During my junior year of college, I began hanging out with a friend who, like me, was interested in fitness. We got in the habit of working out together once a week, doing things like yoga, pilates, and an occasional hike if the weather was nice. As our friendship strengthened, she asked me if I’d ever tried pole dancing. I said I hadn’t but was interested in trying.
We started researching our options and found that there were a few studios around our city that offered pole. Some were dance studios that offered one or two pole classes a week, while others (like the one we ultimately chose) only taught pole. Even within the pole studio we went to, there were a variety of classes. Most of them were weekly and ran over the span of several months, the idea being that students progress from taking a beginner course to intermediate and so on. There were even classes specialized for individuals wanting to compete. The studio also offered a few beginner drop-in classes every week, which is what we opted to do.
We arrived at the studio (its appearance very nondescript in an attempt to avoid attracting unwanted visitors) early to prepare for our class and waited as an advanced class finished up. At first sight, I was amazed by the dancers’ strength and confidence. Here were women and men of various ages, body shapes, and sizes, each executing their own routine with a very distinct personal style. Their outfit choices varied as well, but generally supported the website’s suggestion that less is more. (I’d later learn for myself that skin helps maintain pole grip.)
Our class began with brief introductions and a discussion of class expectations and safety. Once again, we were a diverse mix of genders, ages, body shapes, and sizes. Some had already taken a few pole classes; others, like me, had never touched a pole in their life. We did a short warm-up to get our blood running and to loosen up, both physically and mentally. Feeling more comfortable than I’d anticipated, I took off the leggings I’d been wearing over my spandex shorts.
About 20 minutes into the class, we started on the pole. The instructor talked through and demonstrated each movement in depth before spotting us individually, and we did the moves assisted until we and the instructor felt we were ready to practice alone. He adjusted what and how he taught based on our abilities, experience, and individual goals. I did feel like I was pushing myself a few times, but never in an unsafe way. By the end of the class we’d learned how to execute a short routine. Before we parted ways, we cooled down and checked back in with our bodies and minds.
The biggest barriers, for me, were not physical but mental. My fear of falling, lack of confidence, and body insecurities got in the way far more than my physical strength or flexibility. Everyone in the class was extremely supportive. Any uncomfortable feelings I felt were all within myself and never came from anyone else in the room. With a little education from the instructor and encouragement from the group members, I was surprised by just how capable I was at executing the movements.
That being said, I also found the majority of the benefits to come from the mental aspect of pole. As I challenged and pushed through those barriers, I felt more connected to myself, my sexuality, and my body. Unlike other sexual experiences I’ve had, my performance while pole-dancing was solely for myself. I was not performing to please or impress anyone. And unlike fitness classes I've been to, the goal was not to burn calories, tone up, gain flexibility, or build muscle. Was it the best workout of my life? Certainly not. But the class did give me the opportunity to practice strengthening aspects of myself that I don’t typically touch—and for that, I’m really, really grateful.
Annie Walton Doyle
Ameerah de Chabert