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A new spin on exercise

Lake Oswego fitness center offers something different with pole dancing, belly dancing
by: Vern Uyetake, Pole dancing instructor Kelly Klingele, right, watches as Kathy Evans learns a pole dance movement.

In Gym and Tonic Women's Fitness of Lake Oswego, women can be found shaping up and working out in all of the traditional fashions.

Also pole dancing and belly dancing.

None of them are exotic dancers. Just regular, everyday wives, mothers and girls who want to get in shape, have fun, and try something different. Which is just the way gym co-owners Kathy Evans and Kelly Klingele want it.

'We wanted something unique and different,' Klingele said. 'Both of these types of dancing are very hip right now.

'We're not afraid to be different. In Lake Oswego that's hard sometimes.'

'When we bought this place we wanted to do a lot more for our membership,' Evans said. 'This is something that emphasizes their femininity.'

Pole dancing, as associated with exotic dancing in gentlemen's clubs, is a widely popular, wildly profitable enterprise in America. However, there is a huge segment of the population that views pole dancing with varying degrees of dismay, often rising all the way up to intense chagrin.

And belly dancing occupies pretty much the same position in society, and it has certainly been going a lot longer. Belly dancing goes back 6,000 years to ancient Egypt and Turkey and includes such illustrious luminaries as Salome, she of the Seven Veils, and Little Egypt, whose rapidly shaking hips hit Chicago like an earthquake at the 1893 World's Fair.

But Klingele and Evans want to make it perfectly clear they are not training the next generation of strippers or exotic dancers. Like any other program at their gym the pole dancing and belly dancing lessons are meant to get their Lake Oswego and West Linn members in shape; albeit in a more risque manner.

Two sterling instructors make this possible.

Pole dancing instructor Kristin Nelson of Lake Oswego admits, 'People have asked me if I've been a stripper. I tell them, 'No, not, never!' '

Nelson is actually a wholesome young wife and mother of three darling children. It's just that she really likes pole dancing.

'I had always taken dance lessons in everything from hip hop to ballet,' Nelson said. 'But I took one class on pole dancing and fell in love with it. I wanted to bring it to a lot of other women.

'A lot of women come in this class and they're nervous. For the first few classes they struggle. Then they start to open up. Actually, older women take to it faster than younger ones. They feel more comfortable with their bodies.'

Athina Maria wants to spread the good news about belly dancing. In fact, she says, 'It's my mission in life.'

In the past, Maria had danced professionally, mostly ballet and modern.

'Then I discovered belly dancing,' she said. 'I tossed everything else out, all the toe shoes and tutus. Ballet was so constrictive. Belly dancing is the dance of dances.'

Maria actually took a 15-year hiatus from dancing, but she came back three years ago and is again bringing the joy of belly dancing to Gym and Tonic and several other venues. She also performs as a belly dancer at Pars Restaurant and Lounge in Mountain Park.

'Belly dancing is back in a big way,' Maria said. 'It helps you get fit in an easy, fun way. I get women in my classes from ages 9 to 58. Belly dancing crosses so many ages and cultures. I'm not going to give it up ever.

'Belly dancing is not a strip tease. It is an actual mind, body and spirit release.'

Fitness is the top priority in both of these dance arts.

'I never had much upper body strength, even though I had taken every fitness class there is,' Nelson said. 'Now I am a lot stronger. I get a great workout for my arms and abs. I'm so sore in all areas.'

'Belly dancing is about developing stamina and strength,' Maria said. 'It's very slow, it's not fast. You're slowing yourself down and that makes you more sensual.

'It's a dance of fertility. It represents childbirth. It's very aerobic. The Dance of the Seven Veils was the unveiling of a woman's beauty. It's an ancient ritual. It's a celebration of a woman's life.'

Preparing for such exercise is a huge boost for the fun factor.

'For my students the fun part is dressing up,' Maria said. 'They put on beautiful scarves, beaded bras and belts, jewelry, ankle bracelets. They want to look the part for the mystical magic moment.'

Nelson's students wear regular workout clothes. But advanced students can make a change.

'Then they can wear stripper shoes,' Nelson said. 'Pole dancing moves are meant for wearing high heels. But we start off barefoot.'

Music is a great mood setter for pole dancing, and it's not always the blasting hard rock associated with dance clubs.

'I'm a music freak and I like all kinds of music,' Nelson said. 'If you put on the right song, you can really see them change.'

A great example of this came with a student who simply could not 'let go.'

'She was scared,' Nelson said. 'She was the sweetest thing. She had no dance experience and had barely worked out. She had been married 20 years.'

Then one night Nelson put on Marvin Gaye's 'Let's Get It On.'

'She became like a different woman,' Nelson said. 'It changed her life. She felt that taking this class renewed her marriage.'

That's another thing. Pole dancing and belly dancing have a remarkably high rate of husband approval.

'I asked my husband, 'Honey, can I buy a pole?' ' Nelson said. 'He answered, 'Go for it.''

Fitness, clothes, music, marriage enhancement. Pole dancing and belly dancing have so much going for them.

Yet there is the sensual element attached to them, and it gave Klingele and Evans pause when they sought ways to boost their new club. However, fate seemed to be pushing them in that direction.

'When we got here the pole was already installed, but there had never been any classes,' Evans said. 'There were even stripper shoes with 4-inch heels lined up on a shelf.

'When we started using the pole we asked, 'Will we lose all of our members?' We didn't.'

'I was a little nervous when we started,' Klingele said. 'I thought we might possibly be ruining our reputations. Then I thought, 'Who cares?' We aren't doing anything wrong or sleazy. It's totally cool.'

Now that the classes are successfully under way, Klingele says, 'The ones who make fun of this are the ones who truly want to do this the most.'

Maria makes an even stronger statement: 'I believe that inside of every woman is a belly dancer or a pole dancer.'

Field trips to belly dance performances or strip clubs are not part of the curriculum. But Nelson said a few of her students couldn't help wanting to see how well they stacked up to professional pole dancers. Their girls-night-out was an unqualified success.

'They were thrilled,' Nelson said. 'They said, 'Those dancers aren't as good as we are!''

Gym and Tonic is located at 21 South State St. in Lake Oswego, next to Albertson's. For more information about its pole dancing and belly dancing classes and other activities, call Kelly Klingele or Kathy Evans at 503- 675-7665.