TAIPEI,  (AFP) - In the dimly lit dance studio with colourful gauze covering the windows, Nina Chen instructs a group of women how to sway to the music while slowly taking off their clothes in front of a wall of mirrors.

Chen is the creator of Taiwan's first strip dance workshop aiming to help women appreciate their bodies, discover their "sexy charms" and boost their self-confidence.

"All women want to feel sexy, charming and attractive. I tell my students that they are dancing for themselves because they like themselves and they are confident in themselves," Chen says.

"In the process of stripping they can re-examine their bodies and explore the sexy sides in them. I think a woman regardless of her figure can be sexy if she wants to be."

Chen's message has come across well so far with college students, young professionals, models and even middle-aged housewives swarming into her "How to Look and Feel Sexy Workshop" since its launch six months ago.

Some pupils are learning for fun while others are hoping to spice up their relationships or marriages, she says.

"In the beginning of a lesson they are often very shy and giggle or even scream to cover-up their uneasiness but I encourage them to think of themselves as performers and that they can do it."

Strip dance is part of the curriculum offered by the Sexual Energy School that Chen and another sex educator co-founded and which also offers programmes on massage, couples yoga and dream analysis.

"We set up the school because we think that Taiwanese people may be liberated intellectually but physically they are not. They can easily obtain the latest information or follow the trends abroad but many don't know how to digest them and put them to good use," she says.

In the beginners' dance class, students dress in blouses, short skirts and high heels and strip to their underwear at the end of the five-hour session.

In advanced lessons, they strip to the waist or, eventually Chen hopes, will choreograph their own dance sequence from their personal love and sex stories.

The 30-year-old switched careers from computer science to sex education in 2001, joining then newly-established master's programme in human sexuality at Shu-Te University in southern Taiwan.

"I worked in the IT industry for two years but I did not like the job at all. At that time I became interested in feminism and sociology and wanted to study related subjects," she says.

During graduate studies, the vivacious Chen took some time off travelling to the United State, Canada and Australia to attend various workshops on sexology.

After working as a sex educator for several years in Taiwan, she went to London in 2006 to study strip dance at a school run by a retired dancer.

"I had seen some appealing stripping performances abroad before and I thought it would be fantastic if I could also dance on the stage, to captivate the attention of others," she says.

Despite being flexible and open-minded, Chen says at first she was feeling uneasy because compared with the tall and shapely Western women her body "was like that of an elementary school student".

"I was dissatisfied that my legs were too thick and I was not sure if I could be sexy. By taking stripping lessons I learned to appreciate my body and felt an overall beauty and charm in myself."

Strip dance may still raise eyebrows here but Chen believes that an artistically executed strip routine, like those at the Crazy Horse Cabaret in Paris, rather than being vulgar, can be sexy, charming and powerful.

However, Chen says she is not interested in pole dancing or other exotic dances often seen in nightclubs because they aim at "showing more skin to make more money".

Pupil Ivy Tseng, a 30-year-old office assistant who is otherwise reserved and self-conscious, says she feels more confident in herself and less stressful at work after taking strip dance lessons.

"I used to worry too much about how peopole think of me and I was not satisfied with the way I looked. At this class I learn to appreciate the curves of my body from different angles and I am more at ease," she says.


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