It took much arm twisting from my bosses for me to drive down Cherry Road more than once to a place called "B-Risque," where women are taught the fine arts of pole dancing and more.
Actually, it was my idea to check out B-Risque. Research, I told editors. Important for readers.
Yet, what I found at B-Risque, which sits right next to Big Lots on busy Cherry Road in a shopping plaza, is not a school for strippers. In fact, there are no strippers teaching or attending. No clothes are shed. Ever. Trained, licensed aerobics instructors teach pole dancing, lap dancing and a lot more, too, but only as ways to get in shape. It is a serious exercise club, for women only, who want a different way to get fit.
"The first thing I tell people is, this is not what they think -- it is a place for women to become empowered and enrich their self-esteem," said Demetra Moore, 28, owner/manager of the Rock Hill B-Risque. "The first question I am asked on the phone, or when somebody comes in, is 'Do I have to take my clothes off?' No. This is a place where we keep our clothes on but embrace our body image. 'Alternative fitness' is the best way to explain it."
The franchise, just a couple of years old, has found a niche with other clubs in Charlotte, Lake Norman, N.C., and other Southern cities. Moore started out as an instructor in Charlotte and opened the Rock Hill gym in October. All the franchise owners are young, black women who have taken the chance, invested time and money, to offer an alternative to regular gyms.
"Every lady should have a sexy side to them, and what we try and do is have the fitness and that self-worth come out in everyone," said Monique Humphries, who works in the marketing of the clubs but also takes classes. "You can be sophisticated and sexy at the same time. It increased my energy level, I lost weight and I felt better about myself."
Inside the place, dividers kind of like cubicle markers in an office shield the workouts from the prying eyes of people walking by on the sidewalk. That is intentional. Friday night, I watched at least a dozen guys walk by. Two guys walked by four times.
But inside the dividers are classes such as Ballet Funk, Sexy Cardio and more. Women can wear what they like without the prying eyes of men at regular gyms or aerobics classes where many of the other women are as skinny as pipe cleaners.
"Some women have concerns at regular gyms about how they look, what they should wear, who is watching," Moore said. "Here, nobody watches but us."
The workouts last 50 minutes, with some as often as three times a week. There are clients as young as 19-year-old Winthrop students, and some as old as 55 and 62. Most of the women are in their 30s, ranging from beginners to experts. They have church groups and singles, private exercise parties and more. Blacks, whites, Hispanics. Real people, women, who want to get in shape and have the guts to do it with a different style.
Moore, who has a full-time job in uptown Charlotte, has had customers approach her on the street and tout their newfound bodies and confidence. Humphries said some clients take to nightclubs with friends and become centerpieces instead of wallflowers.
"Empowerment," Moore said.
In the past couple of months, women who haven't worn shorts or high heels in years have changed their tunes and found themselves feeling pretty darn sexy. There is a group that used to go out on Fridays after work but now works out every Friday instead.
The great thing about the place is women come in there, the music blasts and you do hear words like "booty slide." There are kickboxing and "abs" classes and other classes called "Aerobic Striptease" and "Diva Bootcamp."
And yes, there are pole dancing classes for the truly intrepid. Meanwhile, guys stand on the sidewalk, look through the window and try to stare at what is beyond the dividers.