A warm, nudist welcome for moms, toddlers, clothes

NATIONAL CLOSEUP

August 30, 1994|By Janet Weeks | Janet Weeks,Los Angeles Daily News

LOS ANGELES -- It's sort of a typical summer day camp except for one detail: Some of the campers aren't wearing any clothes.

Elysium Fields, a 26-year-old nudist resort in woodsy Topanga Canyon, has opened its doors Tuesdays and Thursdays to a moms-and-toddlers program.

While resort members lounge au naturel around the pool or lunch tTC naked under the trees, families from the community can swim or play or take part in a creative dance class.

And they can be naked -- or not.

"It's a choice," said Betty Lesley, executive director of the Elysium Institute.

Lesley said Moms & Toddlers days are aimed at parents in Topanga who long for a local get-away and parents afraid of public parks.

"Our parks have become not all that great," she said.

Lesley's adult daughter was the impetus for the idea when she complained about the parks in Santa Monica and her reluctance to take her own children to them.

So Lesley invited her to spend the day at Elysium. With its eight landscaped acres, swings and slides, pool and giant hot tub, the resort appears to be a family playland.

A playland that just happens to be dotted with naked bodies.

But family values are what Elysium Fields is all about, Lesley said, which brings up a misconception about nudist resorts -- that they are populated by singles looking for love.

In reality, Elysium Fields is a bucolic retreat for grandmothers and kids and mothers and fathers, Lesley said.

In fact, administrators weed out men and women looking for sex during the membership application process.

"We all mandate that we're not here for sexual recreation," Lesley said. Anyone who attempted to engage in inappropriate behavior -- especially around the children -- would be promptly booted. (Of course, someone would have to put on a boot first).

"We're all very visible and very protective," she said. "You'd have a hundred people seeing and responding to it (strange behavior). Members are very protective of women and children."

In a way, nudists and toddlers seem natural partners: people shedding society's taboos and children too young to have learned them.

But, ironically, most of the children at the resort one sunny day last week were wearing clothes -- by choice.

Robin Lee, whose 4-year-old daughter, Olivia, was clad in a near-ankle-length floral dress, said her child is used to nudism, but prefers to be covered up.

"The school we go to in Culver City allows nudity, so it's nothing new," Lee said.

"But now she's into dresses and frilly things."

Lee herself wore a bathing suit and shorts. "I get shy."

Cordelia Hanna of Echo Park said her 4-year-old daughter, Aria, also prefers clothes.

"We don't go nude. The girls like wearing swimsuits."

The heart of Moms & Toddlers day is an hourlong "dance therapy" class taught by Sammi Schindler. The gate fee for Moms & Toddlers day is $5. The class is $10. An annual family membership at the resort, by comparison, is $400.

Most of the parents interviewed said they participate in Moms & Toddlers day primarily for the class, although they said they often stay after to swim.

During the class, parents and children are encouraged to sing songs, invent dances, make up stories and generally play together.

Schindler said she used to teach the class at a dance studio, and much prefers the new digs, nudists and all.

Now she can picnic with other women or swim after dance therapy.

"At the studio, we couldn't hang out, and being a mom in today's society is so isolating."

Lesley said she hopes that, for whatever reason parents bring their children to Elysium Fields, they leave feeling a little less afraid of seeing other humans without clothes.

"To live in one's body without shame is a freedom," she said.

"Kids are free with their bodies. They don't have body shame. We teach that to them."

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