- Matthew Thorsen
“Lots of virgins in the house? Not for long!” says Stephanie Justine, wearing a black, lacy top and a pair of black hot pants, from which peek leopard-skin underwear. She’s also clad in a red garter belt, black tights and black, patent-leather high-heeled boots. “This dance is very grindy and very slow. Now, trace down your torso until you get to the goods.”
Montréal past midnight? Nope. Believe it or not, I’m at a 90-minute fitness class in Essex Junction at noon on a Saturday. While my husband and preschool-age children are eating Pirate’s Booty at Bolton Valley Resort, I’m learning how to roll my booty out, strut, slink, crawl and straddle. If that sounds like standard stripper lingo, that’s because it is — this is Strip Hop, a busty, rut-busting new regimen at HammerFit’s Motion Studio. Part striptease lesson and part exercise, it’s just one of several new workouts around northern Vermont that are shaking up what it means to be female, feminine and fit.
“Women enjoy the friendship and company of other women,” explains Jessica Ebert Edelmann, the manager and owner of HammerFit. “You really get back in touch with yourself — most women don’t get a chance to let it out, move their body and listen to music while exercising in a way that’s so much fun, it doesn’t feel like exercise.”
Weary of my own standard gym workout, I’ve gone in search of some new routines: group training at a new fitness facility that catches my eye on Route 7; a practice called Nia that some friends have mentioned; and Strip Hop, which I stumble on through Facebook.
Before stepping up to Strip, I decide to try out Artemis Fitness, a bright and immaculate gym that opened in South Burlington late last year. Named after the Greek goddess of the hunt, Artemis is geared toward women who are looking for a change from wandering the gym machines. At Artemis Fitness, you get either group training or personal training — no ifs, ands or butts.
“I like being at the gym, but how much it’s impacting my fitness is really questionable,” explains co-owner Cate MacLachlan of Burlington. She opened Artemis with gym buddy Kendra Sowers when they realized there was no women-only gym in the Burlington area after the departure of national chain Curves.
“But we wanted to be at the opposite end of the spectrum from Curves,” adds MacLachlan of Artemis, which has state-of-the-art TRX suspension-training equipment, a rainbow of kettlebells and brand-new treadmills that face the Adirondacks — not a tired old machine, or man, in sight. “You can get a great workout in 35 minutes as long as you know what you’re doing and have somebody to motivate you,” MacLachlan says.
Feeling up to the challenge, I undertake the Afterburn class, the most advanced group training option at Artemis, with trainer Betsy Bluto. A whiteboard on the wall indicates our circuit for the day, which the half dozen of us in this Friday morning session do three times: suspended backward rows, box jumps, kettlebell swings, slide pike-ups, lateral shuffle/burpees, jump lunges, walkover push-ups, jump rope, figure eights.
If that sounds exhausting, it is. We have 40 seconds for each interval, with just 20 seconds to recover and get to the next station. But, thanks to helpful tips from my classmates — with the mix of ’80s hits and Lady Gaga on the stereo, and the impressive behind of Bluto leading it all — it’s a blast. On the comfortable-to-kill-yourself scale, Artemis’ Afterburn lands closer to CrossFit than to Curves, but the comfy couches and raspberry-colored carpet soften the hard edges of the gym.
Says Sowers: “We want this to be an intimate place.”
I’m soon to discover a greater degree of intimacy at HammerFit’s Strip Hop, but before I brave that, it’s off to Nia. Burlington’s South End Studio began offering the mashup of yoga, dance and martial arts on a daily basis this year.
“There’s something deeper about a Nia class — it asks a little bit more of you than a traditional exercise class,” says Sabrina Gibson, who opened the studio in 2009 specifically to grow a Nia community in Burlington. “But with a regular, two- to three-times-a-week Nia practice, women get increased pleasure and awareness of living in their bodies, increased grace and flexibility, decreased stress and a calmer mind — and a rockin’, toned body!”
There are 52 moves in Nia, Gibson tells me at the start of a Sunday class in the studio, where the late-afternoon winter light makes the roomful of barefoot, black-pants-clad women a bit more inviting to a longtime klutz like me. (A few men regularly come to the class, says Gibson, but it’s primarily female.) “First and foremost, the joy of movement is what Nia is all about,” she reminds the class. “Tonight’s focus is lightness of the body, lightness of the mind, lightness of the spirit.”
Ha! I feel nothing but heavy and uncoordinated as I try to follow the steps, but eventually catch on when Gibson compares movement patterns to things like the hands of a clock. What really clicks is when she tells us not to be so judgmental. I stop looking in the mirror and focus instead on the music — Prince, Adele, a cover of Flo Rida’s “Good Feeling” — and try to have fun. Pretty soon I’m astonished to find that I’m sweating. After a slow “moving meditation” song and a series of warrior, cobra and other yoga asanas, the 60-minute class is complete. I do, actually, feel lighter and more joyful.
While Artemis puts me in touch with my powerful side, and Nia with my soulful side, can Strip Hop unearth my sexy side? While it’s not a groundbreaking concept in fitness — striptease and pole-dancing classes have been offered at gyms throughout the U.S. for a few years now — the new HammerFit class is clearly attracting local attention; the studio is packed with women in their twenties, thirties and forties. One even has a burlesque-like outfit on, and it dawns on me that some of them are going to perform later for their partners.
“Good morning, ladies!” says Justine before glancing at the wall clock that reads 12:05 p.m. “Oh, I mean good afternoon. Whatever. Strippers don’t get up until noon.”
There’s laughter, a sound frequently heard in this class, along with Jeff Beck and Joss Stone’s “I Put a Spell on You,” played again and again and again as we practice Justine’s choreography with provided banquet-room chairs.
Yeah, the moves are funny — “roll booty out,” “slink down and up,” “sit on haunches with hands on head” — but so is Justine. She jokes about how we’re not supposed to resemble 3-year-olds looking for blocks when we crawl on the floor, or moms with migraines when we put our hands on our heads. I anticipate that, the following day, my hip flexors and glutes will feel sore from the pliés and leg swings, but in the class my other cheeks ache from smiling and laughing at the lighthearted moments.
“This is approachable exotic dancing,” Justine tells us. “But there’s a lot of just trying not to look awkward.”
I feel awkward at everything, except perhaps the part where we’re standing on the chair. (“Don’t worry about breaking the chair; these can hold a 350-pound man,” assures Justine.) Or the part where we use that old rubric to choose our stripper names: combining your first pet with your first street. Justine, amazingly and perfectly, is Raven Cherry. I’m Shandy Red Fox. And I’m nowhere near ready for Montréal at midnight. But heading back out into the humdrum atmosphere of Chittenden County in mid-afternoon, knowing that my “goods” have gotten a good workout, everything suddenly seems a lot less routine.
Artemis Fitness, 7 Fayette Drive, Unit 2, South Burlington, 448-3769.
Nia is offered at the South End Studio at 696 Pine Street, Burlington, 540-0044. southendstudiovt.com
The next Strip Hop workshop is Saturday, March 31, noon to 2 p.m., at HammerFit Athletic Club, 21 Essex Way, Suite 115, Essex Junction, 878-0444. $25. hammerfit.com