Several miles northeast of the neon lights, seedy strip clubs and sex shops on The Block in downtown Baltimore, in the nondescript Loch Ridge Shopping Center at Loch Raven Boulevard and Joan Avenue, women spin around shiny brass poles and lie on their backs doing Playboy kicks.
But here, no men are allowed and everyone stays fully clothed. Rather than putting on a show for someone else, the goal of the pole fitness and exotic dance classes at Xpose Fitness Towson is to help women feel confident and sexy, and get some exercise in the process.
Shape magazine named pole dancing and burlesque dance as one of the best health and fitness trends of 2010. The newly created American Pole Fitness Association (APFA) “is working towards achieving broad demographic and national recognition for pole fitness as a mainstream sport, focusing attention on the physical skills, gravity-defying technical abilities, poise, grace and elegance of performers of both genders.”
Xpose Fitness is a locally owned franchise with four locations that operate independently of one another. In addition to the Towson location, which opened six years ago, there are studios in Owings Mills, Arundel Mills and Annapolis.
“Every woman is sexy,” said Candace Schaech, 32, of Chase, MD, owner of Xpose Towson. “Women come in and take a class and leave feeling better about themselves.”
The studio offers exotic floor/chair classes, which focus on flexibility and strength training; Sexy Stretch, which draws from yoga and Pilates to reduce stress and improve flexibility; and five levels of pole fitness. Lower-level pole classes introduce skills such as transitional moves and simple spins, while the advanced pole classes cover climbing, elaborate spins and inverted moves. All pole classes help build strength. Classes are small—10-15 people on average in the floor/chair classes, and no more than 10 in the pole classes.
Many students wear heels. Stilettos aren’t allowed, but the studio sells shoes with a thick, high heel and an ankle strap. “The heels lift your butt and calves, and it’s easier to do pole with the shoes,” Schaech said.
Schaech says the biggest misconception about Xpose is that the classes offered there are Stripper 101. “Nothing we do is demeaning. We just put a little sexy into your regular workout. You walk out of the studio with a little extra saunter.”
The women who teach at Xpose have other jobs—one is a hairstylist, one works in a bank—and Schaech said women of “every age and every size” take classes. One client is in her 80s, although the studio typically attracts college students and women age 30-50. Participants must be at least 18 years old, and no children are allowed.
S. Harper of Overlea recently attended the free intro class held every Saturday and said she will definitely be back. “I’ve been married for 10 years, so I want to spice things up and work out at the same time,” Harper said. “It’s a nice, intimate setting and there wasn’t anything too graphic.”
Katherine Gero, 30, of Fells Point, currently takes floor/chair classes as well as level 3, 4 and 5 pole classes at Xpose. “It’s like a family; all the girls are amazing,” Gero said. “Everyone is so helpful and supportive.” She says the workouts are challenging, and a lot more fun than doing cardio and weights at the gym. Gero has been taking classes at Xpose for the past two years, and is there at least three times a week.
Xpose does not have membership fees or monthly dues; clients pay per class, or buy cards for a specific number of classes at a discounted per-class rate. Prices range from $11 for a single class to $164 for a 24-class card.
The studio also offers private party packages after-hours—divorce parties are popular, as are bachelorette and birthday bashes. According to Schaech, many women who first come to the studio as party guests come back as regular clients.
Schaech herself started coming to Xpose Towson as a client in 2006.
“I was just out of radiation treatment [for brain cancer],” she shared. “I didn’t have any hair and was just not feeling girly.” Xpose helped her regain her confidence and made her feel sexy again. She loved it so much and was so impressed with the studio that she bought it two years later when the former owner offered it for sale. As the owner, she’s been able to put her managerial experience to use, along with her degree in psychology and background in dance, cheerleading and fitness.
Schaech’s brain cancer resurfaced a year ago, and she is currently receiving chemotherapy treatments again.
Her nine staff members, particularly Manager Trina Kadesky, have been pitching in to keep the operation running smoothly as Schaech focuses on getting well. The other Xpose locations are offering their support, too. Another franchise owner threw a Fright Fest fundraiser for Schaech at Halloween, her favorite holiday, to help offset her mounting medical bills. (Schaech does not have health insurance.)
“It’s just a great family of women,” Schaech said. “Through exercise and this fantasyland of exotic dance combined with Pilates and toning and strength training, it just brings so much camaraderie and confidence."
Schaech still teaches floor/chair classes several times a week, taking off the week she gets her chemo treatments.
“It’s tough, especially now that I’m really feeling the effects of the chemo, but it also feels good to go and do it,” she said, “I don’t know what’s going on with the other people there [in the class]. I truly believe in karma and if I can give something back to someone, it makes it better.”