A woman at one side of the room has a question: "You know those corsets with the built-in garter belts? The ones that are real stiff along the sides? What's the best way to get those off?"
"You've got to remove the bones along the sides," says the instructor. "Get rid of the bones right away and you won't have trouble taking them off. And never buy one with 12 hooks. It takes too long to get off. Only get the ones with 6. Oh, and never let a man buy one for you on his own. You have to try them on first to make sure they fit right. It's fun to shop for those things together. And besides, if you're there, you won't have to worry about your man having his hands on the salesgirl trying to compare your size with hers."
A meek, lanky platinum blond from the other side of the room raises her hand then hesitates, trying to find just the right way to ask her question. Finally she just spits it out: "Ummm, what do you do about pubic hair?"
The answer is straightforward: "I use a combination of shaving, plucking, cold wax, Nair, and bleach. I have to keep my bikini line under control."
The instructor bends over and peeks through her legs into the mirror behind her to survey her own scantily clad behind. "Looks like I need a bleach," she says.
The class was called "How to Strip for Your Man." The teacher was GiO, short for LaGioconda. (Her real name, according to press clips, is Lisa Suarez.) An energetic and witty gamine who claims to be 29, GiO will teach two of these three-hour classes at the Discovery Center this weekend. She breaks down the art of the striptease into teachable parts--the walk, the look, the poses, and undoing the various pieces of the female ensemble. At the end of the highly structured workshop, GiO performs a short, well-choreographed, and well-scored strip that incorporates all the little parts. Her students stare in awe.
GiO travels around the country in the interest of saving marriages, keeping boyfriends, getting boyfriends, getting husbands, and generally averting boredom in the bedroom. She also promotes her personally produced and distributed video, How to Strip for Your Man. GiO gives her students the confidence to do a classic striptease in the privacy of their own bedrooms.
GiO reassures her students by telling them: "Remember, the person you're with loves you. You're bringing something extra to the bedroom. If he wanted to look at someone else naked, he wouldn't be there with you."
While it may sound trite for a stripteaser to call herself an artist, GiO really is: she put herself through Pratt Institute by working sans clothes. After she graduated she had a two-year stint in exhibit design at the Smithsonian, but she found she missed stripping. "I realized I was a good designer and a competent designer but I'd never be a great designer," says GiO. "But, I thought, I am a great striptease artist."
She paid her dues then in a lot of sleazy clubs, though she eventually studied choreography with Twyla Tharp. Her design background has enabled her to produce intricately staged strip shows with various themes--saloon girl, pregnant bride, space cadet--appealing to a wide range of sex fantasies.
GiO's career peaked in 1986, when she was featured in the film documentary Stripper. This necessitated telling her parents, art auctioneers living in Georgia, about her career. She'd been stripping for ten years but this was the first they knew of it. GiO says, "They think it's great."
GiO begins her classes with the basic poses, which are a combination of stance, facial expression, and arm placement. The "classic sex goddess" is characterized by a seductive backward tilt of the head. The "demure sex goddess" is more kittenlike--coy eyes, pouty mouth, chest covered. Other sex-goddess poses are much bolder; they say everything from "Come hither" to a threatening "Just wait till I get you home."
Later GiO has her students put on skirts, blouses, stockings, gloves, and garter belts. Then she teaches them the proper way to take it all off. The women gaze at themselves in the mirror while rolling down stockings and shimmying their shoulders so their shirts fall off. They look like awkward schoolgirls learning gym drill.
Apparently there, is a proper way to dangle clothing, and pieces should be dropped seductively around a room. GiO says there is nothing worse than getting hung up by an uncooperative bra or garter belt. "One time I had to finally rip a garter belt off onstage." Then there is the fine art of what she calls "ego crushing"--a kind of taunt that involves straightening a glove or silky sleeve in the air so it's stiff, then blowing it over with one puff.
"Stay away from fly fronts," GiO warns. "They're too masculine. But dangling lace scares men to death. Sit like your mother told you never to," she suggests.
There seems to be a rule of thumb for every disrobing scenario. There are ways to cover and uncover what she calls "the obscure object of desire" and the breasts. You must undo your bra from the back but not take it off. You have to cover your breasts with your hands or arms. "You have to control this little fantasy," she says, to maintain the tease.
Perhaps the high point of Gios class is the high-heel lesson. Lining the students up three at a time (they were asked to bring high heels but many didn't, so the women are sharing), she teaches her students a couple of ways to walk sexy: "Step, drag, sway" or "Dip, drag, lock." It's hard enough to stand in the shoes, let alone make a graceful transition from standing to sitting.
GiO tells the class to pay close attention to themselves in the classroom mirror rather than looking at her or the other students. "These presentations of form look different on every body," says GiO. She herself is short and dark, with extremely long hair and very small breasts. "I won't be in your bedroom with a checklist. Practice in the mirror. As soon as you don't crack up, you're ready."
The women stare wide-eyed at the mirror-covered walls, practicing dirty grinds. They look as if theyre having spasms. When a few big-breasted volunteers try swinging their breasts--the idea is to get imaginary tassels going in opposite directions--the effort makes them look like they're having seizures. "There's really not much place for that trick in a truly sensual striptease," GiO advises.
But pelvic thrusts are easy. "Put an imaginary basketball in your sacred triangle, aim, and fire."
GiO says her boyfriends have often had trouble handling her profession. "Men won't get serious if they see [my act]. They're possessive. A lot of men are terribly intimidated. They don't want their special woman showing her private parts to other men. Sleazebag men don't care, because they don't care about themselves."
GiO says the money is good but not great--so why does she strip?
"I'm an exhibitionist," says GiO. "Most firstborn children are. I love to perform. I love to teach. All my life I wanted to be tall, blond, and skinny with big tits. I've always had an inferiority complex. I've worked very hard making up for that."
Gigs classes will be at the Discovery Center, 2930 N. Lincoln Ave., on Friday, March 17, at 6:30 PM and on Saturday, March 18, at 1. The cost is $29.95. Women only; call 348-8120.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Paul McGrath.