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In the dim studio of a small gym in an alley off Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach, the women in Edith Aboul-Hosn's exotic-dance class cheer one another on. One woman climbs the polished pole jutting out of a small stage in the middle of the studio floor and swings one, then both legs around it before spilling like syrup onto the floor. The dancers don six-inch stripper stilettos and teeny shorts. They swing their heads and whip their hair across their faces; they pull themselves up the pole and descend, spread-legged, in impossible, upside-down arabesques.
This is Aboul-Hosn's advanced Thursday night pole- and exotic-dance class. With slow, bass-heavy music playing in the background, Aboul-Hosn twists herself up, then upside-down, flipping up her skirt and flashing teeny pink lace shorts. The girls clap and smile. "We're all shapes, all sizes," one of Edith's students, a college adviser, says. "I don't talk negatively about myself anymore." She hesitates to give her name, but says she fell in love with the course when she and a group of girlfriends came to the studio for an evening of classes during a friend's birthday party last November.
Several of the women in Aboul-Hosn's Exotic Divas class tonight are also instructors for her traveling classes—private and studio all-girl affairs for women around Orange County who want to play pole for one night or take ongoing classes. Aboul-Hosn is 24, with blond highlights dancing through her long hair. She's buxom and thin. Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Aboul-Hosn came to the U.S. as a teenager with her parents. Both when she dances and when she speaks, she maintains a half-smile, half-smirk and a slightly raised eyebrow—a look at once hard-to-read and tantalizing.
Aboul-Hosn says she knows just about everything there is to know about exotic and pole dance. She says she was the first in Orange County to teach such classes, long before they were popular or mainstream. Aboul-Hosn says she has never worked as stripper. She says her own dance background helped her out when she taught herself the pole tricks that would later evolve into her classes.
Her business has grown steadily, nearly matching the larger pole- and exotic-dance fitness trend that has swung into the mainstream with celebrity endorsements in the past several years. Within the past year alone, several exotic and pole fitness studios have popped up in Orange County. Actress Sheila Kelley, of the famed, Los Angeles-based, Oprah-endorsed S Factor, opened her first studio in 2001 and now has schools opening nationwide. S Factor opened a Costa Mesa location last year and has plans for two more in Orange County.
As optimistic as Edith Aboul-Hosn is about the staying power of the pole-dancing fitness trend and her own part in it, when she hears a certain name from her past, her half-smile fades and her talking speeds up. "Oh, no, no, no. Please don't even write about that person," she says. "That woman tried to destroy my business."
That woman's name is Leda Lim, who insists she was the one who first introduced exotic dance to Aboul-Hosn and to Orange County. And Lim wants to tell it to a judge: Just last week, she returned to town to file a lawsuit against Aboul-Hosn—for the second time this year.
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The suitcase is spread open on the queen-sized bed in Maria Leda Victoria Lim's Travelodge hotel room. Lim filled it only with papers, stacks and stacks of them, that now cover the bed, the floors and the small table looking out onto the little lawn outside her room. Some are slightly crumpled around the edges. They are organized only in makeshift piles with various handwritten labels. Lime-colored brochures and computer drawings—a smooth logo sketch of a woman's crossed legs in stiletto heels, another of a woman hanging delicately from a pole—are spread among the piles. One word emerges repeatedly among the stacks: "Sexercise."
If there's one thing Lim is certain about it's that she hatched the concept of an exotic-dance class for women in Orange County and brought it to Aboul-Hosn's doorstep more than two years ago. Most of the paper in the room, she says, is her evidence of this. She's just returned from a short stretch in her former hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, where she contemplated whether to move forward with a lawsuit she filed in January. Before going to Arizona earlier this year, she was living with her fiancé in Laguna Beach. Her pursuit of the lawsuit has strained their relationship, Lim says; although they still talk, they've taken a "break," she says.
The lawsuit alleged that Aboul-Hosn breached their contractual business-partnership agreement by cutting her out of the deal and running off with Lim's concept. Lim was seeking $5 million in damages, according to court records. The court papers were never served, however, and the case was dismissed in May because Lim never appeared in court. Lim says she was reluctant to go forward, but after weeks of contemplation, she returned to Orange County last week with plans to re-file and move forward with the suit next week.