- Associated Press - Monday, November 29, 2010

MEXICO CITY (AP) - As the glass doors of Hard Candy Fitness, Madonna’s first gym, slid open in Mexico City on Monday, a mural of white, black and violet Warhol-esque images of the Queen of Pop greeted each client.

But it was no disco with exercise machines or Hard Rock Cafe-style temple of Madge memorabilia.

The facilities are not much different from any other high-class gym in Mexico City, and very little screams that this is Madonna’s first fitness venture, apart from the name _ the title of her last album _ which she says in fitness parlance is the perfect combination of “hard body” and “eye candy.”

“It’s a sexy name that gives you the opportunity to have fun and to build strength as far as the imagination will allow,” the singer, dancer, actress, children’s author and clothing designer said in a Q&A provided by her handlers.

Still, not every gym opens with a Hollywood red carpet appearance by one of the most powerful women in entertainment, who cut the ribbon Monday night, then taught a dance class for 20 hand-picked members with music by Paul Oakenfold, the DJ who opened her last tour.

The star says she chose Mexico City because it was a stop on last year’s Sticky & Sweet tour, which grossed $408 million, second only to the Rolling Stones’ A Bigger Bang Tour. She said she liked the energy of the people.

“Our plan is to use Mexico as a place to fine-tune our brand and then expand it to other countries and, in the long term, develop a global brand that includes the United States,” she said in a statement last week, noting that Mexico is close enough to home for her to be heavily involved.

Madonna said at the opening Monday night that she also chose the country because she loves its culture, food, art and architecture and that she didn’t worry about Mexico’s wave of drug-related violence when deciding where to open the gym.

“A lot of places I go are dangerous, like Tel Aviv or Rio (de Janeiro), but that never stops me from going there and putting on a show. I have good security. I don’t worry about that,” she said surrounded by three burly bodyguards. Dozens of police officers and security guards were outside to keep some 300 screaming fans at bay.

Though Madonna’s own hard body may not be plastered everywhere in the gym, the singer of “Like a Virgin” is omnipresent in the 30,000-square-foot (2,800-square-meter) facility in the city’s upscale Bosques de las Lomas neighborhood, much as she has been in pop culture for nearly three decades.

Her touch is in the mosaic design of the bathroom tile and in the yoga salon’s bamboo floor imported from China.

“She chose the graphics, colors, the machines,” said Chris Dedicik, general director of California-based New Evolution Ventures, Madonna’s partner in creating the gym. “She has weighed in on the choreography of all the classes and given them a twist to make them more dynamic, more special and to better reflect her style.”

Members can do cardiovascular exercises on five types of advanced-technology machines chosen by Madonna, many with individual viewing screens and iPod docks.

The yoga instructors are trained in various styles of the ancient Indian art, inspired by the knowledge the singer has accumulated in her travels. The yoga room will also have a special wall used in Iyengar yoga, one of very few in the world according to Dedicik, with ropes and steps to help people with less physical ability. A balcony outside will feature plants and Zen-style decor, all at the singer’s request.

“If any of you have seen my shows, you know that I don’t skimp on them and the same is true for the gym,” she said. “We spend what it takes to make a globally first-class gym.”

At 52, the Material Girl’s own workout regimen is legendary and her physique has been both admired and chided for being overdone. Her famously pumped biceps have been labeled scary by some.

Membership runs 2,000 pesos a month, about $160, generally in line with what the best gyms charge in Mexico City. The one-time fee for joining is 10,400 pesos, about $830, which includes the first two months of membership. Those who signed up before the opening paid an initiation fee of 8,900 pesos, a little over $700, also including the first two months.

Members who have signed up so far didn’t seem to care about matching Madonna’s workout feats. Those using the gym during a weekend preview said they liked the equipment and features and cited proximity to their home or work as their reason for joining.

Ronen Waiss, businessman and Honorary Consul of Lithuania in Mexico, said his office is two doors away and he registered long before he was told it was a venture by Madonna.

“I think it’s super sexy and motivating of course, but I didn’t know till after I joined,” said Waiss, 32. “But it’s attractive to me because it’s close and has the best computer technology. That’s what caught my attention.”

Clara Ruiz, a 59-year-old housewife, said she, too, chose the gym for location. But she likes the facility and wishes Madonna success in her new venture.

“She has a lot of experience in this,” Ruiz said. “She’s done it all her life. I think she chose what for her is the best.”