LEWISTON — Classes start with a warm-up and stretches, getting what Kelli Gilzow calls “loosey-goosey, kind of getting into a space that allows you to move your body and not care what you look like.”

Next, it’s chair trust exercises. You have to trust the chair. It has to not move.

In week three, they break out the high heels.

“It is a skill of its own,” said Gilzow, 38, the owner of SPRQ Burlesque Chair & Fitness.

She teaches 10 classes a week, a mix that includes burlesque chair aerobics and burlesque chair skills, along with yoga and kettle bells.

“The classes that are offered are essentially what I describe as a ‘fitness-esque, core-aligned approach,’ so you feel confident, you feel sassy, you get to express yourself with use of props,” Gilzow said. “The classes have a solid dance/fitness background, but it gives you the opportunity to express yourself in different ways, and with a group of like-minded humans. You welcome the giggles and the naughty PG-13 comments.”

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Kelli Gilzow of SPRQ Burlesque Chair & Fitness in Lewiston has appeared in performances such as “Candy Man,” “Beer and Babes” and “7 Deadly Sins.” Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

She started SPRQ (pronounced spark) 12 years ago. In 2016, Gilzow scaled the business back, offering pop-up classes as well as classes in a temporary spot on Lisbon Street.

Last year, she secured a new home base for the business at 14 Highland Spring Road and is sharing it with other instructors.

“Taking away the classes and camaraderie (when she scaled back) was huge for me,” Gilzow said. “To go from 30 times a day high-fives and ‘thanks so much for doing this’ to not, it was very, very different, so the approach on reopening the studio a year ago was mainly for the mental health. It’s so refreshing to be able to have a renewed energy.”

Other instructors there teach cardio line dancing, dance fitness and, soon, silks.

Gilzow’s students are typically in their early 20s to late 60s and the vast majority women, though five or six men pass through most years. She sees all shapes, sizes and fitness levels.

Some people sign up out of curiosity, or with a friend, or want to learn a routine to perform for a partner.

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“I get to push all of the clients a little bit out of their comfort zone because that’s the burlesque piece of it, which is your storytelling, that’s where your choreography comes from,” Gilzow said.

The fitness comes from doing that choreography, which she designs, over, and over, and over.

“You have to trust your chair,” said Kelli Gilzow of SPRQ Burlesque Chair & Fitness in Lewiston. Gilzow said chairs she has repurposed from Walton Elementary School and Edward Little High School are much sturdier than those purchased at a department store. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

“We’re using elongations of the body, we’re using a striptease format, we might use and play with props,” she said.

Think parasols or silk bathrobe ties.

Sessions range from three to 11 weeks and can include mini-recitals through the year with an end-of-the-year performance finale.

She teaches eight to 10 people per session, keeping classes at half-capacity for distancing.

Gilzow said she loves that she’s helping people as well as fueling a passion and a purpose for herself.

“You’re coming for the feel goods and we’re going to give you the high-fives and the ass slaps on the way out,” she said.

Kelli Gilzow, owner of SPRQ Burlesque Chair & Fitness in Lewiston, saved posters from burlesque shows that she has helped organize over the years.. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal


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