Fitness studio puts the "X" in exercise

Spend 10 minutes in the crowded pink and brown lobby of Flirty Girl Fitness and you'll know Chicago women are eager to unleash their inner vixens.

Classes like Pole Dancing 101, XXXPowerStrip, Cardio Cabaret and Video Vixen promise to tone up, sex up, and empower women of all ages and sizes. Women wait in line to sign up. So, what's all the buzz about?

Mostly, it turns out, avoiding the dreaded treadmill.

"We know that women hate working out. I've always had to drag my ass to the gym, but I always want to stay in shape. So we thought, let's create the 'un-gym,'" says  Flirty Girl co-owner Kerry Knee. "Get rid of all the treadmills and the things that women hate. Make everything fun, and if it's not fun, we won't do it."

Knee launched the business with her sister, Krista, after seeing a pole dancing class on Oprah. The sisters discovered there were no classes offered in Toronto, their hometown. After opening there, the sisters took their business international, opening a second location on Chicago's Near West Side at 1325 W. Randolph St.

Kerry, 37, runs the Chicago center, and Krista, 33, runs the Toronto location. They're planning additional locations in Miami,  Los Angeles and other cities.

"Our whole concept is to capitalize on whatever is trendy. So let's say pole dancing isn't popular in a few years, fine, we'll take out the poles," says Kerry.

She is developing classes involving circus rings, mechanical bulls, disco balls, and smoke machines.

The Chicago studio looks like it was decorated by Elle Woods of Legally Blonde.

The studio holds three rooms equipped with poles, bright, pink punching bags, yoga mats, and love seats. The full-length mirrors reflect the classes packed with women twisting their hips, shaking their booties, and swinging around poles to the beat of the music. The locker rooms are also decorated in floor to ceiling hot pink.

A spa in the back offers manicures and pedicures, and there's a sun deck awaiting the arrival of warmer weather.

Knee says the youngest client is 18, and the oldest is 74. Most are drawn to the classes out of curiosity, boredom with regular fitness classes, or because they want to add some sizzle to their sex life, Knee says.

"No one ever teaches you to be sexy. Women are supposed to naturally know how to be sexy and do all these things," says Knee. "I think learning it in this kind of environment with a fitness wrapper around it makes people feel safe and comfortable."

Most women who are virgins to pole dancing classes scoff at the idea of strutting like a stripper and grinding chairs in front of a room full of strangers.

Despite their reluctance, curiosity usually prevails. Like most first timers, Tiffany Holmes, 21, was nervous before her first experience at Flirty Girl Fitness.

"I was a little hesitant with the whole idea of going because I wasn't sure what kind of women would be there and if I would fit in and feel comfortable. When we got there, the atmosphere immediately made me feel relieved. The women that came in for the classes were all very, well, normal," she says. "It actually made me feel better to see that these women were about as nervous as I was."

Holmes says she found pole-dancing a thrill.

"I went through feeling like I was at an aerobics class at a gym with a little bit of spice. It was fun learning the dance, and it really made me feel sexy," says Holmes, who was just as thrilled to show her boyfriend her new moves.

Fitness experts are split on the value of pole dancing.
"There is a toning and sculpting aspect to pole dancing that you don't get with the treadmill," says Lois Miller, a regional fitness director at Crunch, which also offers the classes. "Pole dancing is fun.  The hour just flies by."

But personal trainer Michelle Rossfeld says pole dancing doesn't offer as much of a workout as other activities.

"You will burn more calories and fat power-walking, jogging, running and biking," she says.

Knee says the benefits of pole dancing go beyond simple count of calories burned.

Clients "like the social aspect of it, and they feel good about themselves," says Knee. "Women always talk about how they have a kick in their step after they leave Flirty Girl."