Shiny dancer: Gals choose pole power

Their sweat pants, jumpers, and shifts are modest, even ho-hum. But once Joe Cocker's insinuating "You Can Leave Your Hat On," begins throbbing from the overhead speakers, the ladies begin to move, and off come the jumpers and the sweat pants– to reveal fishnet stockings, sexy tap pants, cut-off biker shorts, and skin-clinging tops.

Welcome to "exotic pole dancing," a class Erica Rosene– "Lacey Rose" to her students– developed with Steve Shergold, her employer (and fiancĂ©e), which she's been offering at the Berkmar Ballroom since last October.

Rosene, 23, an Albemarle High School graduate, returned to Charlottesville in 2003 with a BFA degree in dance performance from East Carolina University prepared to teach "smooth Latin and rhythm dances," which she describes as "social" or "partner" dances.

But when she signed on at the Ballroom and met Shergold, she started dancing to a different beat.

The exotic classes Shergold developed and she and fellow teacher Grace Webb offer to an eclectic group of women every Thursday night are anything but partner dances.

"There's a whole different dynamic to dancing alone," Rosene says of the sinuous, provocative choreography performed in front of full-length mirrors. "When you're dancing by yourself, you're dancing for yourself," she continues. "This class is a chance for women to do something that makes them feel good." She compares the feeling pole dancing inspires to taking a bubble bath.

Rosene– who in her day job teaches ballet and gymnastics to toddlers and pre-schoolers at the Little Gym– is committed to the liberating power of her classes for grownups. "It's a workout as well as a dance class," she says. "We try to develop fitness as well as sexuality."

The feeling is infectious. Tia Little ("Lelia"), 23, a veterinary assistant and student at the Ballroom since last October, testifies to other benefits of exotic dancing. "It's a real confidence builder," says Leila over her shoulder as she undulates in tiger-print bikini shorts. "It's so much fun because it's a unique talent that not everyone else has. Just knowing you can slither around a pole and make it look good is a great feeling."

"It's being able to feel sexy and bring the passionate person out," says Webb, a 29-year-old injury recovery specialist who worked as a professional clown for six years before beginning this career.

As "Lady Liberty," Webb, a part-time model and mother of three, teaches the introductory class. Her students begin the class a bit more inhibited than Little and her colleagues in the advanced section, she says, but signs of their emerging confidence are evident as they gamely approach the pole to attempt a "fireman's spin" or a "crouch spin."

Rosene and Webb say every meeting of the class finds students overcoming their initial shyness and reveling in feeling sexy "in a guilt-free atmosphere" where no nudity– or men– are allowed. The final project of the eight-week class is production of an individual video for each student to take home– produced in Shergold's state-of-the-art studio.

A sample video of a former teacher at the studio doing her pole dance to pulsating music amid swirling smoke offers a lesson: The men in these women's lives may need a class of their own: self defense.

Erica Rosene, aka "Lacey Rose"