Photo by Ash Daniel
Class instructor Nia Burks
It’s 7 p.m. on a Wednesday. Do you know where your children are? Much to the probable chagrin of my own parents, the answer is “no,” because their only daughter is hanging in mid-air, gripping an 11-foot brass pole for dear life.
I’m surrounded by four walls — two of them full mirrors — and women of all ages, shapes and levels of comfort when it comes to sexy-crawling on the floor. I’m at Studio X, dipping my non-heeled toes into pole dancing fitness classes, where “stripper shoes” are encouraged but never mandatory for beginners.
On average, though, you’ll find one-third to one-half of the Basic X intro-level class strapping on 5-inch heels with glittery, plastic or glittery-plastic platforms; these are the advanced students, the ones who make inverting — flipping completely upside-down — look like a fully respectable walk in the park, sans fully respectable clothing.
Such is the beauty of pole fitness; check your self-doubt and insecurity at the door because the poles are open to all who seek cardio, strengthening, toning and balance, regardless of level of experience. Perhaps pole fitness is not only the next big trend, but also the great workout equalizer.
“We teach exotic dance, but we also really promote the culture of empowering women through exotic dance. Everyone definitely is welcome,” says Kate Austin, 52, Studio X’s founder and a former exotic dancer herself. “I think there’s something that everyone can do. It may take you a year to learn how to climb up or turn yourself upside-down, but everybody can look sexy doing different things or build a lot of strength.”
As a person with little to no strength of any kind, but with years of dance training, few things come naturally. But maintaining “stripper posture” is fairly simple, with a dramatically arched back, as are hip rolls, figure-eights and various walks around the pole. Push-pulls pose a more difficult challenge, requiring the lifting of my full weight off the ground by pressing my mass into one arm fastened to the pole below me, while hanging from the other, gripped above my head.
Push-pulls, along with gripping the pole with your legs, give you the foundation for climbing — working yourself up the pole — which I clunkily but proudly accomplish after only two classes.
Worth noting is an inconsistency in difficulty, as each class varies in instructor — many being either former exotic dancers or former Studio X students — in lesson plan, and in the number of advanced or novice students attending, though this is true of nearly any dance class. Some nights you’ll feel the burn, especially if you’re one of only a handful of beginners, and some nights you won’t, namely if the veterans are in the minority.
Austin’s Studio X empire — which began across the street from the Children’s Museum — has locations on Gaskins Road and in Midlothian, with a third site under consideration. “There’s the physical component of strength and conditioning training, and a lot of resistance endurance,” says Whitney McKenzie, an instructor and full-time VCU student. ”It’s definitely an extreme sport, and that’s why I love it. When I started, I couldn’t do anything.”
Perhaps there is hope for me, and you, yet.