feel great--like I'm young again."

Costa dims the lights for the final routine in the 45-minute class. The class moves to the large glass wall, where, from the other side, weightlifters between sets can ogle their shimmying forms. They leave streaked handprints on the glass like an erotic calling card. "Thank you all for coming," Costa says earnestly at the end. "God bless you, I love you. Now go home and have sex."

*

Cardio Striptease, Crunch Gym, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. Wednesdays, 7 p.m. Nonmembers, $23. Members, free. (323) 654-4550.

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