Sitting on Santa’s lap(dance)

Everything begins with the Diva Stance: hips loose, toe pointed, chin up, shoulders back. With the Diva Stance, says Diva Dance lapdance instructor Lakeysha Perkins, you’re ready to enter a room with confidence. Dropping into a curtsey, Perkins squeezes “the girls” front and center between her elbows and bends her knees to do a move she calls the Marilyn. “Hello, Mr. President,” she breathes.

Perkins and her business partner Kania Kennedy are bringing the gift of exotic dancing to Hyde Park for Christmas. Along with other Diva Dance instructors, the pair are teaching three weeks of workshops for a “Santa Baby” lap dance routine at locations throughout the Chicago area, including three on the South Side. Though the final product is meant as a present for the men in their customers’ lives, Diva Dance promises the program will make their participants sexier through increased physical fitness and confidence.

Nakia Dunigan, a fitness instructor from Matteson, Illinois, scowls at her image in the floor-to-ceiling mirror as she imitates Perkins, who stands next to her. “Don’t worry about the sexy,” Perkins comforts her. “It’ll come. It’ll come on its own.”

Perkins next teaches Dunigan how to walk: slow and deliberate, dragging her toe against the floor before lifting the knee high. A little faster, and it’s a strut. “We’re like America’s Next Top Model in here,” she jokes. Dunigan smiles but still looks nervous, so Perkins gives her a mantra to recite. “I’m sexy,” she whispers. “I’m beautiful. I’m hot. I’m glamorous. I’ve got it goin’ on.” “Think of Beyonce in her new music video,” Dunigan says to herself. “You’ve got to be thinking of how hot you are,” Perkins cries. “Screw Beyonce!”

Few of the techniques in the routine, performed to an uptempo version of Eartha Kitt’s classic “Santa Baby,” are unique to exotic dance. As Perkins and Kennedy break into an impromptu hip-hop dance break, hollering and waving their arms above their heads, it’s clear that their moves are rooted in a wider tradition. It’s the attitude, and the eye contact with the lap dancee, that makes it sexy.

Of course, running their hands over their bodies doesn’t hurt. Introducing a new move, Perkins warns Dunigan, “There’s going to be some feeling, girl. I can’t believe we got this far without making you feel yourself.”

It’s all in the balance, Kennedy explains. “We have to alternate between demure and”–she tilts her hips and opens her knees–“bam!”

Though the final part of the choreography has the dancers performing body rolls on the floor and straddling their chairs, Perkins and Kennedy end by sitting sideways on their imaginary subjects’ laps and modestly crossing their legs. One imagines that the rest of the dance is left unscripted.