Women strip away the stereotypes of pole dancing

After a long night of teasing, strutting and gyrating, each of the 650 muscles in my body wages a full blown strike against me. My abs felt like they were forced through a meat grinder.

After a long night of teasing, strutting and gyrating, each of the 650 muscles in my body wages a full blown strike against me.

My abs felt like they were forced through a meat grinder. The insides of my chaffed thighs grated against each other, making me regret every microscopic step I took. When I raised my hands, my sore arms collapsed like Roman columns. Then again, no one said the morning after a pole dancing workout would be heaven. After years of being confined to dimly lit strip clubs during the twilight hours, pole dancing recently writhed its way into the mainstream as a bonafide fitness trend.

It is pilates with 5-inch stiletto heels strapped onto your ankles, and everyone from Cameron Diaz to Natalie Portman is doing it.

Hollywood isn’t the only fitness mecca
being seduced by pole dancing’s fat-burning benefits. Australia, Great Britain and Canada host “Miss Pole Dancer” competitions, in which the contestants forego the G-string and, get this – wear actual clothing. A school in Great Britain awards its graduates with diplomas in pole dancing.

And in 2003, pole dancing received its ultimate mother-approved stamp in the media – a spot on the “Oprah Winfrey Show.” Philadelphia boasts its own pole dancing studio, the aptly named A Sensual You. Sandwiched between a Protestant church and a dilapidated gas station, the studio is a funhouse for grown women. A lime couch in the shape of two hands caresses the exhausted pole dancers during breaks.

Fruit Stripes-colored hula hoops encircle two retro leather chairs and mirrors stretch from floor to ceiling. Scents of Nag Champa fill the room.

The interior decorator, former entertainment worker and entrepreneur Barbara Gleason, held the studio’s first pole dancing class last September. At $30 a session, Gleason hopes to teach women how to feel more confident about their bodies while burning calories.

“It is an extremely physical challenge, but it’s still feminine and graceful. Pole dancing is a mixture of dance, weight lifting, yoga and Pilates. It’s a workout for your entire body,” said Megan Ryan, an instructor at A Sensual You.

Basically, pole dancing is gymnastics cubed. Ryan, a middle-aged woman with brown curly hair, scissor-kicked in midair around a stainless steel pole and made the Karate Kid look like a dope. Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” wailed out of a 90s-era boom box as Ryan shimmied up the pole, anchoring
herself by squeezing her thighs around the beam and effortlessly arched her back to the floor.

My classmates, a mixture of college students with “Twiggy-esque” legs, soccer moms with curvy hips and state workers donning cherry red pumps, stared at Ryan with awe. It’s our turn. I climb aboard and attempt the “Firefighter” by gripping with one hand and thrusting my 140-pound frame around the pole. This is pure endorphin-releasing fun, and I tried it four more times before collapsing
from dizziness.

But the moves get more difficult. The “Sumo” is a pain and the “Matrix” is, well, impossible. I tried to spin around the pole backwards, but my legs got tangled up like spaghetti. The next move defies gravity.

Ryan straddled the pole and presses her thighs firmly together, supporting her entire body weight with her arms. My expectations for this were low – I simply promise myself to stay fertile and not impale the baby maker.

But the pole dancing gods (or more accurately, goddesses) are with me tonight and I feel confident as I dig my thighs into the pole. My classmates hoot and holler at my success, and I cheer like an Eagles fan. Because men aren’t allowed to attend the courses, pole dancing feels like a girl’s night out minus the Blue Moons.

For the session’s finale, a professional pole dancer named India performed for the class. With mermaid-like black hair and an impossibly thin frame, she wiggled up the 12-foot pole and hung upside down in a crucifix position. India suspends herself in midair like an Olympic gymnast and actually pressed her heels into the ceiling before corkscrewing endlessly around the pole.

India’s presentation has me believing
pole dancing could be the next extreme sport, complete with ESPN-endorsed “Pole Games.”

It’s a feminist’s dream, taking an often-degrading act designed to entertain men and reclaiming it as an empowering sport. Danada Brisbon, a twenty-something woman with tight braids, articulated my thoughts. She sighed audibly at India’s moves and leaned towards me.

“Look at her. India is my hero. I want to hang up posters of her on my wall.”

A Sensual You
954 N. 8th St.
(888) 243-9765
Pole dance, belly dance, strip tease and lap dance Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.
$10 off with Temple ID

Holly Otterbein can be reached at holly.otterbein@temple.edu.

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