By Rich Kane
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When her 8-year-old daughter asked her what “sexy” means, Collette Kakuk didn’t flinch. “I said to her, ‘What do you think it means?’” recalls the owner of OC Pole Fitness. “She said, ‘You feel good about yourself, and it feels nice.’” If anything, her daughter’s thoughtful response only validated Kakuk’s decision three years ago to open a pole-dance fitness studio in Aliso Viejo.
Previously a marketing VP with a master’s in business administration, Kakuk says she did her “due diligence” before plunging into the pole-fitness world full-time. “I just knew that this fusion of delivering fitness results with something that made you feel great would work—or could work,” she says.
At a time when the trend had created enough of a stir for Oprah segments and New York Times articles, Kakuk found herself in the throes of divorce after 16 years of marriage. “The last thing you feel when you’re going through this process is sexy or happy or like going to work out,” she says.
Uninspired at the gym, her curiosity was piqued when a friend told her about the pole-dance studio in LA she’d been going to. Kakuk began attending classes throughout the area and was soon taking notes. LA had a bunch of studios, but OC had only a handful with varying degrees of intensity, rigor and discipline. “The first hurdle for me was really based on ‘Can this business model work?’” she says. “But a close second was that it was delivering for me all the things that I, as a woman, needed at that time.”
The former college softball player kept toying with the idea until it became a business plan and a real dream. She had owned a traditional fitness studio in the past, so it wasn’t unfamiliar territory. What she wanted to do, she says, was find a way to create something that was not only sensual, but also physically demanding and rigorous.
She’s unshrinking about the nascent sport’s bad rap from those who believe her classes provide little more than stripper training. “I was never a stripper,” she says. “The goal here is not to train anyone how to be a stripper, but to get women to engage in doing this difficult, sensual training for themselves and no one else. . . . When the criticisms start getting at my children, that’s when I say, ‘Wait a minute, uh-uh.’”
Kakuk is a board member of the school site council at her kids’ elementary school. She coaches their softball team and brings them to the fitness studio. “There’s nothing to hide from them,” she says.
In the short time since she opened her OC Pole Fitness studio, Kakuk has managed to create one of the most popular—and unabashedly sexy—studios in the county. She just opened a second one in Huntington Beach, and both studios now also offer classes in aerial hoop training, belly-dancing and “sexy” yoga. She sits on the boards of several pole-fitness associations and has been one of the lead advocates for the accreditation of a well-defined, rigorous pole-fitness sport to be added to the Olympics (something along the lines of gymnastics or Chinese acrobatics—and probably no stiletto heels, she says).
“We now have women of every kind, every personal situation—oftentimes women with a divorce story, but lots of happily married women, too—who just want to learn something new and feel sexy. In building the business, I realized I was there for what it was also giving me, and I now realize I was there for the same reasons my customers come.”
Her OC icon: that perennial favorite, The Beach. “I’m a Minnesota girl. We’re landlocked there. You say California to me, and I’m gone. I’ve been here 13, 14 years. The setting [where this photo was shot] is totally what I think of when you say, ‘Orange County.’”
OC Pole Fitness, 4 Journey, Aliso Viejo; 808 E. Adams, Huntington Beach; (949) 360-4600; www.ocpolefitness.com.