Snowmass Village, CO – Snicker. Smirk. Raised eyebrows; I can virtually see the raised eyebrows on the profile pics of about 13 of my close, personal 399 Facebook friends. I’d taken to the cyber streets to drum up some input for an article about the Pole Dancing fitness craze. Base Camp Grill was hosting a performance, featuring ArtBeat 4, with a bevy of live art, fire-dancers and on-going pole dance performances from nearby Carbondale’s Pole Works Studio and Honey’s PoleCat Revue. I needed the low-down on the down-low, and the up-high.
Personally, I’ve known a few enthused friends over the years who’ve taken classes in various parts of the country but despite its roots in Chinese pole maneuvers, Indian yogi practices and its presence in Cirque de Soleil’s Zoomanity, most men and, dare I say, women, have only seen pole dancing within the confines of a strip club.
I figured it was all heels, all too high for any actual horizontal movement and punctuated by various states of accelerated undress. But I also figured there were some clichés that needed flushing out.
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“I’m working on article on Pole Dancing…any of you have inside knowledge or techniques to share?” I typed the status update, bracing myself for the onslaught of snide remarks. The responses weigh in, fast and furious.
“I have a few moves I could share!” says Joel.
“I will confess to a brief encounter with a pole while at a bachelor party, lots of alcohol and sore thighs are all I remember and thank goodness, it was during the pre-camera phone days,” says Robin from Seattle.
My friend Corby tells a cautionary tale: “One must watch the inversions when a low roof is in play. I was at a club in SF and I watched a “dancer” fly up the pole, only to flip at the top in a whirl – right into the ceiling panels, knocking herself out. She slid down the pole and landed in a clump at the base, to a shower of ones…” Corby really knows how to paint a picture.
And Karrie, mother of two, says, “I saw a fireman slide down a pole the other day with the kids. Do you wanna hear about it?”
Fortunately, Holly “Honey” Miely, owner of Carbondale’s Pole Works and Pole Fitness Association (PFA) Certified Master Instructor, has more hands-on experience in the matter. “I would like to dispel the myth that it’s just a stripper thing; the PFA is working hard to make it recognized as a more legitimate form of fitness. Truly, it’s a hybrid of dance and gymnastics. You need core fitness, the flexibility of a gymnast, and lots of coordination. In order to aerially lift your body upside down and do tricks, it takes fluidity, and full-body strength. I consider myself an athlete. Anyone who laughs when they hear about pole dancing, I encourage them to actually try a class.”
Miely and Pole Works offer 10-12 classes a week, including intense strength conditioning through Honey’s Bootcamp series. And beginning pole dancing surprises most every first-timer, reports Miely. Apparently, about 95% of beginners can’t do a pole-up, i.e. a hand-over-hand pull-up up the pole, fireman-style. “To lift your own body weight off the floor takes a ton of upper body and strength,” continues Miely, “especially to make it look pretty!”
Not only do they find it challenging, but most newbies are apprehensive about the whole idea. “People come to class, thinking they have to take their clothes off, or that there’s gonna be a room full of hot 20 year-olds.” Don’t get too excited, dear reader; the average age is actually around 35, with 35-50 being the main age group for repeat practitioners.
“Most everybody tells me they had a cocktail or two before the first class – and then they wish they hadn’t, once they start sweating!” says Miely, with a laugh.
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After following a few leads, I discover I have more pole-dancing connections than I’d first imagined. Friend Liz from Atlanta frequented Dance 411 and more than mastered the art of the pole-up. “It’s a great core workout, spinning, holding yourself upside down,” she writes. “Sexy squats, step by step, spin by spin…lots of rump-shaking/vibrating in Atlanta. We’d wear tight shorts and a sports bra top. Poledancingshoes.com. Better in above the knee, vinyl platform heels.”
We’ll get to the shoes in a minute but fitness benefits aside, all sources allude to the mental rush, the empowering feeling of being more than comfortable in your own skin, as the key reason behind the healthy addiction. “Dance moves strengthen the legs and acrobatic tricks strengthen the upper body but every time I master a new trick, I feel a sense of accomplishment that I haven’t gotten from other exercises classes really, I like how I feel when I’m dancing,” says Fallon, one of the local Polecats.
Another friend from LA is a long-time aficionado, as well. “The class was more about finding your sexuality and being comfortable with it and with your body, rather than working out. I didn’t find it that strenuous a workout; for me, ballet is more of a workout. But it was great fun. Everyone learned to be supportive of one another and of ourselves, and less judgmental. You learn that everyone can be sexy given enough confidence,” she shares.
As for the outfits, they got progressively higher, and littler, as the classes progressed. “Initially, most women wore street clothes, “she continues, “but gradually, we began to wear more stripper-esque clothing: hot pants, short skirts, g-strings and sexy tops. We all learned to dance in shoes – really tall platforms – but eventually, I opted to leave the shoes behind.”
Beginners go barefoot at Pole Works and in the more advanced realm of pole dancing, competitors often do, too. “As the tricks get harder and harder, they get more dangerous, too,” says Miely. “Shoes can be heavy!”
But those precariously high heels do serve a significant purpose. Clothes are scanty and minimal because you want your skin to stick to the pole and similarly, those high heels actually provide a little gription; they protect your feet and they hit your glute muscles in the right place, too: “It’s like doing squats on a step,” says Miely.
Their main advantage, however, is mental.
“We’re women; we’re drawn to shoes! And like any good pair of shoes, those heels give you that added…punch,” she says, with a chuckle.
“It’s an off-the-cuff kind of workout that’s very mentally freeing for most women,” Miely continues. “You’re getting in touch with an inner sexuality; it’s not the way women express themselves on a daily basis and that can be liberating, to step outside that box and break social expectations…it’s very empowering, to own your own sexuality.”
You’ll be glad to know that men don’t wear heels – whether or not you’re glad to know that men pole dance, as well. Apparently, they’re quite good at it. Competitive Pole Dancer Dominic Lacasse holds the world record for doing the flagpole: one hand down, one hand up, body totally parallel to the earth.
Miely’s beginner classes are women only but she’s taught men both individually and through Honey’s Boot Camp. “When men see a pole, it’s like playground equipment,” she says, with a laugh: “They want to impress everyone! Really, they’re built for it, with the upper body strength and their lack of hips. They’re not as good to watch, not as engaging or pretty, but they’re really starting to excel in the competitive realm.”
While most agree that watching a man pole dance is kind of a buzz-kill, according to Miely, women go crazy when they see a man strutting his stuff. “They actually get more attention than women on some level!” she says.
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Sufficiently armed with background knowledge and nation-wide testimonials, I head to Base Camp Grill to see what the Polecats could do. The night is young, but it matures quickly; despite any supposed Chinese roots or emphasis on core strength, pole dancing isn’t the same as gymnastics. It looks challenging and strong but watching pole dancing isn’t the same as watching a young woman launch off the vault or maneuver her way around the parallel bars. Pole dancing as art or as fitness is body language, an unmistakable expression of things best left unspoken.
For class info, www.trainoffmain.com or call 970-274-1564. Find Honey and crew on Facebook with Honey’s PoleCat Revue.