Cardio Strip a workout that really takes it off

March 06, 2002|By Cristina Cardoze | Cristina Cardoze,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK - The sensual vibrations of Prince's "Do Me Baby" flow from a stereo in a darkened room. Eight women slowly bend their knees and melt to the floor, swaying their hips and shoulders to the music and lowering their eyelids suggestively.

"Now open, close, very gently," says Angel Ortiz, their instructor. The women gradually open their knees and move their legs apart. With one hand, they feel up one side of their bodies.

"This is where you grab a piece of your clothing and start to pull," Ortiz says, grabbing the top of his own black tank top and thrusting it aside to expose a bare shoulder.

Following his example, the women tug at their T-shirts and tank tops but - much to the disappointment of a handful of tattooed weight lifters gawking through the glass walls at the Crunch Gym in Midtown Manhattan - remove absolutely nothing.

Cardio Strip, the fitness class currently in session, started in Los Angeles last June and came to New York two months ago. It aims to help Crunch members "take it off ... the calories, that is" by combining bump-and-grind striptease movements with aerobic exercise. But Cardio Strip is less of a cardiovascular workout and more of a way for women to learn those naughty bedroom moves.

Jeffrey Costa, the Los Angeles dance instructor who invented Cardio Strip, says the class is about building self-esteem and looking beautiful. "It's about getting into your body, getting in touch with your abs and inner thighs," he said, "and learning that you can be totally sexual and spiritual at the same time."

Although in New York no clothes come off, people in Costa's Los Angeles class take stripping seriously. Costa says they not only strip "down to their thongs," they also dress the part. Costa himself wears fishnet pants and feathery boas to class.

Costa got the idea for Cardio Strip from his own personal experience as a former stripper, dancer and fitness instructor. The class, included in Crunch membership packages, has been a hit in both Los Angeles and New York.

Proof of Cardio Strip's success is that the Los Angeles gym is usually packed on Wednesday nights when Costa teaches his class.

Janet Woodfin, manager of one of the two Crunch gyms in New York that offer Cardio Strip, says the class has been well received. "We're giving people the opportunity to do something fantasy-like," she said, "plus the instructors themselves are eye candy."

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