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LAS VEGAS

Oh, go ahead, kick up your heels

An exotic-dance class helps some burned-out women get their mojo back. Plus, they discover that it's one heck of a workout.

July 15, 2007|Michelle Maltais | Times Staff Writer

WHEN my girlfriends and I come to Vegas, it's usually at the point when we're about to pop. We feel overworked, under-appreciated and under pressure. Usually, the getaway involves pampering (massages and beauty treatments) and playing (gambling and hitting hot clubs such as Pure and the Foundation Room).

But this time was different. The stresses of taking care of kids and parents and significant others demanded a bigger payoff. We needed to relax, recharge and reconnect with our inner hotties. So this time, between the spa treatments and decadent dining, we scheduled a 90-minute dance lesson -- a lap dance lesson, that is.

As easily as ordering flowers online, our ringleader, Kalpana Singh Rhodes, called up Fawnia Mondey's Pole Fitness Studio in Las Vegas to schedule our private-dancer lesson and paid the $250 for our 90-minute session. With that, a group of respectable, college-educated women -- a couple of stay-at-home moms, a psychologist, a personal trainer, a middle-school teacher and a multimedia journalist -- was suddenly about to get schooled, Vegas style.

Although completely legal, taking an exotic dance class in Vegas somehow just feels illicit.

Since 1994, more than 10,000 students have learned to strip away inhibitions and expose their sensual and athletic talents at the studios established by Mondey, a former exotic entertainer and competitive bodybuilder. The classes have become so popular that booking a couple of weeks in advance is recommended.

Our instructor, exotic dancer Rebecca Rasmussen, said students range in age from late teens to early 50s and come from all walks of life -- exotic entertainers, lawyers, real estate agents, stay-at-home moms, ballroom dancers and professional cheerleaders. So we were hardly unique.

Just the same, Kalpana held the class in the comfort and privacy of our suite. We didn't need to feel any more exposed.

"I wanted more of a Tupperware party atmosphere," said Kalpana, a perpetual USC grad student and mother of three boys under 8.

At 2:30 p.m. on the dot, the doorbell rang. When we opened the door, there stood Rebecca, a Vegas lap-dance fantasy holding a boombox.

She hardly looked like a 34-year-old mother of two.

We were nervously giddy, not at all the confident, capable women we have to be in everyday life. But Rebecca immediately put us at ease. As Kalpana put it, "She could have been teaching us how to bake a cake."

One of the first things our instructor said was no alcohol, which put our reliance on liquid courage on hold. Immediately, we discovered this was to be a real workout, complete with proper stretching and serious sweat.

And why no alcohol? Rebecca was going to have us do something some of us hadn't dared since junior high, if ever -- a handstand. But no ordinary one. She called it a "flip."

A flip, as she demonstrated on me, was a handstand with fluid but pretzel-like choreographed movements, all done while perched on the legs of a seated person. We were to do an intermediate-level flip.

Um, yeah, no sweat.

Most of us thought, "No way." To me, the idea of inflicting my full weight on this tiny woman seemed cruel. But before long, with her reassurance, encouragement and step-by-step instruction, each of us threw our legs in the air one at a time and perched on her lap, our shoulders on her thighs with legs in the air, doing the "Tootsee Roll," as in the signature dance move of the 69 Boyz.

By this point, we knew we could do anything else that was put before us. The rest of the time was spent learning and perfecting a routine Rebecca choreographed for us. Infused with a bit of audacity and sassiness, we practiced most of the routine (walk, walk, turn, swivel down, down, "Tootsee Roll," down, shake, shake, shake and smack) that evening in the VIP section at Body English, the Hard Rock Hotel club where we had booked a booth.

The moves may be flirting with the naughty side, but Rebecca said the classes were as much about building confidence as building a boudoir repertoire. Her students comport themselves differently after their classes.

"I like to watch the transition," she said.

Those 90 minutes certainly did a number on us, even if our newfound talents are to remain mostly hidden.

"Doing something like this changed my entire impression of myself," Kalpana said.

We discovered that exotic dancing can be a wickedly effective workout. One client, Rebecca said, has lost more than 20 pounds taking one-hour classes two or three times a week over several months.

These days, my girlfriends and I have modified the moves somewhat from dirty to flirty for dancing in public. A few of us occasionally practice at home in our walk-in closets or bathrooms, sometimes sending cryptic instant messages and cellphone text messages to one another for a quick reminder of the routine.

michelle.maltais@latimes.com

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Shake a leg, and more

Pole Fitness Studio, 4275 S. Arville St., Las Vegas 89103. There are numerous other studios, but this is close to the Strip. More info: (866) 890-1429, www.polefitnessstudio.com.

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