The business idea came as a happy accident. Roxi DellaDonna was at a party, a little get-together with some friends, when a gal pal of hers started a conversation about stripteases and her boyfriend. She didn't know what to do or where to start.
DellaDonna did. She'd performed in Cleveland gentlemen's clubs off and on for seven years, starting at the age of 19. And now, some years removed, she did some dance moves.
"'Didn't you used to work in clubs?'" one of them asked, she says. "So I showed them some things and the women were smiling and laughing. It was fun."
Not too long after that, she was in a bookstore and spotted a book called The S Factor: Strip Workouts for Every Woman, written by Sheila Kelley. It contains basically what the title says: ways in which dance moves from strip clubs could be used for workouts.
"I thought, 'Wow, maybe I could do this,'" she says. "I researched where to get a pole and I found out that there were poles for homes. It'd been a couple years since I worked in a club, so I started to piece together what I did, breaking it down into how you would teach it."
She started with some of her friends, setting up the pole in her living room and giving basic classes. The trial classes gave way to bringing the pole — it's portable, after all — to bachelorette parties. That gave way to women asking if she had a studio where she gave classes. She didn't, but soon found a space in Midtown with two rooms.
"It really just was something I was doing to help finish funding my undergraduate degree," she says. "But it turned into a business and it continues to grow."
With more students came more instructors, and with more instructors came more classes: belly dancing, pole dancing, burlesque, hula hopping, even twerking. Along the way, Cleveland Exotic Dance became more than a place to work out. She's recently focused on other aspects of instruction that the open atmosphere of the organization have created (as well as a baby she and her husband have on the way).
"We do classes that are adult-oriented," she says. "They're pleasure-based, but also about information. Over the years, women have found a home here, somewhere they feel comfortable. So they started opening up to instructors about boyfriends and husbands and questions they had, and we've had people who are transitioning ask us about how to be more comfortable walking. There's really a need here, and it was logical to take it a step further. Some classes are fun — there's the "Blow Him Away" class — but there's also stuff about women's anatomy and not just stuff like what Cosmo says."
When she talks about how all this started, back when she was in her early 20s, you can understand how she makes her students and instructors feel so welcome.
"I guess you'd call me an extroverted introvert now, but back then I was an introvert. Working at the clubs got me out of my shell, but it was more about stripping and being on stage," she says. "You really have to talk to people. And as far as the body image issues go, you realize that what you're sold on TV and in magazines isn't really the truth. The cookie-cutter image of a stripper... those aren't necessarily the successful ones. All women are beautiful and different, and you appreciate that and you celebrate it together."