Grin and bare it

Somehow women have become convinced that just being intelligent and personable is not enough to attract a mate; now we also need to erect steel poles in our bedrooms, purchase an array of filmy lingerie and demonstrate enough dexterity to pick up $20 bills with our buttocks. Stripping classes ranging from fitness-oriented cardio striptease to friction-oriented lap-dance tutorials are flourishing, even in such formerly benign locales as Old Folsom and the Learning Exchange. Via the time-honored combination of bump-and-grind, these classes encourage women to own their sensuality, spice up their relationships and strut the stiletto-pocked runway to sexual empowerment.

There are worse hobbies. I didn’t have any body-esteem epiphanies during the strip-aerobics class I attended last week, but at least it was low-impact and heart-healthy. It was also curiously devoid of actual stripping. (“Only the pounds come off” is the trademarked slogan for Dance X Strip Aerobics, available twice weekly at Healthy Habits Studio.)

The class laid on the burlesque details, nonetheless. When I walked in, one of the participants was busy shaking her moneymaker—despite the absence of music—as another pretended to slap it. Strings of red light bulbs gave the studio an Amsterdam aesthetic that made me want to start singing, “Rooooxxxxxanne!”

The instructor introduced herself as Delicious Donna and asked each participant to choose her own alliterative appellation. When I was unable to think of anything sufficiently racy (Beautiful Becca? Bitchy Becca? Booty-riffic Becca?) Donna christened me Bodacious.

She asked if we were ready to dance. No one said anything. “Aw, come on!” she said. “Are you ready to dance?” Being familiar with this method of eliciting crowd response, I let out an obligatory “Woooooo!” I was the only one, and my whoop filled the otherwise quiet room. Bodacious, indeed.

During the warm-up, to “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” we slowly acted out the lyrics to the song, removing imaginary coats and dresses, raising our arms and, yes, shaking them. Then we got jiggy with it; did that conga; poured some sugar on it; and shook, shook, shook, shook our booties. In fact, strip aerobics is all about the booty. Round and round, side to side, hovering above the floor, or vibrating like a bed at a cheap motel, our backsides were constantly in motion.

For the first few songs, I was having a blast. The campy disco music and ridiculously bawdy movements combined to produce an embarrassment akin to euphoria. But after 45 minutes or so, my thighs and hips were screaming for a rest. “Even professional strippers only do this for two songs at a time!” I thought grumpily.

Though the sight of myself in the studio mirrors sweating and wriggling in yoga pants and an old T-shirt did little to persuade me of my innate sexiness, I was rapidly convinced of Donna’s. She kept up her practiced gyrations and ran her hands over her body, encouraging us with saucy glances and pep talks. It got so I didn’t know where to look. When we finally laid down on mats for leg lifts, I was relieved to be staring at the ceiling. Cardiovascular exercise is enough of a challenge without having to reconsider one’s entire sexual orientation.

Donna asked us all to end the class in a sexy pose. She lay on her side with one leg in the air, as other women popped their hips and smiled in classic cheesecake form. Aching and clammy, I pulled my hair back from my face and tried to think of something provocative. I was still thinking when the other women got up to put their mats away. So much for owning my sensuality.

I felt even less attractive during the next two days as I limped around with aching muscles, trying to find a polite way to explain how I’d strained what my mama gave me. Here’s hoping the door hasn’t completely closed on intelligence and personality.