It's not only pounds shed during a new aerobics class at Crunch gym, it's clothes.

      Cardio Striptease is an erotic dance lesson combining the cardio-vascular benefits of a 45-minute aerobic workout with the carnal tingling of a night at Crazy Girls.

      "It's an exercise class based on the movements of striptease -- grabbing your crotch, grinding your hips, doing isolations in your pelvis and abs," says instructor Jeff Costa, 32, who founded the class at L.A.'sCrunch, where it draws about 40 students a week. "It's all about sex and sensuality."

      There are no poles straddled or dollar bills collected, and the student body -- 90 percent female, single and hot -- dresses mostly in sweats. But a few have come in heels and lingerie. 

      "One lady got down to her pasties," Costa says. "But it really isn't about the strip. That's what you do when you go to the doctor. It's about the tease. That's what's hot. You flash your crotch and cover it back up, you flash your behind and cover it back up."

      It's not strippers who take the course but average folk who want to burn off some calories and bedroom inhibitions. Some are even married couples.

      "It's safe for them," says Costa, "because the husband can dance with some gorgeous woman for five minutes." (Safe until the car ride home, at least.)

      Crunch approached Costa -- a West Hollywood resident who has choreographed male revues and MTV videos -- to teach the class several years ago.

      "I thought they were kidding," he says. "I'm like, 'I'm not doing that, that's crazy. How is that a good workout?'"

      But the question kept coming up. So in May, Costa decided to invent a striptease class worthy of the President's Council on Physical Fitness. (Well, it would be worthy if Bill Clinton was still president.)

      "It doesn't replace your hour on the treadmill," Costa admits, "but it is a great cross-training experience." And it strengthens a couple of muscle groups ignored by traditional workouts but called for whenever the lights go down.

      "Nobody ever works in a movement involving the inner thigh and outer thigh," Costa says.

      All this talk has got me horny enough to try the class myself. But I'm nervous. Never have I been accused of possessing either dancing skills or sensuality. (My idea of foreplay is holding in my gas until I can get to the bathroom.)

      I arrive in the tuxedo jacket and bowtie of a Chippendale's dancer. At least I can dress the part.

      We begin with a 10-minute warm-up introducing basic movements such as head-circling and hip-grinding. As Prince's "Cream" pumps from the P.A., Costa's ass sets the example for the moves ours should follow. One is scootching down to rub figure-eights into the floor. But I am not yet limber enough to go lower than a public-toilet hover.

      "Don't worry, you're doing just fine," says Danielle Paris, 31, from Beverly Hills, whose right breast I have already smashed my left arm into while trying to seductively spin.

      "Should we take something off?" Costa playfully addresses the class, grabbing his sweatpants and stretching them out. A few girls remove their shirts to reveal sports bras. I fling my tuxedo jacket into a corner, flashing the hot bod I worked out from 1990 to 1991 to obtain.

      "That's coming off, too," says Costa, grabbing the bowtie I intended to wear to the Oscars with hands sweaty enough to thwart that intention.

      Next we are lined up into two rows and commanded to each make a "sexy entrance" down the center. My white-man's overbite in full effect, I move about as sexily as Drew Carey with a bottle of beer he's afraid to spill. If this were a male revue, women would demand change for their $1 bills.

      Luckily for me (unfortunately for her), my miscarriage of sensuality is followed by a true "Sex and the City" moment when a 25-year-old hottie named Toni trips and falls, grabbing her left knee in pain.

      "It's my right knee that's the bad one," she says as an icebag is fetched. "Now I match."

      After placing Toni safely in a corner, Costa asks us to find a partner to slink down the center with. He dims the lights and kicks up some trance music by the group Delerium.

      "I want you to think about being an animal when you guys crawl across the floor," he says.

      Helenna Nobler, a 30ish Chinese woman, decides that I am her animal. She grabs my paw and admonishes me for laughing at our sudden intimacy.

      "Do not smile," she says, locking into my stare and rubbing my chest as we grind across the floor. "When you have sex, you don't smile."

      Later, Costa tells me that the last time Helenna danced with a guy, she bit his shoulder, "not once but five times."

      Not only are pounds and clothes shed at Cardio Striptease, so are all social norms relating to sexual behavior among strangers.

      The last 15 minutes of class includes a lap-dance lesson. Costa pulls out a hand-shaped chair, like the one Felix furnished the apartment with on "The Odd Couple." He plops me down and two Latino babes approach, without coaxing, and commence crotch-gyration on each of my legs. All control has now been lost.

      I pretend to dance back but what I am really doing is grabbing an ass with each hand and rubbing it up and down. On the subway this is behavior I would be arrested for. But because this is a dance class, my victims do not object.

      Even at Crazy Girls, where a double lap dance could run $100, touching is not allowed.

      Of course, once the class ends, all norms are back to normal -- especially the ones pertaining to my luck with the ladies.

      "That's so sweet," Helenna says in response to my request for her phone number. She squeezes my arm as she walks away without furnishing a digit. In fact, I get shined by each and every girl I had virtual sex with only minutes earlier.

      Even in a place where women who bite shoulders gyrate themselves into ecstasy on my thighs, I can't score.


Postscript: This article ran in the New York Post on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Considering how many executives read The Post in Manhattan, I feel there is little doubt that it provided one or more people in the World Trade Center with their last laugh. And I'm proud of that. -CL


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