LINCOLN PARK — Juli Gilliam was working for a prestigious law firm when she fell in love with the business idea that would see her ditch the bar for the pole.
Gilliam left Katten Muchin Rosenman last year, just as former Mayor Richard M. Daley was joining the practice, so she could help launch Flirty Girl Fitness, a pole dancing-based workout center in Lincoln Park at 2215 N. Halsted.
Gilliam, who appeared as a contestant on ABC's "The Bachelor" in 2007, tried a workout at a Flirty Girl Fitness while at a bachelorette party in Las Vegas a few years ago and then sought out Flirty Girl's West Loop gym. She loved the business model so much she decided to ditch her high-paying job.
"It was very hard to leave my law job. It’s like a ball and a chain," said Gilliam, 29. "They lure you there and try to keep you there with all the money and that. There is a fair amount of security with those jobs, but you just have to one day decide you are going to get out and stick to it."
The Lincoln Park location opened in October, and so far has been a hit. The center features traditional cardio and strength workouts, along with classes such as Advanced Pole Dance, Lap Dance, XXX Power Strip and Pole Tease.
Gilliam is not the only one who left an office job for Flirty Girl Fitness.
Mikaela Capobianco, 26, of Lincoln Park, was working for Evanston-based Myefski Architects, when she said she needed a creative escape.
"I had worked so hard in architecture," she said. "It was a really scary decision."
Capobianco, an Iowa native, said in addition to being an architect, she has danced her entire life and the chance to teach classes at Flirty Girl was something she couldn't pass up. Both Gilliam and Capobianco said seeing their former office-based co-workers bored and unhappy with their jobs helped them quit.
Although Gilliam does not have any outstanding student loan debt, thanks to law school scholarships that covered her tuition at Chicago-Kent College of Law, she said she is still getting used to the pay cut. She still works part time for another law firm, Much Shelist, doing estate planning.
"I’m still doing 60-hour work weeks, but the stress and everything is a lot less. I’m much more calm," Gilliam said.
She said she has no regrets: "I wanted to do something that made me happy and that I’m passionate about."