Women around the world are embracing a sexy new way to lose pounds with pole dancing. Once reserved for topless dancers and celebrities who have grown bored of yoga, pole dancing is bumping and grinding its way out of shadowy bars and into fitness clubs from L.A. to Beijing.

Wendy Traskos, a former gymnast and go-go dancer, teaches other women to free their inner burlesque dancer. "Women try it because they want to feel more comfortable and empowered about themselves and their bodies," says Traskos. "When they try it, they realize it is also a great workout."

Unlike other kinds of aerobic exercise, such as running or spinning, pole dancing offers both fitness and the chance to be creative and really let loose. Dancing in general is a great way to burn calories, but unlike other forms of dance, Traskos explains, pole dancing integrates cardio and resistance training. It also works the core muscles in the back, the leg muscles, and especially the quadriceps and glutes (that would be your butt). The arms, shoulders, and torso support your weight as you hang onto the pole. As they grow stronger, you'll enjoy improved stability, balance, and posture. After taking a class, Traskos says, most women are sorer than they have ever been, even if they exercise regularly. "They're sore in places they didn't even know they had muscles!"

Since Traskos started offering pole dancing lessons a year and a half ago, her Manhattan studio, New York Pole Dancing, has received 700 women. In a typical class, there are 4 to 9 women gyrating to sexy tunes like Akon's "Smack That" and Christine Aguilera's "Nasty Naughty Boy." They usually start with an introductory class, and then progress to climbing the pole and learning increasingly complicated combinations of tricks, which could include spins, floor work, and poses. Pole dancing studios also offer tantalizing classes in striptease and lap dance.

Students wear regular workout clothes, except the running shoes have been replaced with 6-inch heels guaranteed to make you feel bootylicious. More advanced students wear shorts to expose their legs. As Traskos explains, "You stick to the pole better when you can use your skin."

Traskos says that anyone can learn pole dancing. Some of her students are ballet, jazz, and hip-hop dancers who are curious about the dance style, but many others have never danced. "They figure, 'If strippers can do it, why can't I?'" The women range in age from 18 to 60, and they come from all ethnic backgrounds and occupations. "There are women who come to the studio who are lawyers, doctors, police officers, accountants, waitresses - all walks of life."

Getting in shape isn't the only benefit pole dancing offers. "There is a great emotional release when you're pole dancing," says Traskos, who shares that she has often cried happy tears while swinging around a pole. "Your self-esteem usually goes up because you feel more comfortable with yourself, your womanly curves, and the way your body moves." She adds that mastering a few pole dancing moves will turn one's lover into "putty in your hands."

Not surprisingly, pole dancing is also a popular theme for bachelorette parties. Traskos held 150 of them last year. "Women are getting rid of the male stripper - they want to be the stripper!" she says. "The want to feel like they are being 'naughty,' because they have always been led to believe that pole dancing is naughty or only for topless dancers."

If you'd like to give pole dancing a whirl, look for a beginner class at a fitness club or dance studio in your area. There's nothing to fear - you'll be surrounded by like-minded women who want to laugh and have fun while getting fit. The secret to pole dancing success, says Traskos, is to arrive at a class with an open mind. Oh, and don't forget your high heels!