Xpose Fitness member Chelsea Kotlowski demonstrates a difficult move called a flatline. (Stacy Arrington)
The exercise industry has long been known for its creative use of odd implements. But who could have foreseen the unlikely marriage of the gymnasium and the gentleman’s club?
Pole dancing – as a form of fitness – has surprisingly become mainstream. So mainstream, in fact, that thousands of working moms proudly boast of their stripper shoe collections. Donning six inch heels, a dozen Baltimore area women took the stage at Luckies Tavern recently to demonstrate their newfound stamina and nimble skills in the eighth annual Xpose Fitness Pole Dancing Contest. The twelve hopefuls, who are all members of Xpose, ranged in age from around twenty to fifty-three. Joining the contestants for a turn on the stage were an assortment of past winners and some of the club’s talented instructors.
The competition, which drew an estimated 500 to Luckies, was spirited and admittedly sexy; even if Anita Ammon wasn’t thinking of stripper shoes when she founded Xpose Fitness.
How did Ammon get the idea of taking the poles out of bars on The Block and setting them up in a woman’s gym?
“It’s not as exciting a story as you might think,” said Ammon. “I basically just hate the gym; I can’t stand it. I hit 30 and had gained some extra weight while working in a sedentary office job. I remember trying pole dancing once, when I was in my 20’s and working as a cocktail waitress at the Monte Carlo in Las Vegas. For fun, some friends and I decided to learn a few pole tricks in a one-day workshop with some exotic dancers. The one thing I took away from that class was how much my entire body hurt. The effort that went into doing the tricks was pretty phenomenal. It was always in the back of my mind that, if I could do that for fitness, I would be doing something which was fun. It was a big gamble that it would take off.
“When I started my fitness business there was no such thing. We were the first to offer anything like this on the east coast. There were a couple of places in California that offered pole dancing, but they were ‘how to’ classes and not pole dancing fitness centers. We actually had a problem with having landlords lease to us, because they were wary of having that type of business on their property; especially the Towson location because it sits right next door to a church! There was a lot of commotion around that. But we’ve always prided ourselves with staying on the right side of the line; keeping it fun and sexy without being seedy and strange.”
Not a school for strippers
While Ammon did not elaborate on the commotion she encountered in Towson, she did say she understands how a pole dancing center might raise a few eyebrows. After all, pole dancing started in strip bars and remains a staple of today’s adult industry. We wondered if Ammon presently has any members who work in the clubs and come to Xpose – not only for fitness – but also to train for the naughty night shift?
“Not really. We kinda did in the beginning, but I think when they came in, they didn’t realize it was a fitness center. They thought it was a school for pole dancers. Every once in a while we still get one or two in, but they just can’t hang with my girls. We’re doing upper body work with repetitions. It’s not training for a dancer job.
“When we first opened, people did ask if it was going to be a stripper school. It’s a legitimate question, so we have to be careful about the way it’s marketed. The one thing we didn’t want to do is scare away our target market and have it appear kinda shady. We wanted to maintain the social aspect of the centers because we get a lot of working moms. I mean, we do have our events and our yearly competitions, but we want to make sure our members are getting their workout around people they are comfortable with.
“We have everything from college students to grandmothers. We get the Red Hat Club in here every other month. They do a private party, and you have these eighty year old women swinging around the pole. But our majority are working moms – 30 to 45 years in age – who are too busy to go to the gym. For many, it’s their time away from the kids.”
Xpose is a local business with locations in Arundel Mills and Towson. Judging by the turnout of the event at Luckies Tavern, it seems Ammon has found just the right formula.
“It’s a great workout which is a lot tougher than it looks, but you’re having so much fun in class that you want to come back. We see women laughing that their arms hurt so much they can’t open the door when they go to leave, but they still come back the next day to nail that trick. It’s pretty cool to see.
Xpose Fitness ~ ten years of toning and fun
Xpose is celebrating its Ten Year Anniversary. This year’s event marked its eighth inter-club competition and the third big night at Luckies.
