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How to Pole Dance: Exercise for the Body and Mind

There’s no part of the gym experience that makes me feel sexy—not the musty locker rooms, not the baggy shirts and track pants I work out in, and certainly not the sweat dripping down my forehead as I stumble through cardio kickboxing or huff and puff on the stair climber. But perhaps I’d feel differently if I put on sky-high stilettos and a push-up bra, sauntered past the standard gym equipment, and learned how to pole dance for an hour instead.
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Forget sit-ups and interval running, pole dancing is how many women are choosing to spend their gym time these days. I’ve never taken a class myself, since any sexy dancing I do in public (i.e., not alone in my bedroom, listening to Britney Spears’ “Blackout”) is brought on by one too many gin fizzes. But if you’ve ever watched someone work the pole, either in class or in the club, it’s obvious just how much physical strength and cardiovascular endurance it requires. There are some very real reasons why more of us should learn how to pole dance.  

Sweating in Stilettos
Pole dancing classes offer women the opportunity to let loose and have fun while toning their bodies and increasing their core strength. (Swinging your entire body around a pole works your abs like nothing else, or so I’m told.) Students are encouraged to wear sexy attire, like platform heels and stripper shorts, to really get in the mood and get into the movements, but you can usually wear more modest shorts and tank tops, too. But once the music starts playing and everyone else starts dancing and writhing to the beat, it’s possible that you won’t care as much about what or how much you’re wearing.

Layne F., a medical student from Scottsdale, Arizona, has taken three pole dancing classes in the past and says she would love to take more if her school schedule were more flexible. “The first time was actually my favorite time I’ve been, because I had no idea what to expect and how much fun it was going to be,” she shares. She says that she wasn’t nervous before class started, but she did get a case of the butterflies anytime she had to perform a trick on the pole. “The moves are challenging because you have a triad of things you’re trying to accomplish: getting your body to cooperate to do the trick, not falling, and looking sexy at the same time,” Layne explains. “But when you get that first spin or slide up and down the pole, you definitely feel sexy!”

Changes from the Inside Out
The moves have different names, like Fireman’s Spin and Caterpillar, and many of them are quite strenuous and challenging. Even habitual exercisers might be surprised at how fatigued and sore their bodies are the next day. “It definitely used muscles that I don’t use often,” Layne told me when I asked how she felt the day after her first session. Pole dancing classes involve exercises that work every muscle you’ve got, from your quadriceps (used to grip the pole) to your triceps (used to suspend yourself in midair). Regular practitioners often walk out of class with increased upper-body strength and flexibility, as well as significant weight loss in some cases. Sheila Kelley, the creator of S Factor, one of the more well-known pole dancing workouts offered around the United States, claims that she lost over forty pounds after two months of classes. “[It’s] the most effective workout I’ve ever done for my body,” she boasts on her website.

Even if you think dancing sexily with a bunch of other women as a form of exercise is too embarrassing or ridiculous for words, remember that everyone else in the room is probably too focused on herself and on mastering the moves to notice anyone else. “There’s no way to tell someone not to feel shy or insecure, because you’re participating in an activity known to be super sexy and it looks really difficult. But if you’re having fun, you don’t look ridiculous—you simply look like you’re having fun,” Layne advises. “And that’s the best attitude to have when going into it!” This positive outlook often extends well after class ends, too. Some report feeling more confident and proud of their bodies after taking a pole dancing class, perhaps because women are rarely given chances to celebrate their femininity and sensuality so openly. There are many physical benefits of pole dancing, but the potential sense of empowerment that comes from channeling one’s inner sex kitten shouldn’t be discounted, either.

Give It a Go
However, that surge of confidence isn’t so easy to imagine if you’re feeling nervous or bashful beforehand. Layne recommends going with a group of friends to help ease the anxiety, or taking a class with strangers to ensure anonymity. Either way, it sounds like pole dancing is an enjoyable, albeit arduous, way to work your glutes and guns while getting a self-esteem boost.

After watching videos in which students glide up and down poles seemingly effortlessly and with way more core strength than years of sit-ups have given me, I’m more than a little interested in finding out for myself just how much pole dancing can transform a person’s body and mind. “I definitely recommend it, and I do in fact recommend it all the time,” Layne shares. Hearing about her experiences with the classes only made me want to jump on the bandwagon even more. But seeing as how I’m one of those shy people I mentioned before, I’ve taken Layne’s advice and roped a friend into attending a class with me. But first, we’ll need to dress the part. You think ASICS has come out with an exercise stiletto yet?

Photo source: Cesar Aguilar

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