Polar Opposites

Two women who together helped bring the pole-dancing fitness craze to Orange County could be headed to court

She opened her Los Angeles studio in 2002 and now has 4,000 registered students in studios in New York, Chicago, California and Houston. She's been featured on Oprah a half-dozen times, and S Factor usually sells out its first sessions when it comes to a new city. Kelley copyrighted some of her moves and says the sensual, seven-level workout she's developed is unique, but grounded in striptease and pole dance. At any of her cozy, spa-like studios, students don S Factor tees, microshorts and G-strings. "When you do the movement for yourself, you are no longer the object being watched, doing it for another," she says. "When that happens, you become a participant. You are now the perceiver and not the man."

In Orange County in 2005, Lim began to approach studios with her concept. One of the studios on her list was From Mind to Body in Costa Mesa, owned by a woman named Edith Garcia Aboul-Hosn. According to Lim, the studio offered belly-dance, hip-hop and burlesque classes, but not exotic dance.

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Above: Edith Aboul-Hosn. Photo by Janine P. Kahn, Below: Leda Lim. Photo by John Gilhooley
Above: Edith Aboul-Hosn. Photo by Janine P. Kahn, Below: Leda Lim. Photo by John Gilhooley

Aboul-Hosn says her foray into the world of exotic-dance classes started about five or six years ago, when students in some of her other dance classes began asking for something sexier. "So I brought a pole in," she says. She then taught herself how to do tricks, with the help of her husband, over the course of six months, practicing for six hours a day. She says she was slow to market the course because it didn't yet have widespread appeal. But students responded, including her mom at one point, and she decided to dump all of her other classes—belly, burlesque, hip-hop, reggaeton, serpent—and switch to exotic-dance classes exclusively. She now teaches private and group classes and has produced a few DVDs, including one in Spanish. A box of tie-up shorts and tanks in the corner of the studio stamped with the logo "From Mind to Body" are testament to her own ambition within a booming trend.

"Maybe if [studios] start popping up on every corner, I'll be the one on every corner," says Aboul-Hosn, not worried yet about the few studios in OC she's competing with. She's also going international. "We're beginning classes in Mexico in a few months," she says. "I want to have franchises." Her relative youth, she says, has been the thing that's most worked against her while building her business. She's careful when she speaks, pronouncing her words meticulously, her accent nearly undetectable.

In April 2005, Aboul-Hosn says she hired Leda Lim to help with her ongoing pole- and exotic-dance classes at her studio. Aboul-Hosn had just had a baby, and she needed help a few days a week because she was breast-feeding, she says. "We did, like, a little contract at the beginning because she was going to take over for three months," Aboul-Hosn says. "And she was like, 'I wanna call the classes Sexercise,' and I was like, 'Okay, whatever.'"

Later, Aboul-Hosn says Lim also wanted to rent space. "She just came to our studio, and she wanted to rent space from us, and she ended up just teaching some of my students and teaching her students," she says.

Things fell apart when Aboul-Hosn returned in July. "When I came back and said, 'Okay, I'm ready to teach,' she just, she didn't want to leave. She was like, 'These are my members. I taught the classes and this and this and that.' And I was like, 'You can't teach anymore because I'm going to start teaching.'"

Lim says her first meeting with Aboul-Hosn was exciting. "When I explained my concept and the idea of exotic dance for everyday women, her face got bright," she says. Lim was impressed with Aboul-Hosn's ambition and drive at such a young age and says they hit it off. Soon, they were talking about a partnership, Lim says. They planned to hold Sexercise classes at Aboul-Hosn's studio and split the profits 50-50. The copy of that partnership contract, which is in the court file of Lim's initial attempt to sue, was signed by both women on May 11, 2005. It indicates an agreement of a 50-50 split and a partnership term of five years. There is no mention in the contract of a three-month contractual hiring term for Lim.

In mid-July 2005, Lim's Sexercise classes were featured on the cover of SqueezeOC and in the Daily Pilotas the first of their kind in Orange County. There was little mention of Aboul-Hosn in the articles. A photo of Aboul-Hosn in one of Lim's classes was the centerpiece in the SqueezeOC article, but she was credited as the owner of the studio and Lim as the creator of the exotic-dance classes.

After they received the press, business picked up, says Lim. But around this time, things also began to unravel. Lim says she believes the press coverage the classes received deeply disturbed Aboul-Hosn. "The reason they don't really talk to me or interview me is because it was her course, her little thing," says Aboul-Hosn. "It wasn't really about From Mind to Body." Copies of the SqueezeOCand Daily Pilot articles, with Lim erased and featuring only the picture of Aboul-Hosn, now appear on Aboul-Hosn's pole-dance website.

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