Does the exclusion of men from the aerobic dance program at the Rockville Holiday Spa reflect "still definite physical differences between males and females" or does it simply amount to sex discrimination?

That was the question put last night to a three-member public accommodations panel of the Montgomery County Human Relations Commission at the first of five scheduled public hearings. The commission's eventual decision could affect all coed health clubs in Montgomery County that segregate their programs.

David E. Manoogian, an attorney for the Holiday Spa, argued the former proposition, saying it is the guiding principle behind the club's aerobic dance program. He said the program is off limits to men because they have greater strength, endurance and aerobic capacity than women.

The complaint that the club violates the county's law against sex discrimination came from three male club members.

Holiday Universal Club of Rockville Inc. opened the Rockville Holiday Spa in December 1983, and Bruce Pollekoff, one of the complaining members, testified last night that a sales representative showed him the club's aerobics dance classroom and said it would be available for his use.

Based on the sales person's representation, Pollekoff said he paid $500 to transfer his membership to the Rockville club. But when he tried to attend one of the aerobic dance classes, he said, the instructor turned him away, saying men were not allowed.

In affidavits filed in the case, club members Earnest A. Sahaby of Reston and Ronald F. Busch of Rockville said they had similiar experiences.

Because of the physical differences between the "average" man and woman, Manoogian said the class could not be designed to accommodate both. Instead, he said it is aimed at women between the ages of 25 and 35 who are in average shape.

Manoogian also asserted that there is not enough interest among male members in the club to develop a coed aerobic dance program, and to do so for only three members would be financially prohibitive.

In her opening arguments, Assistant County Attorney Joyce Stern said she would present evidence that the club is engaging in sex discrimination by denying the men access to the program.

In a related development, the National Capital Branch of the American Civil Liberties Union announced last night that it has filed a similar complaint on behalf of a member of another Holiday Spa, owned by the same company, in Bethesda.

"There are a lot of facile assumptions at work here, just as there were once a lot of facile assumptions about who could be firefighters, airline stewardesses or who could eat in a fancy restaurant," said ACLU legal director Arthur B. Spitzer.