“We always have twelve contestants – six from each location. We had preliminary categories that they had to compete in back in February and our rules are very strict. We don’t want any ringers. No one with any previous teaching experience or previous competition winners. It was easy not to worry about these things when there were no other studios or pole dancing competitions, but now it’s kinda prominent. We want our students to shine so we want real diversity,”Ammon explained.
“We also like to get one judge from each aspect of Xpose. Ruby Rockefella will be joining us as one of our judges because we like the burlesque side of the entertainer perspective. Paul Cottman who is a professional dancer will look at the dance aspect. Others will judge the contestants on showmanship, fitness, costuming and choreography.”
“I think it’s fantastic,” said City Paper writer Summer Cullen. “I’ve watched (the competitions) for eight years. I was the first instructor to ever come on board to Xpose, so I got to see it from the very first girl to walk through the door to now this entire sisterhood. I think it’s great.”
Ruby Rockafella was judging her second competition. “My perspective remains the same. These women are fierce and strong and amazing.”
Not judging but attending was retiree Diane Keller.
“I’ve been a member for four years,” said Keller. “I searched out the club, when I moved here from Florida. What I enjoy is the support and camaraderie of the ladies who work out with us. There is every shape, size, and age.”
(Laughing) “Of course I know that pole dancing is usually associated with gentleman’s clubs, but it is becoming more mainstream. You’ll even find videos online with men seeking out a pole workout because they realize how challenging it is.
Keller was stylishly dressed for the event, but we wondered if she owns a pair of stripper shoes?
“Oh, sure,” she readily admitted. “I got a collection!”
Athena Trixie – the overall winner – was crowned Ms. Xpose 2015. But for Mary Jane Jakubowski (who won 4th runner up honors and the Best Costume plaque) taking her turn on the pole was especially rewarding.
No regrets for MJ
“My husband John has always been very supportive of my classes. Over the summer I got to thinking of regrets I’d experienced by letting opportunities get past me due to fear. My new motto ~ No Regrets.
“In September, I filled out the form to compete for Ms. Xpose. I wrote the check for the fee to participate, then carried it around in my purse for a month before screwing up my courage to turn it in. Three weeks later, my mammogram came back suspicious, and my first thought was: OH NO the preliminaries – I won’t be able to do this. But my medical team all gave me the ‘Yes You Can’, so while all this breast cancer nonsense was going on – Biopsies, Surgery, Radiation – the one place I could go and not think about cancer was my fitness studio. I didn’t tell anyone there; I just wanted to be MJ.
“I know without a doubt that I would have gotten all kinds of love and support there, but I really needed a cancer free space right then. It was hard to talk about. It sometimes still is.
“I had never competed before the preliminaries in February and never expected to make it to the finals. During practice I thought, ‘Just go home now’. But I was going to have fun and hopefully be entertaining. And I did it. I really did it! Wow, it was a lot of fun.
“My husband asked me, ‘So are you going to do it again?’
“The old me would have said no way. Now, it’s a good possibility’.”
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Xpose Fitness held its third annual Ms. Xpose Contest on April 23rd. The twelve competitors were FeFe Washington, Leslie McColgan, K.C. Straub, Chelsea Kotlowski, Laura Michael, Ginger Mooreland, Elizabeth Burnaham-Wagner, Svetlana Nesterova, Damita Davis, Athena Trixie, Yana Lyapustina and Mary Jane Jakubowski.
Xpose Fitness has locations in Towson and Arundel Mills. Both studios offer a FREE Introductory class every Saturday at noon. For more information, visit Xpose Fitness online.
Anthony C. Hayes is an actor, author, raconteur, rapscallion and bon vivant. A one-time newsboy for the Evening Sun and professional presence at the Washington Herald, Tony’s poetry, photography, humor, and prose have also been featured in Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore!, Destination Maryland, Magic Octopus Magazine, Los Angeles Post-Examiner, Voice of Baltimore, SmartCEO, Alvarez Fiction, and Tales of Blood and Roses. If you notice that his work has been purloined, please let him know. As the Good Book says, “Thou shalt not steal.”