A Beginner's Guide to Pole Fitness
Starting a new fitness routine or dance class is always intimidating. But the idea of pole fitness—spins, tricks, and choreography centred around a vertical pole—can seem especially scary. The acrobatics look tough, and tapping into inner sensuality doesn’t come easy to all of us. And then, there’s the pole’s reputation to consider.
When she started teaching pole-dance classes in California 12 years ago, Sedusa Studios owner Carol Whitsett would get eye rolls from people who didn’t understand her business. Rashida Hobbs, owner of Pole’itcians Fitness Studio in Texas, received an even more extreme reaction: “When I first opened, they actually stopped me from getting my certificate of occupancy because they [thought I was] trying to have some underground club.”
Luckily, pole studios have since become far more mainstream, and pole fitness is now offered at many gyms. Its physical benefits are undeniable, but its emotional benefits can be even more profound. After speaking to Carol and Rashida about their experiences, we composed this guide as a resource for anyone who’s contemplating their first fireman spin.
What to Look for in a Pole Studio
Courtesy of Sedusa Studios
It’s important to note that not all pole studios are the same. When you’re researching the ones in your area, be sure to look into the following factors:
The setting: Carol said her students love Sedusa’s soft, red lighting and intimate feel. Rashida’s studio, on the other hand, is located inside a gym. Each type of venue has its advantages, so you just need to gauge where you feel more comfortable. Cleanliness should be a commonality in all of the studios you look at, though, and it’s best to find one where every student is assigned to her own pole.
The curriculum: A glance at the class page can tell you if a studio specialises in dance, fitness, or both. Introductory classes are the best way to ease yourself into pole routines, and they often only admit newbies so that everyone begins at the same level. Many studios structure their curriculum around classes that last for multiple weeks and end with a choreographed performance. Peruse the calendar to get a sense of the class pace and what tricks you’ll be learning.
The atmosphere: Atmosphere is probably the most important element of any pole studio, and it differs based on the instructors’ mission. Rashida’s studio emphasises pole fitness. Her classes are ACE certified, they don’t typically involve high heels, and she considers them to be more of a workout than a dance performance. “I think, within the next eight years—if not sooner—[pole fitness] will be in the Olympics,” she said.
Carol’s studio, however, has a different dogma—and a lot of high heels. She compared pole dance to ballet, saying, “You do ballet to enchant a prince; you pole-dance to seduce your lover. Both [involve] telling a story with your body; both are athletic.” Though Sedusa does have pole-fitness classes on its schedule, its focus is on choreography, storytelling, and learning to embrace your sultry side.
What to Expect from Class
Although different pole studios have different attitudes, the effects of attending class seem to be the same—and overwhelmingly positive—no matter where you go.
A fitter bod: “You’re getting all the benefits of aerobics and also the hard fitness of weightlifting mixed in one exercise,” Rashida said. She’s had former weightlifters come to the studio who were “overconfident,” only to be surprised by the difficulty of the workout. “You’re using all of your muscles at once, [including] the little muscles that normally go neglected.”
Even at studios where dance is first priority, you’ll build muscle and endurance by playing on the pole. And, as Carol explained, you’ll learn how to stand straighter. “You’ll always be working on posture, posture, posture. … You have to be holding your shoulder blades down, and your chest has to be open.” Another unexpected reward? Holding the pole will strengthen your hand grip! “It will make opening jars easier,” Carol said.
Confidence and catharsis: Increased confidence is always touted as a benefit of pole dancing, and both Rashida and Carol confirm this. But they also spoke at length about how pole work often constitutes a therapeutic exercise. “Vulnerability is a common term that I use around the studio,” Rashida said. During class, she sets aside time for her students to look in the mirror and say affirming statements about their bodies. “I’ve had women burst out in tears because they’ve never said they’re beautiful or never even thought about it.”
Of her studio, Carol said, “It’s the only place where [my students] feel no judgement. … It heals something that’s inside of them.”
An extended family: By sharing and letting go of their insecurities, students form a bond that’s impossible to get from any other group class. “Women that meet in the pole studio become the best of friends,” Rashida said. The experience unites them regardless of where they came from or what they do for a living. “I have exotic dancers, I have attorneys, I have principals and teachers … women from all different walks of life who walk into our studio to learn.”
Carol echoed the sentiment. “[My students] come for so many different reasons … [but] the minute you walk out, everyone is excited together.”