ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
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And I'm Melissa Block.
They've got money and time and they're looking for the latest, greatest thing. China's newly rich are quick to catch on to, among other things, fitness fads - from bungee jumping to ballroom dancing to Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
As NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports, one of the latest crazes to catch on in Beijing is pole dancing. Yes, as in strip club pole dancing.
Ms. LUO LAN (Dance instructor): (Speaking foreign language)
ANTHONY KUHN: In a downtown apartment, a half dozen mostly young white collar women are gyrating and undulating in a room full of floor-to-ceiling metal polls and mirrors. They're dressed in high boots, hot pants and tight tops. They swing and swoop. They shimmy on up and slide on down. Among them is 18-year-old Zhang Wanqiu from Northeast China. She learned about pole dancing on the Internet and came to Beijing a month ago just to learn. Her appearance is demure, except for the big gold stud protruding from the side of her nose.
Ms. ZHANG WANGQIU: (Through translator) Pole dancing is great for losing weight and keeping a trim figure. It's very alluring, very sexy, very healthy, and it allows women to express another side of themselves.
KUHN: Ms. Zhang claims she lost more than six pounds in only a week of pole dancing. The school's founder and instructor, Luo Lan, got her start in belly dancing. She saw her first pole dance on a visit to Paris, and was hooked. She claims to be Beijing's first teacher of pole dancing, or as it's rather clinically rendered in Chinese, steel tube dancing.
When Luo was born 38 years ago, pole dancing probably would have landed a person in jail or worse.
(Soundbite of music)
She says that since she started teaching it at her new location last July, it's caught on like wildfire.
Ms. LAN: (Through translator) I never imagined people would accept this so quickly. People used to be very conservative in their dress and make-up. Now young women are very open, not in unhealthy way, I mean. They're more confident and individualistic. They want to show their stuff.
KUHN: Luo tries to adapt pole dancing to Chinese sensibilities. Her business card, for example, puts an anthropological spin on it. Pole dancing is one of the 10 great folk dances of the world, it explains. It was created by the working people of America, construction workers who sang and danced with steel tubes in their hands. Luo recently went to a Beijing park to recruit students. She taught dance moves to some senior citizens who said they felt safer having a pole to hang on to. She then explained that this was pole dancing.
Ms. LAN: (Through translator) We then told them that in other countries it's considered an erotic dance. And we asked them whether this is something they could accept. They replied, that's okay. We can just do it with our clothes on.
(Soundbite of laughter)
KUHN: In just a few months, Luo has attracted over a hundred students and charges up to $1,200 for a year's classes. It seems she has found the right formula for the Beijing market - sexy but not dirty, more exotic than erotic.
Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.
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