Back in January, my friend Claire forwarded me a Groupon deal: five pole-dancing lessons at Philly Premier Pole Dance for 25 bucks, tagged with the message, “Do this with me!!!” With my passion for fitness, my appreciation for good deals, and a willingness to try almost anything once, I wrote back that of course I would.
We waited until practically the last minute—more specifically, the week before the Groupon deal expired—to haul ourselves down to Center City to give the class a whirl. In our defense, who wants to start pole dancing in winter anyways? If I’m going to have to stare at myself attempting to spin seductively around a pole in a floor-to-ceiling mirror, I’d rather not add pale skin and extra winter pounds into the mix, thankyouverymuch.
Anyone who’s ever experimented with fitness classes knows there’s quite a broad range in difficulty. I’ve walked out of some without breaking a sweat while others have left me sore in places I didn’t know existed. I’ll admit I didn’t expect pole dancing to be much of a workout, so I went for a run beforehand to ensure I got in my cardio for the day.
I arrived at the studio sweaty, warmed up and ready to go. The best way I can describe the feel of the studio would be a cross between a gym, a nightclub and a Spencer’s gift shop—I’ll let you use your imagination to figure that one out. Claire and I checked in and were told to remove our shoes. After throwing our bags into the cubbies, we headed over to a rather intimidating group of people stretching and standing around the poles.
My outfit alone made me stick out from the get-go. I was wearing an over-sized sleeveless top and Spandex shorts that extended to my upper thighs, which is about as skimpy of a workout outfit I’m willing to wear around Philadelphia. Apparently I didn’t get the memo about appropriate pole-dancing attire, because I was wearing a whole lot more fabric than everyone else in the studio.
Most women wore Spandex booty shorts that covered little more than a swimsuit or underwear would, and tight tank tops that showed a whole lot of lower back and midriff. The instructor, a woman who went by the name Bunni, wore booty shorts with a little sports bra. At least these women had the bodies to pull it off. You could see the muscles in Bunni’s abdomen flex as she spun around the pole.
Although the class was called a “Pole Virgins Class,” designed for dancers with less than six lessons of experience, most women seemed between intermediate and advanced levels. Claire and I were the only beginners. It worked out fine, though, because Bunni would walk around the room, give pointers and demonstrations, and then leave us time to practice.
Let me back up by saying that I was not born to be a dancer. First of all, I don’t have the body type for it. Dancers are supposed to be petite and small-boned; I’m five-foot-nine and athletic. Secondly, I am not exceptionally coordinated. I excel best at sports with repetitive motions like rowing or running. I definitely lack that fluid grace that comes so naturally to dancers. So, no, the odds weren’t exactly in my favor. Luckily, I can laugh at myself.
Bunni began by teaching Claire and I how to walk around the pole. You might wonder why someone needs to be taught how to walk in a circle, but there’s an art to it. You’re supposed to grip the pole at a particular height, point your toes and guide your motions with your inside foot. You’re also supposed to change direction in a very fluid motion with particular footwork and an upper body twist. Although I’m sure I didn’t appear all that graceful or sexy, at least I was able to get around the pole without hurting myself or falling to the floor—yet.
Bunni upgraded us to our first real pole dancing move called the fireman spin. This requires you to walk around the pole, grab it with both hands, kick off the ground, swing your outside leg around the poll, jump, catch the poll with both knees, and spin down to the ground. The move itself is not that difficult, but there’s one thing that Claire and I learned all too quickly: pole dancing hurts.
Watching experienced dancers glide down their poles around us, I did not anticipate the amount of friction that occurs between your bare skin and the pole. Apparently, over time, the skin builds up resistance and you learn to better maneuver your weight. But first-timers beware: there’s a serious OUCH-factor here. Within minutes, Claire’s and my legs were raw, red and bruised. When Bunni saw our pitiful state, she couldn’t help but gasp, “Your legs!!!” I think the only reason our hands were spared from the pain is because Claire and I both row, so our hands are already calloused—a blessing.
The pain was so intense that it was difficult to thrust myself wholeheartedly into the moves. It’s like the subconscious part of my brain kept telling my body, “This hurts, don’t do it!” I think Claire and I throughly entertained our fellow classmates as we hurled ourselves on the pole, sort of half twisted down, and then jumped off, shaking our arms and legs and groaning in pain.
Bunni was a good instructor, though. She never laughed at our clumsy, failed attempts (well, maybe she cracked a smile but was polite enough to control herself). When I started laughing or took a break, Bunni insisted on seeing my moves. She had an air about her that told me she wasn’t one to mess with, and she definitely took the art of pole dancing seriously. We saw her skills firsthand as she clung to the pole upside down with her legs pointed and her back arched. With her half-naked, tattooed body contorted in such an absurd position, she looked flat-out badass.
The hour went by quickly, but I was relieved when it was over. Bunni told us that we could certainly keep practicing, but that our torture from her was over. For now. Thank goodness.
All in all, I have a newfound respect for people who can pole dance. It requires an intense amount of raw strength from every part of your body. Even at a beginning level, you need to be in very good shape because you must be able to handle your own body weight. I bet gymnasts would make excellent pole dancers.
I also learned that it takes a lot of time, effort and skill to actually look sexy when pole dancing. At this point, someone watching me work a pole would probably wince more than clap. I’m optimistic that I’ll improve with four classes left, but you can bet my gym bag will include ice packs, bandages, and Advil when I tackle this class again.
>> Philly Premier Pole Dance classes are $15 each; packages for multiple classes are available. Studios are at 1807 Chestnut Street and 1520 Sansom Street.