Our Twisted Staff
“Lean on me, when you’re not strong,
And I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on…”
~ Bill Withers ~
Our staff members go by their Dance Names, as do all our students. But what you’ll remember most when you meet them is their kind, encouraging, and supportive Hotgirl attitude that is the heart of our Studio. We have some of the best Instructors around, and with over sixty combined years of experience, they know a thing or two about fitness, health, and safety. We’re proud of the creativity and effort they put into designing and teaching their classes, and we encourage you to take something from everyone!
If anyone knows how to turn life’s lemons into lemonade, it’s our original Hotgirl, Rio!
Deborah “Rio” Douglas grew up dancing and choreographing from the age of three, first entertaining her parents, then putting her talents to use on her high school cheerleading squad, and eventually with a Pussycat Dolls-like dance troupe. She stumbled into the world of Go-Go Dancing when she first applied to be a cocktail waitress at Donald’s Go-Go World, but then realized she could make much more money using her fancy footwork as a dancer on the stage.
When Rio danced in the 1980’s there were no “champagne rooms,” men could only toss money onto the stage, and dancers had to wear pantyhose underneath their costumes. To set herself apart from the other girls who mostly just sashayed around, Rio imbued her stage time with creative moves like handsprings, hip circles, and the splits. It wasn’t long before she was the “It Girl” to see on Hampton Roads’ stages! She became the pretty blonde plastered on all the local billboards and taxi cabs, and she also won numerous contests including Miss International Go-Go Girl!
Eventually Rio traded in her leotards for scrubs to become an ER nurse and practice her other passion of helping others and spreading love. But it took an act of extreme heartbreak – something almost all women experience at some point in their lives – to inspire her towards an “Act III” in her life.
After suffering through a devastating divorce and the subsequent depression, Rio decided she had to make a change. She picked up the pieces with the help and support of loving friends and family and knew, without a doubt, that she never wanted to go through that again. But she also wanted to pay it forward and help other women get through their own difficult and low times of life.
The stars aligned when she ran into two friends who helped shape her desires, passions, and talents into a viable idea: she could teach women how to build their confidence and feel good about themselves through dance and fitness. But not just any dance… this would be Rio’s brand of dance! And not only could she make you look and move pretty, but she could make your muscles burn while doing it!
Starting in her friend’s gym, Rio’s dance fitness classes (originally called Eroticize) quickly filled up and sold out. She realized she would have to grow if she were to keep up, so she found her own space in the Byler Building in Virginia Beach, and brought in some dance friends to help teach. (Shout-out and love to one of our original Hotgirl Instructors, Nina!) She then got to work building up what would become in 2005, Studio Rio’s Twisted Fitness.
As Rio recalls, “I just started naming moves and putting my imagination into things. I came up with FloorPlay and Ho-Down and Stripper Stretch (which is now Oh Split!) I just started making up classes. I locked myself in a room and tried to remember everything I did on stage that ‘hurt.’ Dancers always have good bodies, but you rarely see them in a traditional gym. Dancing on stage every night not only gave me a great body, but it was also a major boost to my self-confidence. I wanted every woman to be able to have that experience.
I also came up with the idea to teach our students ‘a little something to take home,’ which is not something you can get at traditional gyms. I encouraged them to feel and move like women. It just kept getting bigger and bigger. I started these classes with modified stage dancing, and then eventually added poles – we were the first ones in this area to offer pole fitness, to take away the stigma of pole dancing. This is a beautiful apparatus to work out on. It takes a lot of bravery. It takes a lot of self-control. It takes a lot of everything, but you don’t have to be an Olympic hopeful to do it. You can be any shape, age, size, or fitness level and we can make you look beautiful on this pole!”
Rio’s philosophy of making women feel beautiful did not just stop with their physical selves but extended into their emotional and mental well-being. In fact, she coined the term Hotgirl which has stuck, and now represents the attitude of encouragement, support, kindness, and camaraderie that she fosters in every woman who walks through the Studio doors. (And of course it’s a nod to their physical hotness as well!)
Says Rio, “If there is one thing I’ve learned it’s how important it is for women to celebrate and encourage other women – to take it outside of our Studio walls and make it a lifestyle. When I opened this place, I did it mostly as a way to save myself – I was fortunate to have a lot of people supporting me and cheering me on. But as more women came to take my classes, it was even more apparent that everyone has struggles in life, and we should be here to support one another. As we all know too well… all girls have been there, and that is why we are here.”
