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Posted on Wed, Mar. 31, 2004

Jenice Armstrong | Exotic class reveals your 'body rhythm'




heyjen@phillynews.com

IT MIGHT sound sleazy, but deep down inside, what woman doesn't wish she could move like those women at Delilah's Den?

On an impulse, I decided to check a class on "The Art of Exotic Dancing" at the Society Hill Dance Studio.

When I showed up Monday night, I was relieved to see that the instructor looked perfectly normal. No triple D-cup silicone boobs. No glittery Fredericks of Hollywood getup. In fact, Leah Stauffer looked more like a kindergarten teacher than an exotic-dance instructor.

After a warm handshake, she led me into a room where a small group of women, dressed in fitness clothes, was huddled.

"Did you want to change?" Leah asked.

What I wanted to say was, "I ain't takin' off nothin'." But I decided to join in and made it back just as everyone was gathering to sit in a circle on the floor.

"This whole experience is about you finding your innner body rhythm," Leah said. "We're all as individual as our fingerprints. You're not going to dance like me or like your neighbor."

Now I'm the type that hangs back from going down the Soul Train line at a party. So, how was I going to get up in front of everyone and pretend to be a stripper?

Each woman took turns saying why she'd decided to take the class. One had been having self-doubt after her husband left her for "the other woman." A recent college graduate said she wanted to learn to dance like the women she'd seen at strip clubs. And another said this was her way of getting in touch with her feminity.

Then Leah performed. No longer the kindergarten teacher, she moved with such grace and confidence that she looked like some exotic creature. I was impressed.

Before I knew it, Leah had us all standing, facing a floor-to-ceiling mirror and doing a step-drag-step movement across the floor. I was moving like the rusty Tin Man from "The Wizard of Oz."

Then, I remembered Leah's pep talk about being positive and not focusing on your negative attributes. Forget your hips and find something you do like to concentrate on, she said. I liked the fact that I looked athletic, so I tried to concentrate on that. Step. Drag. Step. Drag. After a bit, I was putting my hip into it. I even looked a little sexy.

But as soon as I'd gotten that move down, Leah added hand movements. She demonstrated a few, hugging her shoulders, running her hands seductively up and down her sides. I tried holding my hands above my head Diana Ross-style like Leah, but felt ridiculous.

So, I settled on this hula-type gesture where you alternate receiving "energy" and sending it away. You slowly stick one arm out, then pull it back. And then you do the same thing with the other arm. Then you repeat the whole thing. It's send energy. Receive energy. Send. Receive. And step. Drag. Step. Send. Receive. Send.

I was getting better, but the girls at Delilah's still had nothing to fear from me.

Then, Leah lined us up facing each other and explained the importance of eye contact. She instructed us to do our step-drag-walk and our hand movements while maintaining eye contact with the woman across from us. The girl-on-girl thing had some of us shifting nervously, but Leah made us chill.

"That's where all the power is," Leah said. "It's saying, I'm not afraid to express to you who I am... That's the kind of energy that attracts people to you."

I watched as a fiftysomething woman started moving stiffly toward me, moving even more awkwardly than I had. My own discomfort turned to support after she finally made it over, smiling like Miss America. I wanted to yell, "Go ahead, girlfriend."

Then it was my turn. Deep breath. Step. Drag. Step. Drag. Don't forget your hand movements, I reminded myself.

The next thing I remember is everyone pulling out their 6-inch platform, "bad girl" shoes. Leah's were clear with rhinestones across the toes. One woman had white, patent-leather pumps with huge platforms. I felt so lame when I pulled out my 2 -inch heels.

The rest of the evening went by in a blur of hip rolls - you put one foot forward and make circles - and crawling around on the floor. By the time the evening was over, we had learned an entire stripper routine. We even learned how to strip out of a man's over-sized button-down shirt - my favorite was the part where you kick it across the floor - and how to work a feather boa. (Never hide behind it. But do use it as a prop.)

Even though we basically were following the routine, we each added our own special flava. Charmaine Ensinger, a tattoo-covered 35-year-old Web designer, had this hard-edged Mick Jagger thing going on, and 26-year-old Deandra Witt, a married "quintessential good girl," moved like she was born to dance.


Chat about body rhythm, fitness and help with Jenice Armstrong and other Girlfriends in the Girlfriends' Locker Room, our Daily News weblog.

Afterward, it was back to the circle where the women spoke glowingly of the experience.

"It's our birthright," said Tia Braxton, a 35-year-old entrepreneur who was back for a second time. "It comes naturally. It's within us."

Sue Ricci, 57, who's been caring for her brain-injured husband, said it was her way of doing something just for herself. "It makes you feel on top of the world."

As for me, exotic dancing didn't come naturally. But I had taken a walk out of my normal routine. And that made it worthwhile. *

The next class at the Society Hill Dance Studio will be 6-9 p.m. April 19. Cost is $79. For information on other classes and locations, log on to http://www.artofexoticdancing.com/.

Hey, fashionistas, club kids and other hip about-town types: Have you peeped a hot trend that hasn't been reported? Or maybe you've noticed that the "in" crowd has moved onto a different spot. E-mail heyjen@ phillynews.com and let me know what you know.


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