They shimmy and shake and switch those hips. And while working up a sweat, they’re feeling sexy and fit, too.
Women are strutting their stuff in sultry fitness classes like burlesque, striptease aerobics and pole dancing, which have taken off in recent years.
One enthusiast, Allison Lackey, said she’s so focused on the choreography in her cardio striptease dance class that she doesn’t even realize she’s tired and dripping in sweat. And while some of the poses are a bit risque, the 25-year-old Chicago resident says the class is about hard work, not taking your clothes off.
“It disguises all the things you hate to do in a really fun way,” she says of the push-ups and planks that get incorporated into dance routines.
These classes can give women an escape from their daily life, and make them feel flirty and young, confident and powerful, experts said.
“They like feeling sexy and in an environment where it’s just them,” said Sylvia Champion, an owner of the Inner De-va dance fitness studio in Meridian, Idaho, who teaches burlesque. “The movements are a little bit sexier. It’s nothing vulgar.”
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An hour of a sexy burlesque class can burn around 300 to 450 calories, about the same amount as taking a really brisk walk, said Jeanine Detz, fitness director for Shape magazine. The cardio strip aerobics may burn more calories, she said, and pole fitness also strengthens the back, shoulders and core.
“Some women say it does make them feel sexier and more confident. Maybe that’s something you can take home to the bedroom,” Detz said. “On a purely a workout basis, it is a decent workout.”
Detractors say the classes, though, can objectify women because they’re based on the idea of pleasing men.
Barbara Osborne, an associate professor of exercise and sport science at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, questions the societal value of sexy workouts because they put a positive twist on “behaviors that have traditionally harmed women.”
“Because the classes are tied to sexual performance, it still perpetuates woman as sex object rather than woman as strong, competent, empowered,” she said.
In a recently-published study, Swedish researcher Magdalena Petersson McIntyre interviewed three striptease aerobics instructors in Sweden who said their classes combine exercise, sexiness and fun. One instructor said the class lets participants get to know their bodies better.
But the instructors said they constantly had to negotiate the question of whether the classes should be seen as exploitation, empowerment, or both, according to the research, which is included in the book “Women and Exercise: The Body, Health and Consumerism.”
Lackey says she doesn’t feel objectified by her striptease dance class. “If anything,” she said, “you leave feeling just completely energized.”
Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles writer in New York.