Thursday, April 29, 2010

Exotic Dance 101

Back to the exotic dance class. This time I wanted to talk with the class instructor, Althea Lawton-Thompson, owner of Aerobics, Yoga & More Fitness & Dance Studios in Stone Mountain, Georgia.

After decades of glum, repetitive, force-myself-to-go workouts, I deserved this shot of exuberance that restored my faith in the power of a good workout class. Here was one that combined the beauty of dance with a playful naughtiness to chase my cares, woes and cellulite into someone else’s backyard. And unlike my actual childhood, I’m not relegated to the bench, but in the game with a delightful gang of playmates dancing and bumping to the big bass thumping.

So how did Althea become the captain of my favorite team on the playground?

“We decided to put Exotic Dance on AYM’s schedule because we wanted to do something fun, liberating and effective for strength and agility” says Althea. “We wanted AYM to be different than all of the other gyms and studios around us. Our Exotic Dance class is classy, tasteful, and incorporates all styles of sexy movement - Latin, Caribbean, Belly Dance, and Hip Hop/Video.”

Well, you said it sister – fun, liberating, and effective. The high heels do make some of the moves easier, but are they helping? And how does it affect, you know, my bottom line?

“This workout incorporates all of the core muscles in the abdomen and back as well as the large muscles of the thighs and legs” explains the leader we follow gladly and devotedly. “The Belly Dancing and some of the Video Dance routines also include major arm movements to tone the shoulders and upper arms. By wearing high heels, the calves, thighs and gluteal muscles are toned through squatting, bending and slow walking.”

Maybe now you’re interested, curious, and willing, but have yet to put your pumps, workout gear and chutzpah in the car and head for the party, or workout (call it what you will,) because you need that extra tug. Allow me to fling my feather boa around your waist and pull you in so you can get your backfield in motion with the rest of us. Or better yet, I’ll ask Althea to describe what you’re missing.

“What's so amazing is that every kind of woman you can imagine participates,” Althea assures me. “Our classes typically have women as young as 22 and as mature as 73. All ethnicities and races and religions are prancing around a chair in 2-4 inch heels together as one... and having a great time doing it! Tall, short, thick, thin, rhythmic and uncoordinated - we're all there together gettin' our groove on.”

Thank you, Althea. I’ll see you soon. Oh, are the rest of you still here? You better get going and get a good spot. I’ll be in front working out my booty deluxe – ‘the whole club is lookin’ at her!’ Yeah!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Oh, Sure It Looks Easy

So I gather the necessities: workout clothes that I can move in, stilletos, and courage. Imagining self as a character in Oz 'the clothes, the heels, the nerve.' About half a dozen women, culturally diverse, but all in or not too far from my age range are in the studio ready to begin. We begin the warm-up seated in our chairs, facing the mirrored wall, first with slow head and shoulder rolls, graceful arm movements, the inevitable opening and closing of legs and, of course, raising each leg as we caress it from thigh to ankle with our hands and then support it with palm under the heel. The music is 'Between The Sheets' by The Isley Brothers. Nice, lush, Isley grooves. I'm feeling exotic already.

Oh, what? Now the chairs go away as we remain facing the mirrors and learn moves from belly dance and those sensuous Latin dances. This is fun. I can truly dig this. Yeah, what's next? The instructor is a tall, elegant, gorgeous woman who radiates the most positive exciting energy. If I can get these moves and take a fraction of her energy field with me, I can rule, baby!

Now - the routine. In heels, getting the steps, I'm allright, yeah, I'm hot, don't know what this song is but I like the strong bottom (that's musician talk for the bass line.) Something about a girl in the club, boots with the fur, the whole club is lookin' at her. I'm that girl! They're looking at me. Yeah! Wait, what? Sunny got what? Low, low, low, low, ... who me? Oh, no. I'm at that age. That age. You know, when we least expect it we can sneeze, cough, laugh too hard, hit a fixed object while riding a bicycle, stuff like that - and that unfortunate bit of leakage occurs. Damn perimenopause. No way I'm going to be embarrased in hoochie class. I gotta sit this move out.

But I'm caught up, trapped even, the class filled with latecomers, I'm being pushed back and forth, side to side, bass is thumpin', teacher's calling out directions, left on one, to the back, keep going, now turn around and give that big booty a smack, now down! And I go down. Hey. What's this? I got back up. I went down and right back up! I can't remember the last time I squatted and got right back up. And no leak! Plus, it really is easier in the high heels. I can do this. I can low-low - in hoochie class - and stay dry. This must surely be my destiny. Okay, in the mirror, I might look like I've just finished a two mile hike, but that's the sign of a good rehearsal, right? It must be.

Now it's time to lie on our mats and cool down with a bit of Pilates and yoga. Now I'm dying. Well, not really dying, but we're working on our core. Good abs are essential for exotic dance. And this is more of a workout than I expected. Now the lights are low, the music is mellow, we're meditating and in a happy place. This is an excellent workout, and if I can get off the mat and drive home, I know I'll return.

Before I do that, my next plan of action is to visit a professional dancer gal pal who performs in a burlesque troupe. Come back and I'll show and tell you all about it.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Once I Was A Schleppa...

"Wow! Look at you with the curly hair, and those legs working that mini-skirt! That was you?" Yeah, that was me. And my pal Kinia was going through a scrapbook from the days when I produced and hosted an entertainment show on cable television. Don't think I started out that way. There was never a later bloomer than I, very shy and raised in a home with
strict religious rules for young ladies. But the worst part of Kinia going through the photos was that although I did take great care then of how I ate and kept fit, I didn't realize what good shape I was in. Neither could I remember consciously going straight to those tiny sizes on the racks of any department store or trendy boutique. Wait. Was that a see through top? On me? Dear Goddess, where did I go wrong?
While I don't qualify for The Biggest Loser and I'm not ready to swap clothes with Kirstie Alley, I'm just plain embarrased at how much I've gained and how out of shape I am. When you look at a photo and say "That sweater makes me look fat," you know it ain't the sweater. It's the fat. I'm not a cold weather girl, but I dread warmer weather because I can't hide in a long jacket.
Okay, so I need to find a workable food plan, and start an exercise program. Ugh. Aerobics? I hit that a few times, but can't stomach the blaring top 40 music and way-too-happy instructor. Same with joining a gym. The pounding drums and bass and yelling intructors. Just not me. Walking? Like the idea in a group. But I was bitten by Rottweilers on a neighborhood walk, and far too many women on jogging trails and bike paths make the crime news.
Okay, so I've got the weight packing on in the middle plus the curmudgeonly attitude specific to my, well, near middle age. And that's when I check out the locals yoga and fitness studio to find listed, seriously, Exotic Dance! Now they've got my attention.
I call. I ask the questions. And I am comforted as well as I am intrigued. The helpful, assuring voice on the phone tells me to come in comfortable clothes that I can move in, and that high heels are optional, but I might like to bring them.
Exotic dance! Burlesque is certainly having a revival with the Gen Y kids - in their own way. Who among us has not seen the three strippers "Gotta Get A Gimmick" in Gypsy without wanting to play that one in the privacy of our own homes for laughs? I'm getting visions of The Pussycat Dolls, Gypsy Rose Lee, and of course, those sensous dames Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
My fantasies are running away with me. Can I pull this off? Or will it be just another dead end, not finished, make a bunch of excuses failure? I start class tomorrow night. And hopefully this blog will keep me accountable.