In 1947, on New York City's Park Avenue, the first Fred Astaire Dance Studio—cofounded by the eponymous toe tapper himself—opened its doors to the public. More than six decades later, now boasting schools across North America, the dancing institution still adheres to the legendary Mr. Astaire's curriculum and instruction techniques.
Specializing in social ballroom and competitive dances, the schools' current consortium of professional instructors shepherds students of all ages and skill levels through dance lessons that span from classic ballroom and foxtrot romps to the modern steps of salsa, swing, or mambo. In addition to classes, the studio hosts social practice parties where up to 40 students hone newly acquired rug-cutting capabilities. As foot-charming music blares from the speakers, instructors work to cultivate a lively social setting where each guest can dance, mingle, and surgically correct their second left foot without fear of embarrassment.
Led by CrossFit Level 1 certified trainers Frank Colavita and Erin Stewart, CrossFit classes combine weightlifting, gymnastics and sprinting into a strength-and-conditioning program that hones in on endurance and agility. Participants in 15–20 person On Ramp classes receive personal coaching as they work up to training shape by learning basic core lifts and maneuvers such as deadlifting weights off the ground and heaving stalling airplanes off crowded runways. After two weeks, On Ramp graduates confront more of CrossFit's 4400-square-foot gym through workout-of-the-day courses, which build upon On Ramp exercises with gymnastics and specialized moves. Pull-ups, pushups, and sit-ups sculpt upper halves, jump ropes course cardiovascular exercise through entire bodies, and Turkish get-ups strengthen shoulders quicker than scooping gravy with a fez.
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At Exotic Fitness, clients learn the ropes of pole dancing to improve strength, flexibility, and overall fitness. The studio houses exercisers of all abilities who maneuver sensually around poles, picking up dancing techniques and building muscle. Exotic Fitness lets clients schedule classes every day of the week in order to fit workouts around 9 to 5 jobs or long stretches of watching paint dry.
The perception of pole dancing is changing. When Maureen Metzger and her business partner DJ Hamilton started Blush Pole Fitness & Dance six years ago, Maureen says, "people thought [the instructors] were strippers." Since then, she's seen attitudes adjust as pole dancing went from taboo to a possible Olympic sport. Maureen equates pole dancing with aerial arts, on par with performances seen in shows such as Cirque du Soleil. She leads a series of classes and workshops that focus on upper-body and core strength or hone in sensual spins and dances. "You can be sexy and sensual," Maureen says, "and it doesn’t have to be tasteless . . . I watch Dancing with the Stars, and I think that is way more sexual than anything we do."
Occasionally, she still has to spend some time fighting inaccurate stereotypes, including an episode in early 2012 that involved inviting Jim Stingl of the Journal Sentinel to studio for a fact-finding mission. But mostly, Maureen and DJ concern themselves with empowering women to be "strong physically and emotionally." There comes a time, she says, when "you stop feeling sexy, you age, you gain weight, you get so busy with other parts of your life. . . I think we lose [that] and [pole dancing] reminds us to be women." She credits pole dancing as a vital ally in boosting her self-esteem during a double mastectomy in her battle against breast cancer.
And though Maureen is the first to tout the power of pole dancing, she is also one of the first to undercut some of its weightier connotations, much like a doctor who uses a stethoscope that squeaks. "[We're] totally willing to laugh at ourselves," she says. "Nobody is taking this too seriously." The lighter mood, in particular, helps welcome shy students, who Maureen and DJ witness transform into "strong, confident, sexy, and feminine [women]."