Q & A with The Exotic You
Lisa Stark Wants You To Feel Good About Your Body
When Lisa Stark couldn’t find the type of workout class she was looking for, she took matters into her own hands and developed The Exotic You workout. That was six years ago. Today, she teaches her exotic dance workout class four days a week in Portland and Salem, hosts bachelorette parties, and gives private lessons. A 2000 fter taking one of Lisa’s classes, I sat down with her to learn more about The Exotic You workout and why openness and laughter are the keys to a positive workout experience.
bePortland: How would you describe your class for those who haven’t taken it?
Lisa Stark: Well, it’s a mixture of pilates, yoga, and dance. It’s the same dance you would see in a strip club—but minus all the men. You come in, get knee pads, get fitted for shoes, do a little bit of stretching, and then we get right into the routine, which is generally three to four minutes. Then we finish with a nice killer ab routine.
I have to admit, I was pretty excited about those shoes. And maybe a little worried about why we needed knee pads…
The shoes are really important. The ones I provide are the basic five-inch platforms and the first time women see the shoes, they’ll go, “Oh no, can’t do that” and I’m like, “No, you don’t understand.” I mean, I don’t remember the first time I had sex with my boyfriend, but I remember the first time I put on a pair of stripper shoes [laughs]. And then the knee pads are to protect your knees from the floor because we’re on all-fours a lot, sliding back and forth.
Tell me more about where you got the idea to start this class.
About six years ago, I was looking for an exercise class like this because it was big on Oprah and in the news --kind of more like pole dancing and striptease type of stuff. I started looking for a sexy striptease class but there wasn’t anything in Portland so I jumped online and bought all these different DVDs like the Carmen Electra one and a couple others, just to see what was out there. But once they came, I was like, “I can do better than that!” But I didn’t know how to dance. I had no clue. I never had danced at a strip club before. Never pretended I knew how to dance for my husband or boyfriends. Nothing. So I hired an ex-industry stripper. She taught me the moves and what it was all really about.
I loved the routine we learned in class, but even more, I really appreciated how much you encourage self-acceptance and positive body image. Can you talk more about that?
A while ago, I had hired a personal trainer and I ended the relationship with her because she was complaining about her body while training me. Like “Oh, I didn’t just do 200 crunches, look at this fat!” And then it just dawned on me that why I didn’t like going into a gym was because everybody feels that way. Nobody feels like they’ll ever be good enough. But when you’re feeling fly, that’s what attracts everybody else. Because if there’s one thing that makes a woman sexy, it’s confidence. It has nothing to do with how long your hair is, how big your boobs are, what your hips look like, nothing—it’s your attitude. I feel that I have the gift of making everybody feel beautiful because I truly see the beauty in everybody and everything. Especially in women. So I set that standard for my classes. I just assure everyone that they’re going to be in a welcoming, safe, warm, funny environment. You know, jokes and laughter, it just makes it a fun experience. You get a good workout, you get to feel good about your body, and you get to laugh.
Yeah, I loved how candid you were with us.
I’ve always found it so strange that when you walk into other workout classes, like if you go into a Zumba class or kickboxing class, nobody’s really talking. The teacher comes in with her headphones on and then it’s like, “5, 6, 7, 8, step ball-change, step ball-change,” and then class is over and she shuts everything off and leaves. There’s no interaction. And it would leave me feeling kind of empty. I think that’s important with a teacher—that you want to look up and be inspired by the person who is teaching you something. Over the years, I’ve really evolved into a combination of teacher, entertainer, storyteller, therapist even.
How have women responded to your classes?
This all kind of came as a surprise because when I started the classes, I didn’t know how they would affect women. For example, there was a woman when I first started teaching who told me that she has gotten more out of my class than years of therapy for sexual abuse because she had this body image problem. And then with marriages, this woman’s husband was in Afghanistan. Every time she would come to my class, she would go back and Skype with her husband and show him the moves. She said it almost made it feel like he wasn’t really away because it gave them something to look forward to. And then there are women who have just had babies or older women that maybe haven’t really thought about moving their bodies that way ever. It’s really fun to see everybody with huge smiles on their faces.
In addition to your weekly classes, you also host bachelorette parties. Can you tell me more about them?
There’s two different options. I have an hour class and it’s very similar to how things are run in a normal class. We do some shots (they bring in the alcohol) and celebrate, and the beauty of it is all the girls coming together and learning something in a short amount of time. Then there’s the two-hour parties and a lot of times they’ll do it right before they go out and party, so most are on a Saturday or Friday night. There’s a lot more time for antics and drinking and picture-taking and conversation. Then after, the girls can change and freshen up in the studio, and then head to the bars.
And you offer private lessons too?
We can do a private lesson in two places: in the studio or in your home. So if somebody is wanting to give a dance for a loved one in their home, and people will hire me for that if they have an anniversary or something coming up, then we’ll talk about how to approach the couch or the chair or the bed or whatever.
What should women wear to your classes?
The first time you come, I would suggest that you just wear something simple. I encourage women to wear long workout pants and a top that they feel sexy in. The reason for the long workout pants is to hide the knee pads and to protect your legs from the floor. And for the tops, some women want to cover up and they’re always sorry that they did because you really need to be able to see your hips and your waist and your butt. It’s really quite important otherwise you don’t know how you’re moving. But basically you can come however you want to come. I certainly don’t want to give anybody the idea that they have to wear a costume 191b to class, but is also really super fun when you have the confidence to do so. I definitely encourage creativity.
Lisa teaches The Exotic You workout in Portland at Centerspace Studio on Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday nights and in Salem on Monday nights. For more information about classes, parties, and private lessons, visit her website at www.theexoticyou.com.