Years ago, Rio had no idea her heartbreak would eventually lead her to change the lives of countless other women – a legacy that will live on with each Hotgirl that spreads love out into the world.
“Who knew my divorce and ex-husband would be the catalyst to a wonderful life? Now I send him thank you cards!” laughs Rio. “When I started Studio Rio, I just wanted to teach women how to feel good about themselves in the hopes they will make other women feel the same. I had no idea how much I would learn from them…I am truly a better person now and I am thankful for every lesson!”
Cream wasn’t always our Magnificent Manager. A decade ago she was working for a plastic surgeon when a co-worker asked if she’d be interested in taking a pole dancing class. In true Cream fashion she calmly answered, “Hell yeah! Date and time and I’m there!” They started off with the Best Girlfriend Ever package and didn’t even finish the punch card before upgrading to the One-Year Membership.
Not only was Cream hooked on pole classes, but she was also hooked on the Studio itself. She was a Member for all of seven months before jumping at the chance to work here. As she says, “The Studio feeds my soul!” And what kind of nourishment does she get here? “Girl Power. Our Hotgirls ooze empowerment and self-love. It’s absolutely important for us as women to provide that for ourselves!”
Once the shy girl at the club who would hit her little two-step off in a corner, now you can’t get Cream off the dance floor! She credits the Studio for making her a sexy, empowered, and confident woman – and she loves it! (So do we, Cream!)
When she’s not busy keeping our Studio running smoothly, Cream also teaches a variety of classes. “I love watching these women come out of their shell. I love watching their brains work and their confidence skyrocket. I love watching them NAIL the moves they have worked so hard on and beat themselves up to attain. It’s the most rewarding part of my job! This is the most rewarding job I could ever ask for. I am a part of an amazing community and I get to give back in the best way. I get to empower women and help them either find their sexy or regain it.”
Exotica became a part of the Studio family in 2009, after moving from NYC to Virginia Beach. She originally walked in looking for a new “pole home” to practice her passion, but the minute Rio saw all the cool stuff she was capable of, she was quickly offered an Instructor position so she could share her skills with our students.
It wasn’t long before we discovered that Exotica was more than a pole diva. She also had extensive training in the aerial arts (silks, lyra, hammock, and trapeze), and was also a bit of country line dance fanatic! The Studio added Circus Circuits to our list of Workshops and gave Exotica some fun Fitness Classes to teach as well, which she’s thoroughly enjoyed: “I love looking at everyone’s facial expressions while I’m teaching! You can tell when someone is powering through the workout and is making the ‘I got this face!’ My favorite is seeing someone smile while they workout/dance. You can tell they have let go of their stress and are truly enjoying their time in the Studio!”
Having taught here for more than a decade, Exotica continues to gain as much as she gives: “I love the energy of the Studio! There is a genuine show of friendship and support amongst these highly empowered and motivated women. By nature, I am a shy person, but having to instruct a room full of ladies has made me unafraid to address the room or start a conversation with a stranger. I love how the little chats have turned into plans for the weekend, a girls’ night out, and long-lasting friendships! It’s hard not to be inspired by the women you encounter here – it’s so much more than just a workout, its often a boost to your overall well-being!”
Several years ago, Raven bought a Groupon and showed up at the Studio for pole and fitness classes. She immediately fell in love and, as she says, “How could you not?” Quickly spotting how fit and fabulous Raven already was, Rio approached her, curious about her background and whether she would be interested in teaching classes. Lucky for us, it turned out Raven had extensive experience in several fitness styles! She jumped at the chance to be part of the Studio staff. As she says, “I love the women who work out here. They emanate excitement and enthusiasm. I am humbled to have the opportunity to lead them down a journey of sisterhood, health, and fun. After all, fit is the new pretty!”
Slayer walked through our doors in 2010 to do a stunt for her radio show (check her out on FM99!) and she pretty much never left. “I remember texting my few female friends about how much fun I had and how I was ‘on cloud 9’ and had to go back for more classes ASAP. One friend came with me and she still has a Membership to this day (say hi if you see Little Miss Naughty in your Ho-Down class!)”
