And Up, and Down, and Up, and Down 

Tess Sweet needs a sex fitness instructor. Can you hang with it?

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She pulled her left knee up to her chest and opened up her legs. "This one's going to be a little difficult," she announced. While she held her knee at her chest, she arched her back up, balancing her entire body on her shoulder blades and right heel. She instructed her mates to follow, but they were having trouble maneuvering into position.

Chen lifted up slowly, carefully, and then back down. "And up ... and down ... and up ... and down."

After that, Chen ran out of moves. She twirled around. But the music was still pounding away. Since she was still auditioning, she returned again to an imaginary woman-on-top position.

"That's okay," Sweet said, calling it off. "That's enough for now."

Used to be, Tess Sweet didn't know when to say "enough." Four years ago, she chased love to Oakland. She'd met him at Burning Man, and fell so hard she returned to her Seattle home only long enough to pack her bags and quit her job as a sex educator at the adult store Toys in Babeland.

Two months later, the romance crashed. The fallout cast Sweet into the kind of heart-funk that leads to boozing. And then using. And then more boozing. It took two years and a New Year's Eve overdose to check herself into the New Bridge Foundation rehab center in the Berkeley Hills. In 2001, she moved downtown into a halfway house.

"Living there, I had a lot of time on my hands to learn who I was," Sweet recalled. "In that time, I decided to get busy living."

She got a membership at the downtown YMCA, a move that would change her life. "Exercise to me as a whole concept was an entirely new idea," she explained. Instead of meeting people for drinks at a bar, she was meeting friends in her noon cardio class. With the cloud of booze lifted, she found it easier to seek out new habits, better projects. She signed up for a video class.

Today, Sweet looks like the sort of artist you'd find in West Oakland. She rents a live-work loft on the cheap. She has flowers and stars tattooed up her forearms and wings down the small of her back. Her short-cropped hair is bleached blonde and she wears oversize Jackie-O sunglasses, if she's not wearing a funky red wig. Fifty pounds lighter since she stopped drinking, she has the Sheryl Crow jawline that comes with carb-aversion.

But she distinguishes herself from the barstool-dreaming hipsters by showing some follow-through. After she finished video classes, Sweet signed up for a public-access slot at Berkeley Community Media. She wrote and produced Sexpro, a Saturday Night Live-style variety show that aired in the wee hours. For one skit, she MC'd a lusty quiz show. In another, her cohorts reviewed new products, like the remote-control butt plug. When bands showed up on set, they played sex-themed ballads, such as one titled "Magic Vagina."

"I keep things light, I interject some humor," Sweet says. "We're all about having fun."

The idea for Sweet Moves came from personal experience with a guy she was dating at the time. "One time I got on top of him and I couldn't last more than a couple minutes," she recalls. "My knees were screaming, 'Aggggghhhh!!!!'... That's when I realized to have good sex you need to be in good shape in specific places. ... That's when the lightbulb went on."

Sweet Moves first appeared as a skit. But just as in SNL spin-offs, Sweet spun her workout diva character into an entire thirty-minute video, complete with set changes from a tropical beach to a low-rent futuristic set. As it turns out, the niche market for sex-exercise instruction videos is quite large, but with plenty of room to spare -- especially for those who infuse a wink into their workout.

Recently, Sweet has been in negotiations with a national distributor who may put her project in stores around the country. The HBO Real Sex gig was yet another notch in her professed goal of "building an empire." The crowd in Los Angeles, which was pumped up for Annie Sprinkle, roared for Tess Sweet. Afterward, a director insisted he play Sweet Moves at his after-hours party, and by the time the guest of honor arrived at the fabulous affair, she was showered in applause and Sharpie pens.

In typical Sweet fashion, she rolled out a large red carpet to offer her thank-you speech at the premiere. She carried an award ceremony envelope, opened it, and revealed that the winner for the one-of-a-kind Oscar that year had been awarded to Tess Sweet for "Finally Finishing Something."

After Kimmy Chen departed, Sweet and her producers rehashed her performance. The consensus was that it lacked edge, but that Chen at least had the goodie-girl thing going for her.

"Bless her heart," Sweet said. "She wanted the part so bad."

"Too much dance, not enough sex," the male dancer decreed.

"Her talking about sex was so junior high," Sweet said. "It was" -- she raised her voice to a little girl's squeal -- "pee-pee poo-poo ca-ca ha-ha-ha."

The team laughed, and waited for the next rock star to arrive.

But none did. Sweet and her fellow panelists watched appointment after appointment come and go with no appointees. The married couple that had been so anxious to perform called to say their kids had sudden plans. The two friends Sweet thought for sure would pull through didn't even call, the flakes. And the people who responded to her Craigslist ad? Nada.

This was a speed bump for Sweet. She'd envisioned an American Idol scene at her weekend audition, where she'd be forced into the difficult task of anointing America's next Sweet Moves instructor. What she got was the empty promises from the uncommitted, unaware they were messing with someone's plan to build an empire. But if Sweet was disappointed in the day's waste, she didn't allow it to stick to her for more than a second.

"That's okay," Sweet said as she directed the producers to pack up. "If they can't make it to an audition, I didn't want to work with them anyway."


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