I don’t know what I was expecting when I stepped off the trolley in West Philly onto a deserted stretch of Lancaster Avenue on Monday morning, gym bag in hand. But a fuchsia pole dance studio barely a stone’s throw away from a liquor store definitely wasn’t it. I was headed to Stiletto Fit at A Sensual You, a class all about toning your butt, legs and abs, done entirely in sky-high heels. To say I was unprepared is a gross understatement.
From the second I walked in, it was clear that I was completely out of place. In fact, the first words out of my mouth were, “Don’t worry, you can totally laugh at me.” And believe me, these ladies should have. The uniform of choice was booty shorts and strappy platform stilettos that would impress stilt walkers and strippers alike. I had on leggings and heels I bought on sale in high school. To make matters worse, there was only one other student in the class, so there was no hiding in the back. I felt like a walking—no, a stumbling, disaster, and the class hadn’t even begun.
The instructor, a woman with the craziest leg muscles I’ve ever seen, pointed me to a pole near the middle of the room, in front of a wall of mirrors. My stomach did a backflip. I probably should have assumed that any class requiring six-inch heels in a pole dance studio would involve, you know, using a pole, but that little nugget of logic had evidently been lost on me.
We started with a warm-up. Now, I’ve never even seen a pole in person, never mind attempted to casually use one to stretch while teetering on one foot in my heels. But by the time I was just figuring out how to not fall over, we dove right into the workout. And let me tell you, it was no joke.
All of the moves were organized into “sets,” which lasted about one song each. One song doesn’t sound terribly long, but when your muscles are trembling after less than 30 seconds, a song lasts for an eternity. In the first sets, we went through some basic moves—things with names like “mermaid” and “wine” and “sumo squats.” The instructor, with rolling hips and swiveling feet, made sloooowly lowering into a million squats look effortlessly sexy. I, however, was panting after about two minutes of sporadically shaking my butt and squatting totally off-rhythm.
After these first sets, we got out yoga mats for some strength training. As I got into bridge pose, I breathed a sigh of relief. I may not be able to do a sexy sumo squat, I thought, but I could definitely rock a yoga pose or two, right? Wrong. This was not your average bridge pose. The heels forced me to engage my core more than usual to keep balance, and as we raised, lowered, and circled our hips for an entire set I discovered stomach and butt muscles that I didn’t even know existed.
I was almost excited to get back to the pole, until I realized that everything hurt even more the second time around. But there was no room for slacking. We were constantly being reminded to bend lower or go deeper or check our form, and by the end of a few more sets I was so focused on keeping the sweat out of my eyes while I used the pole to literally hoist myself up from another squat that I forgot how completely unsexy I really was.
But I got a final reminder, in the form of a full set of booty clapping. Yep, you read that right: Booty. Clapping. When I heard that, my jaw practically hit the floor. Before I could even stop myself, I blurted out, “You want me to do what with my WHAT?” The instructor just laughed at me and demonstrated. She stood with her legs a little wider than hip distance, knees locked, on the balls of her feet, and started furiously clicking her heels back and forth. “It’s like Dorothy,” she said. “There’s no place like home.”
“But I don’t even have a booty,” I protested. She laughed again. “You gotta have something you can clap!” I sighed, grabbed the pole and started clicking my heels like an absolutely mortified Dorothy more desperate than ever to get the heck back to Kansas. I couldn’t help but laugh at myself, too. She had us move around to the side of the pole so we could see ourselves in the mirror, to prove that I was, in fact, booty clapping. I definitely wouldn’t go so far as to say I was doing it like a pro, but I think my butt might have moved juuuust a little.
After that, we did a short cool down to end the class. I was unbelievably sweaty and sore. I chatted with the instructor for a few minutes, laughing about how I got such an amazing workout even though I was so far out of my element.
“It’s the best feeling,” she said. “Seeing how sexy a workout can make you feel just makes you crave more.” I felt far from sexy. But I had gotten the most intense leg and glute workout of my life—decade of classical dance training included. I did squats in platform heels without breaking an ankle. I even survived booty clapping. And as I nearly fell down the stairs out of the studio on legs that had been rendered to jello, I had to admit: I did feel pretty darn good about myself.
Stiletto Fit happens every Monday from 9 to 10 a.m. at A Sensual You. $10, 5016 Lancaster Ave, West Philly.
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