She started with Pole Classes and then, becoming a die-hard Studio Rio fan, was here almost every night taking whatever classes were offered. Eventually she caught the eye of the former Zumba instructor who suggested Slayer take over when she left. Slayer jumped at the chance, got her Zumba license, and added her energy and enthusiasm to the Studio staff. “I love leading classes because I love how much fun we have! I want you to be healthy, lose weight, get stronger…whatever your fitness goals are…and I want you to fall in love with the journey like I have! I want to share how much I love it and how fun it is with you!”
Speaking of her journey, Slayer has come a long way from the baggy-jeans-wearing tomboy that walked through our doors almost a decade ago! “I had no confidence about my body and had very few female friends. I’m now in love with being healthy, taking care of my body, and I have many awesome friendships with many awesome females who I would have never met if I never came to Studio Rio. I’ve met some of my best friends here! Everyone is so supportive and helps to build you up!”
You might guess by her name (and by some of the music she plays in class) that Slayer has a thing for heavy metal, but her open mind and positive experience at the Studio has definitely made an impact on her and her wardrobe. “I still prefer my metal, but occasionally I wear a pink shirt now….and I’m not ashamed! Dancing in front of others is a very adventurous thing to do! It takes guts, and everyone here supports you and gives you confidence! It’s so much fun! But it’s more than just the confidence and the pole tricks and sexiness, this place has really changed my life.”
Nyx arrived at the Studio in the summer of 2014, already a trained ballerina. Once she took her first pole lesson though, she was hooked, and immediately signed up for a Membership. Within a few years she was so hooked on the Studio that she joined our Front Desk Staff, where she got an even deeper sense of camaraderie. “I love how willing all of our members are to help one another. Our members have a desire to watch one another achieve their goals. We support one another.”
Installing the ballet barre in the Fitness Room during the 2019 renovation finally gave us a chance to add Nyx’s ballet prowess to our cache of classes. The grace and flexibility inherent in ballet has greatly complemented the pole training for our students and gives Nyx a sense of fulfillment: “What I love most about teaching is getting to share my passion for dance with someone else. When someone takes my class and tells me that they have enjoyed themselves, I feel accomplished. I also feel like the confidence I have gained while being with the Studio is the biggest change in my life. It’s a place that allowed me to learn how to be comfortable in my skin.” Now several years later, Nyx still considers the Studio her home away from home. “I have made some of the absolute best friends of my life here!”
Classes Taught: On Pointe
The Navy has brought a lot of good things to Hampton Roads, and Blaze is one of them! Originally from Detroit, Blaze was stationed in Virginia Beach and then loved it so much, she decided to stay even after exiting the Service. Now a full-time student and full-time mom, Blaze somehow finds time to share her dance skills with us! “I’ve been dancing since I was 12 – hip-hop, ballet, jazz, jazz-funk… almost everything but tap. I’ve taught dance classes for children in the past, so I’ve learned a lot from teaching the adult students here – it’s very different, and they are so much fun — I believe it’s made me a better instructor.”
One big difference she found is that she can actually have conversations with her students: “I can talk about anything here… the environment is pretty chill, like a family or a sisterhood, and I love that! And it’s a super nice place, with huge rooms, and the lighting and walls of mirrors…all I know is, if you come here, the worst thing you can do is NOT try it, because there’s a high chance that you’ll probably love it. Even if my classes aren’t for you, it’s almost guaranteed that there will be a class you like – that fits you.”
L to R: Kitty, Indulgence, Nyx, Rio, Cream, Pink
Our Studio would come to a grinding halt if it wasn’t for these foxy Front Desk femmes! These smiling faces are usually the first thing you see when you walk in our doors, or are one of the friendly voices you hear on the phone. Along with Rio (Owner and Head Hotgirl), Cream (Office Manager), and Instructor Nyx, our Front Desk team includes Pink and Indulgence, who both started as Members before joining the Admin family. These lovely ladies do sooo much behind-the-scenes work that many of us never see – from keeping our Studio (and bathrooms!) clean and tidy, to the mountains of paperwork it takes to run any business. They answer our questions, process our payments, and restock our supplies. But these ladies are more than just worker bees…because of where they sit, they often become a sympathetic ear or the loudest cheerleader for many of our students, and we totally appreciate all the heart they put into their jobs. So next time you see them, please offer up a big thank you and a hug – because without them, there would be no us!