Swinging your hips into that alluring runway walk isn't as easy as it looks. You really have to concentrate, and you don't always know what to do with your arms, according to Adriana Vargas, a 24-year-old who has been perfecting her strut at Danza Viva's new striptease aerobics class, "The Art of Tease."
"You're going to have to look at that wall like it's the sexiest thing you've ever seen," advises Michelle L'amour as she teaches burlesque dancing, which is striptease-style dancing with more fanfare and less nudity. Picture Colin Farrell (or the person of your choice) at the other end of the room and ravish him with a sultry, come-hither look, she advises. And wearing high heels or a feather boa never hurts.
"I really like making women feel sexy," says L'amour, who holds the title of Miss Exotic World, the equivalent of Miss America for exotic dancers.
There will be no nudity during class, L'amour assures, although the students will learn that removing clothing can have a bit more style than they thought. They already have learned how to peel off long gloves flirtatiously. Thigh-highs and nightgowns are coming off next.
The women appreciate it, L'amour says. During her year and a half of teaching burlesque, she's received several e-mails from women thanking her for spicing up their marriages or boosting their confidence. Even though this is only the third class, "I can see the change happening already" for this group.
"Where else can you try something like thisâ€"explore that aspect, that sexy character that lurks within us?" asks Rebecca Huntman, owner and founder of Danza Viva.
Exotic dance gives women permission to be sexy on their own terms instead of just copying the Maxim models, Huntman says. Not to mention offering a new way to get in shape.
Sometimes it's fun to "just let loose," admits Vanessa Mugnaini, from Berwyn.
"[Class is] fun and it makes you feel sexy," agrees her friend Maria Vasquez, who hails from Riverside. Both women tried burlesque dancing for the first time at a weekend Danza Viva fest, and they enjoyed it enough to continue with the class. But although they've been practicing their new skills at clubs, actually removing clothes isn't anywhere on the agenda, they agree.
Watching a roomful of women practice the dance version of the "bend and snap" move from Legally Blonde or a come-hither shimmy isn't exactly a feminist dream. But the class is directed to adults who have already formed their ideas about sexuality.
"I don't think burlesque is degrading," L'amour says. "The way we teach it here is as an art form, with a playful, fun element."
It's true that there's no equivalent for men, at least at Danza Viva. Furthermore, striptease aerobics isn't the only provocative dance that has proven to be popular at the Lake Street dance studio. There's also Egyptian belly dance, a sensual Middle Eastern class called "Behind the Veil," and several Latin Heat classes. Clearly, there's an audience for sexy dance in Oak Park. Huntman started these classes because people wanted them.
"These are ancient art forms," Huntman says. "We're giving women permission to be women."
Sensual dancing means using those hips. Several of L'amour's moves involve moving the butt and hips, but little else. Shimmying "what yo' mama gave you" is another key skill.
Lindsay Studnicka from Oak Park found her way to the class because she wanted to be more comfortable with those moves. "I wanted to learn how to move my body more," she says. She's made some progress, but that shimmy can still be a bit tricky.
And putting it all together is "harder than you might think," according to L'amour.
"You are sweating in this class for sure," Huntman agrees.
Floor exercises are especially grueling. In one exercise, dancers start in the Hollywood pose and sweep their legs over their heads and to the other side. "This is harder than it looks," pants a student as she executes the move.
There's a special flavor of individualism to this kind of dance. Most burlesque dance is solo performance, L'amour points out. So it doesn't always matter which hip you swivel first; it's about how fetching you are when you pop that move.
Although L'amour encourages her students to develop their own styles, she knows it helps that she's there doing everything with them for now. "It just comes with time," L'amour says.
And Laura De Baca, a student from Forest Park, is well on her way to cultivating that style. She started the class out of curiosity and has enjoyed learning how to perform the new dance moves. But no one's going to see it except the people in class and possibly her boyfriend, she says with a laugh.
"The Art of Tease" is offered from 6:10 to 7:10 p.m. on Tuesday nights at Danza Viva, 46 Lake St. Call 386-8681 to register for the next six-week session, which begins Nov. 1 and costs $85.