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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 6, 2006

Pole position

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

Ilana Fernandez teaches Fit for A Goddess exercise classes using a pole or chair in a dance routine designed to strengthen the spine and upper body.

REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Age: 53

Profession: Psychologist and dance instructor

Home: Kailua

Height: 5-foot-5 1/2

Weight: 127 pounds

Stays in shape by: Dancing — particularly Fit For a Goddess workouts using a dancer’s pole — walking the beach, salsa, hiking, playing tennis, surfing and kayaking

Fitness goal: "I’ve been blessed and cursed with genes," said Fernandez, who has both large frames and longevity in her family. "So staying thin and healthy is important to me."

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Ilana Fernandez stays fit with pole dancing, salsa, kayaking, walking and eating wisely.

REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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• 5:30-7 p.m. (Level I) and 7:15-8:45 p.m. (Level II), today through May 25, Kailua Movement Center, 151 Hekili St.

• 4-5:30 p.m. (Level I), April 29 through June 17, Yoga Hawaii, 1152 Koko Head Ave.

Cost $140 for eight classes

Call 262-6979 or visit www.fit4agoddesshi.com.

(Additional classes will be added as demand increases, so check the Web site for updates.)

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Hip gyrations; crawling across the floor; pole dancing: It's not necessarily the workout you'd expect a 53-year-old grandmother to be doing or teaching.

But that's only if you don't know Ilana Fernandez.

Fernandez teaches Fit For a Goddess, a workout that incorporates sensual dancing and the use of a dancer's pole with stretching and strength-building moves.

This style of dancing, made popular by Carmen Electra's "Aerobic Striptease" workout DVD in 2003, is the latest fitness craze to hit the Islands.

The workout is based on moves more commonly associated with strip clubs than health clubs. But, as Fernandez will quickly point out, it's still a total-body workout, one that she credits for getting her into the best shape of her life.

"Oh, you feel it," said Fernandez, who's been dancing although not with a pole since age 4. "The first time you do it, you get home and you feel all those muscles that connect to your spine ... I'm definitely using my body in ways I've never used it before."

Growing up in Southern California, Fernandez took up every kind of dance form, from ballet to tap, from jazz to hula. But dancing was more of a hobby than a potential profession.

Instead, Fernandez pursued acting. From 1956 to 1970, she appeared in episodes of "My Three Sons" and "Leave It to Beaver." She also had a role in Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" and starred as Burt Lancaster's daughter in "Airport."

But by the time she turned 17, Fernandez was disillusioned by Hollywood. "I didn't buy into the whole scene," she said, "and at 17 I had to make a decision whether this was really the life I wanted."

The summer before her first year in college, in 1970, Fernandez took a two-week vacation to Hawai'i.

"I went home and was, like, 'What the heck am I doing here? I hate this place,' " Fernandez said, laughing. "It took me just 12 days to get everything I owned, including my car, sent to Hawai'i."

Fernandez enrolled at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, where she earned a degree in nutrition.

Just before graduation, however, Fernandez was hit by a car while riding her 10-speed bike on Kona Street near Ala Moana.

At first it didn't seem like she had anything to worry about. She had no broken bones or suffered a concussion. But after she was released from the hospital, she started to feel unbearable pain.

She was suffering from fibromyalgia, a common condition characterized by widespread pain in joints, muscles, tendons and other soft tissues. An estimated 3 million to 6 million Americans suffer from this condition, also known as fibromyositis.

"I couldn't hold a pencil without wrapping it in a tea towel," Fernandez said. "And I had such terrible muscle spasms, I had to wear a neck brace."

This went on for nearly a year. The once-active Fernandez could barely perform daily tasks without pain.

"It took almost a year before I could move my body again," she said.

When she regained her ability to exercise without disabling pain, Fernandez decided to become a professional Polynesian dancer.

"I was given the gift of being able to move again," Fernandez said, "and I was going to move it."

As a dancer, Fernandez met her husband, to whom she was married for 21 years before divorcing in 1996. The couple raised nine kids together two of theirs and seven from his previous marriage.

At that time fitness went on the back burner as Fernandez tried to balance her role as mother with her ambition to pursue a career in psychology.

While working toward a doctorate in clinical psychology at Argosy University, Fernandez put on 50 pounds.

"I just couldn't do it all," Fernandez said. "I felt terrible."

So she decided to turn things around.

