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Climbing the pole to better health

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Fitness instructor Diane Flores helps student Gina DeRoos of Manteca with some moves at her Modesto studio.


POSTED May 29, 2013 6:01 p.m.

Don’t mistake Diane Flores’ sultry dance and floor-to-ceiling pole for adult entertainment.

She doesn’t move, twist, hang or twirl for lonely men or $1 bills.

Flores’ target audience: The stay-at-home mother; the 30- to 45-year-old woman with body issues, low self-esteem and/or a desire to transform themselves.

Flores is the co-owner and master instructor at Venus Pole Fitness, and she and her sister, Tina Soares, have introduced health and fitness to thousands of women from Manteca to Turlock using a taboo art form:

Pole dancing.

“It’s my passion. It’s my love and it’s been exciting,” said Flores, whose 5-year-old business has spawned studios in Turlock and Modesto and created a cult following throughout the Central Valley.

“It’s turned into so many different things – boot camps and pole dancing. We’ve developed a program that burns fat and builds muscle. I have women in their 40s flipping upside down; doing stuff they’ve never done in their lives.”

Pole dance fitness is a total body workout tailored for women, placing an emphasis on core and upper body strength, as well as the mind.

The exercises include “Heavy hair,” which Flores characterizes as a sexy push-up; hip circles; head tossing, which is a hair flip with zest and flair; shoulder mounts; butterflies; and for the advanced student, inside and outside leg hangs.

The moves are meant to tap into a woman’s fantasy and sexuality, areas, Flores says, so often neglected or suppressed by those in their 30s and 40s.

“Women lose that sensual part of them; that sexy identity,” Flores said. “It’s brought out in our structure, but that’s not how we draw them in. We draw them in with fitness, but once they come in, it transforms them.”


Cheri Davis has been attending Venus Pole Fitness for a little more than a year. In that time, the Modesto resident has lost 45 pounds and “tons of inches,” she says, by giving herself to workouts and a diet carefully crafted by Flores, a licensed dietician.

She fits Venus’ target demographic: Davis is a 38-year-old mother of two with a full-time job and little time for self.

“When you’re a working mother you don’t have downtime. You’re always busy with the kids,” Davis said. “That’s my escape.

“You go in and nothing is expected of you. You’re there to relax and be yourself. It’s one of the most comfortable places I’ve been.”

Manteca’s Gina DeRoos, 35, waved the white flag about eight months ago, surrendering her inhibition and fears to Venus Pole Fitness.

DeRoos was near her rock bottom when she discovered pole fitness. She was in a rut physically and emotionally, and a traditional gym membership was doing little to lift her spirits.

She was stuck.

“I’ve had some past traumatic events as a child and wasn’t able to come out of my shell,” DeRoos said. “The environment, the staff and the women ... I started to feel better about myself and love myself as a woman.”

Her transformation has only just begun, but already change is evident.

Look at her arms.

DeRoos can perform 61 push-ups in a minute -- a far cry from the 10 she completed as a newcomer. She attends classes at Venus Pole Fitness three to four days a week and stopped her traditional gym membership.

“It’s not what people think it is. People think we’re in there practicing to become strippers,” DeRoos said. “It’s nothing like that.

“It was a moment in my life when I needed to do something different. I took a risk and I’m glad I did. The first class you feel silly. What got me through was Diane and the staff. She makes you feel comfortable and not ashamed to feel like a woman.”

It is, for now, a women-only workout. In time, the sisters may expand to include men’s classes or co-ed sessions, but there is a consensus amongst their regular clients: They enjoy the privacy of a man-free zone, where they can feel protected and free and sexy.

“It’s sexy yoga. They lose themselves in the moment. It’s remarkable what it does for women,” Flores said. “They tend to walk taller, embrace their bodies and quit the war with themselves.”


Venus Pole Fitness was born out of a regular Ladies’ Night.

Flores served as the host for most of these get-togethers, while Soares handled the invitations. At the time, Flores was living life according to script: She was a mother of three working as a medical assistant, who routinely put the needs of her husband, children and bosses ahead of hers.

She later took a job as a medical transcriber so that she could be a stay-at-home mother. At one point, her weight ballooned to 205 pounds.

“My sister and I decided we needed some ‘me’ time,” Flores said. “We started with traditional parties -- purse parties, candle parties and passion parties. We did every kind of party imaginable and it was great. Lots of fun.”

Then a Google search produced an enticing new adventure -- pole dancing, the perfect activity for a private party for her girlfriends.

At the time, pole dance fitness was offered only in California’s major metropolitans, San Francisco and Los Angeles. In the Central Valley, the phenomenon existed only in conversation.

“Most women out there would be lying if they said they didn’t find that intriguing in some way – the whole girl up there that exudes hypnotic power and extreme confidence,” Flores said. “Most women, if they say they don’t have that burning desire to carry that kind of confidence in the bedroom or in life, I think they’re lying.”

The sisters bought a pole, received an online certification and began training themselves to be instructors. Before long they were hosting private parties.

Soon thereafter, Flores, who had very little dance experience, found herself hosting workouts on Tuesday and Thursday nights. The demand on her time became so great that her husband, Shilo Flores, dipped into his 401K retirement fund, secured a space in Turlock and put up four poles.

In 2008, Venus Pole Fitness was born. One year later, Flores and Soares opened the Modesto studio.

Early on, there was backlash from the community. Flores was accused of being a stripper and her children the mother of a stripper, and she struggled with the stigma attached to the pole dance.

Eventually, Flores found the confidence that she inspires in so many of her students today.

 “I made it my mission to bring that to every single woman I can touch in my life,” she said. “Every woman deserves it, we just typically don’t give ourselves permission to be 100 percent authentic and true to who we are … It’s actually pretty magical. When my students embrace their femininity and give themselves permission to not take themselves too seriously (regarding the pole dance classes) the weight loss follows almost effortlessly.”

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