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Indulging the Inner Diva

The hardest thing Lisa Peklo had to do when opening her new business was figure out how to tell her mother.

"Explaining it to my mom was hard," she said. "I think once I got over that hump of explaining it to my mom everything else was easy."

Peklo is the owner of Divafit, a new fitness studio, which specializes in aerobic striptease classes for women. The studio offers classes in chair dancing and pole dancing as well as yoga and Pilates. Divafit opened its doors Saturday, Sept. 9, and by the time of its second class, word was spreading.

"People have been calling constantly," Peklo said. "The response has been overwhelming, but that's a good problem to have."

Just after 10 a.m. Saturday morning, several women were stretching on the floor of Divafit's only studio, their faces red and lined with sweat. They were cooling down after the studio's combo workout class that combines chair dancing, pole dancing and floor moves, spread out amongst the 13 poles that dot the room. Folding chairs were lined along the walls.

WHILE PEKLO SAID she is used to the questioning looks she gets when she tells people what she does, the path towards opening Divafit was a natural one for her. Peklo has been involved with fitness for most of her life, from her job teaching aerobics when she was 16 to being manager of the Ashburn Village Sports Pavilion. She received her degree from Virginia Tech in 1991 in exercise science and has taught everything from step classes to yoga.

It was at the DCAC Fitness Conference in Reston last year, that Peklo took a seminar that changed her life. It was called the Art of Stripography.

"It was just so much fun," she said. "And I couldn't lift my arms the next day."

Peklo was working at the Creative Dance Center in Ashburn teaching younger dancers at the time she took her first aerobic striptease class and she began renting out space there on Friday nights to teach the class to other mothers in her neighborhood.

"Everyone just had so much fun," the mother of two said.

When the opportunity arose to open her own studio, Peklo jumped at the chance.

"I had always wanted to open my own gym," she said. "I thought, there are plenty of [regular gyms]. This is the time for me to do it."

ONE OF THE main reasons Peklo was excited about opening Divafit, she said, was the way her Friday night classes made her students feel about themselves.

"I felt like the classes I was doing with the neighborhood moms were helping to bring out their feminine sides," she said. "It was nice for them not to have to go into a [fitness] class and lose that."

Eliza Adams and Janine Becker, who now teach at Divafit, both started out in Peklo's Friday night classes.

"It was nice, really unusual and exciting experience, that at the same time gave me a great workout," Adams said.

"When you find something that is this enjoyable it is easy to forget that you are working out," Becker said.

In each of her classes, Peklo encourages her students to move as they are comfortable and to take the time to explore their own curves.

"It is my belief that everyone moves differently," she said. "This is all about finding what is inside of you."

Peklo said some of the women she has met say they do not believe they are the type of woman who could be at home in an aerobic striptease class, but Peklo believes there is a diva inside of every woman.

"There was a mother at school who said to me, 'I'm not a girly-girl,'" she said. "But I think every woman has that girly-girl in her and wants to be sexy."

The women who took Divafit's first combination class and pole class on Saturday, ranged in ages from their mid-20s through their 30s and into their 40s, proving Peklo's belief that any woman can be a diva.

IN ADDITION TO self-esteem benefits students can get from aerobic striptease class, Peklo said it is one of the best workouts a person can do because it works every aspect of the body.

"It takes incredible upper body strength and toning," she said. "But we also keep it in the cardiovascular zone with a lot of dancing."

Each student at Divafit must go through the eight-week beginner pole dancing class before moving up to more advanced classes, Peklo said, mostly because of the difficulty of the workout.

"As women progress in levels it is going to become even more difficult," Peklo said. "They are going to work up strength. A lot of abs and lower body work. It takes a lot of strength to hold up your own body weight."

Adams and Becker, who both had little dance experience when they began taking Peklo's class, say it is unlike any workout they have ever experienced.

"It really is an overall workout," Becker said. "She's not just saying that."

"You really feel it everywhere, instead of just in one spot like you would with a traditional workout," Adams added.

The two mothers said they were surprised at how much they took to the classes.

"It gives you the inspiration to get going, dancing and exercising," Adams said. "I was pleasantly surprised at how much I loved it."

TEACHING POLE DANCING came naturally for Peklo, but she said that her students sometimes need a little more time to get used to the way they are moving.

"It is more fun and very different than traditional aerobics classes, but it requires more faith in yourself," she said. "It's a little scary when you start going sideways or turning [around the pole.]"

Peklo, Adams and Becker all said that it is really the music that helps break down any wall a student may have and allows her to get into the class.

"It's the music," Adams said. "You can just let go."

"There's a lot of self-expression involved in this," Peklo said. "There are certain moves, but then we just let our students do whatever they are feeling."

As for the other product of her classes, Peklo said with a smile: "While we're not here saying we're training you to go home and dance for someone, you certainly can."