Fernandez put herself on a strict regime: small meals, walking during her lunch breaks, gym workouts in the evening, salads for dinner. Within a year and just in time for her graduation she had lost the extra weight.

Divorced and armed with a doctorate degree, Fernandez still felt a void, one she figured needed to be filled by a man.

That is, until she started learning and then teaching sensual dance eight months ago.

"What got me through that phase was the movement," she said. "I felt like a sexy, healthy person, but I had no place to actualize that. The movement really did that for me. I went from feeling pretty depressed to having a relationship with myself and filling that void.

"It's not like I needed a man for that," she added.

• • •

Goddess revealed

Workout habits: Fernandez teaches six Fit For a Goddess dance classes each week. Several times a week she walks along Kailua Beach (about 5 miles roundtrip). She also surfs, kayaks, hikes and plays tennis.

When and why I started working out: “I’ve always enjoyed being active,” said Fernandez, who was born in Canada but lived in Southern California before moving to Hawaiçi at age 17. She has danced since the age of 4, performing everything from tap to hula. Fernandez still loves to dance, particularly salsa. “I plan on being a fit and sexy centenarian,” she said.

Good foods/bad foods: Hypoglycemic, Fernandez eats small, healthy meals throughout the day. Her good foods: whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and chicken. She avoids fried or processed foods as much as possible. Her bad foods: chocolate. “I must admit,” she said, “I treat myself to a small but satisfying taste of chocolate almost every day.”

Biggest motivator: “Being and feeling healthy in mind, body and spirit,” Fernandez said. “To me, that means working toward actualizing my fullest potential.” She believes that today’s stressful, 24/7 lifestyle has forced women to suppress their sensual feminine spirit. “I’m on a mission to bring back a healthier balance of energies, re-integrate sensuality and spirituality, and better utilize the nurturing feminine forces.”

What saves my sanity: “The calm, peace and joy I feel when connecting to my core self while dancing, walking on the beach or looking into my children’s and grandchildren’s eyes,” she said.
Next challenge: Fernandez wants to open a women’s center that combines sensual dance, counseling services, a boutique and other forms of therapy. “The only roadblock or challenge is finding the time to do it all,” she said.

Advice for women who want to reconnect with their feminine sensuality: “Come check it out,” she said. “If you sense that it’s a good thing, and every time you read or see something that validates those feelings, explore it. See if there’s an aspect of yourself that would benefit.”

• • •

About the workout
Sensual or exotic dancing — whether using a pole or a chair — is the latest fitness craze to hit the Islands.

Here are the basics about the class offered by Fit For a Goddess in Kaimuki and Kailua:

• It’s a workout: Don’t be fooled by the name. You won’t be lounging poolside with chiseled Greek men feeding you grapes. No, these goddesses actually break a sweat. Pole dancing requires a lot of upper-body and core strength. “I’ve used muscles I didn’t know I had,” Fernandez said. “But it’s a fun way to exercise. You don’t even think you’re exercising, but you have the benefit.”

• Leave your inhibitions at the door: You will move your body in ways that may, at first, seem awkward and even embarrassing. Hip gyrations, floor crawling, prancing around the pole. But Fernandez says that these moves are inherent to being a female. “The movements aren’t sexy because strippers do them,” Fernandez said. “They’re sexy because they’re sexy. They’re sensual because they’re sensual ... We’re not emulating strippers. We’re emulating what strippers are emulating, goddesses of the past.”

• Dress the part: Fernandez recommends women wear stretchy, comfortable clothing, similar to what you’d wear for a yoga or Pilates class. But something that makes you feel good. “You don’t want to feel like you’re going to do yard work,” she said, laughing. “The colors, textures, how things fit you — that all matters.”

• You’ll get a confidence boost: While most women don’t sign up alone — they bring friends for support — participants strut away with improvements to their muscles and gains to their confidence. Many feel more comfortable and in tune with their bodies. “For some women it’s a massive transformation,” Fernandez said.
• It’s for all women: There are no age limits or skill requirements to take the class. Fernandez had taught women of all ages, shapes and abilities. The oldest participant is 68. “I’ve had everyone from the out-of-shape to the super-fit,” Fernandez said. “Everybody wants to feel more alive and more feminine. That’s been stifled or wounded or set aside or ignored or neglected for so long ... (This class) is very liberating and very healing.”

— Catherine E. Toth

Reach Catherine E. Toth at ctoth@honoluluadvertiser.com.