Are Stripper Poles the New Exercise Bikes?
The cliché of gentlemen’s clubs is making a new kind of statement in the fitness world.
I’m a fitness enthusiast. I’m constantly in search of physical activities that not only challenge my body but spark my curiosity and serve as a stress reliever. While yoga is my activity of choice, pole dancing has been on my radar for a while now. Between seeing 60-second videos of celebs gracefully twirling their bodies around the pole on Instagram and an increasing number of TV shows with pole dancing on heavy display, it just looked…. fun. When I finally decided to give it a try, I did my research, read reviews and found Soft Sensuous Moves, a top pole-dancing studio in my area. One sunny afternoon, I stepped off of my yoga mat, strapped on a pair of seven-inch platform stiletto heels and headed to the pole studio.
I’d been told all I needed was a comfortable pair of legging shorts and a well-fitted sports bra, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit insecure showing off that much of my body six months after having a baby. But when I walked into the bright and airy studio with positive quotes and affirmations gracing its pink walls, those worries evaporated.
Working the Pole
It was clear from the start of class that this would not be easy. My instructor Natalia, a.k.a. Astrid, was an actual aerial pole athlete. We began the hour-long session with a 15-minute warm-up of total body stretches, then moved into the conditioning portion with exercises like straddle ups and pike ups as well as using the pole to do “crunches.” This was achieved by slightly leaning my hips onto the pole, gripping it with both hands almost on top of one another and lifting my legs out and up, allowing my abs to “crunch” together. I tried it a couple of times before realizing pole class was no joke.
At this point, I was sweating and breathing like I just finished running multiple laps around the track. “People sometimes look at TV and think, oh they’re just pole dancers, but pole is a really great workout,” says Astrid.
Once finished with the conditioning portion of class, we began to work on a series of moves better known as “combos.” This included the Fireman (a pole-climbing maneuver that resulted in a smattering of body bruises) and learning how to do a sexy pushup off the ground that involved engaging my core and using my cheek to slide my body up and away from the ground.
Next, we chose between a spinning pole or static pole to perform the combos we just learned. The static pole requires more strength; the spinning pole requires more muscle control. I opted for the spinning pole and started performing the moves that I’d learned during class. I did a “floater” (gripping my hands around the pole, jumping up off the ground and spreading my legs in the air as the pole continued to spin) and took a stab at a backwards hook spin that involved wrapping the back of one leg around the pole while gripping the bar with both hands and sweeping my other leg off the ground—all this while twirling around the pole and bending my knees as I worked my way down towards the floor.
It might sound like the makings of an awesome selfie, but by the end of class, my body was sore (like I’d just done a 60-minute circuit of pushups, pull-ups, sit-ups and squats—which I de facto had) and my breathing was akin to that final two minutes of cooling down after a hard session on the bike.
So, would I take another pole dancing class? Absolutely. I loved the challenge it offered me and appreciated the way it helped me to accept my body as it is. Most people hear pole dancing and think of a gentlemen’s club, but this isn’t that. This is a legit, hardcore physical challenge that’s about taking your body and teaching it to do moves you never thought were possible. What’s more, you’re doing it all in the seven-inch heels that force you to work your core just to stay upright and balanced. From the pole crunches to the spinning to the constant climbing and gripping of the pole, my entire body was constantly working. While being a yoga student and instructor helped me with the flexibility and balance, nothing can prepare you for the intense strength that the moves require. “The more you practice, the stronger you’ll get,” says Astrid. “Eventually you’ll be able to do all kinds of moves.”
Although I was slightly intimidated at the beginning of class (stripping down to my shorts and sports bra wasn’t exactly confidence-inspiring), that insecurity completely dissolved after seeing the other beautiful shapes proudly show off their bruises (a.k.a. “pole kisses”) they received when landing their moves. “What I love about pole dancing is that all walks of life find their way into the pole studio,” says Astrid. “We have students who are lawyers, we have victims of PTSD—it’s really beautiful to help my students gain body awareness, confidence and strength in pole and in life.”
And that’s why I’ll be back soon. I can’t think of too many other activities where I’ve gone from shy and slightly awkward to being inspired and feeling empowered in such a short time. Sure, pole dancing will always carry certain connotations. But having tried it, I can say: I’ll never look at the pole the same way again.