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!”
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.”
Our Newest Hotgirl Staff!