health

I Tried A (Fitness) Pole Dancing Class And My Arms Will Never Be The Same

by Kim Wong-Shing
Kim Wong-Shing is a staff writer at LittleThings. Her work spans beauty, wellness, pop culture, identity, food, and other topics. She is a contributing writer at NaturallyCurly, and her work has also appeared in HelloGiggles, Lifehacker, Wear Your Voice Magazine, and other outlets. She grew up in Philadelphia, attended Brown University, and is now based in New Orleans.

Haven’t you heard? Pole dancing isn’t just for strippers anymore. The art is now a booming fitness trend, with classes offered in specialized gyms in practically every major city. Picture this: a dozen or so women (and sometimes men), gathered in a room filled with tall spinning poles, trying (and often failing) to hang onto them gracefully.

There are a few reasons that pole dancing migrated out of the clubs and into the gym. First and foremost, it’s an absolutely killer strength-building exercise. It will transform your body into a more muscular version of yourself than you ever knew could exist. Second, it’s empowering. This is a sport that demands both confidence and vulnerability, regardless of body type. And lastly, it’s lighthearted and fun. It’s hard to keep a straight face while trying to shake your hips and swing in the air at the same time!

Pole-dancing tricks are also just really, really cool-looking, which is how I found myself in an introductory pole class one weekday evening. I’m enamored by pole dancers in the same way that I’m enamored by acrobats and tightrope walkers: They seem to do the impossible. I wanted to see if I was capable of those wild airborne feats, too. So I did something terrifying: I signed up for a class.

However, I have no upper body strength and have never done a pull-up. This was going to be interesting.

The Studio

The Studio
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I arrived 10 minutes early to Awakenings, one of the premier pole fitness studios in New Orleans, to change into short-shorts. Your skin needs to be able to touch the pole, so short-shorts are a nonnegotiable. Leave your modesty at the door.

Awakenings caters to both beginners and advanced students, but as a first-time student, I was still ridiculously nervous. When I walked in, someone was spinning around a pole like an Olympic gymnast! Wasn’t this an INTRO class?! I almost walked right back out, but that would have been awkward, so I stayed.

Don’t get me wrong – it was all positive vibes in there. Awakenings’ mission is to build self-confidence and bonding through fitness, and pole dancing is generally a body-positive, community-oriented sport. Some of my fellow students knew each other already, and they were chatting with each other like old BFFs. But I was still nervous, because I was about to try to pole dance.

There were poles lining each side of the wall, and in the back, aerial silks and hoops dangled from the ceiling. My instructors told me to grab a yoga mat and pick a pole, so I did. Then I sat on my mat, staring at the pole, excited but also wondering if today would be the day that I actually died from embarrassment.

The Warm-Up

The Warm-Up
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This might be the last selfie I ever take.

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When class began, I discovered that the Olympic gymnast was, in fact, the instructor. Phew! No one else in the class was at that level, which was a huge relief. We were all here to learn together — and, I should add, there were bodies in all shapes and sizes. There was even a man.

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The warm-up took place on the yoga mat, next to the pole. I came to class with a friend, but she was running late, which meant that I had to go through the warm-up exercises by myself, and I did die an emotional death from embarrassment. Cause of death: public booty-shaking.

Honestly, though, most of the warm-up was pretty basic: yoga stretches, arm pumps, and other athletic things that I don’t know the name of.

Finally, my friend arrived. We shared a pole, and things quickly went from bad “ahhhhhhh” to good “AHHHHHHH,” if you know what I mean. Everything is easier with a friend.

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RIP Me.

The Inverts

The Inverts
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After warming up, we got “on” the pole. I put “on” in quotes, because I wasn’t so much on the pole as I was just sort of clinging to it for dear life.

We started with a simple exercise, which I will simply call “hang onto the pole for dear life, do a split, and swing.” Suffice it to say that it was impossible. My arms began aching almost immediately. The instructor said I was doing well.

Next, we did a few exercises that prepare you to eventually hold yourself upside down. One of them involved, again, hanging onto the pole for dear life and hoisting your knees to your chest. Another involved lying down on the ground and clinging to the pole with your legs — I was very good at that one.

A couple women in the class attempted to actually go upside down, which was fun to watch from a very safe distance.

The Dance Routine

The Dance Routine
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After that, it was time to do a “simple” dance routine on the pole. I put “simple” in quotes because while it looked simple when Olympic Gymnast did it, it was surprisingly hard. Not just strength-wise, but dance-wise.

And look, I’m a pretty coordinated person. I’ve taken dance classes before, and while I’m definitely never the best dancer in the room, I’m usually one of the first to learn the choreography. But something about introducing a pole into the mix, plus the fact that it’s all happening while spinning, made it impossible for my brain to compute. Where do my hands go? What even are legs?

There were only three steps to the routine, and I think I did all of them wrong. But it was a lot of fun. I laughed the entire time, mostly at myself, and the instructors and other students were super encouraging.

Also: Class wasn’t even over, and my arms and legs were both sore beyond belief.

The Spin

The Spin
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For all of class so far, a small metal pin was inserted at the base of each pole to keep it from rotating. The poles were motionless, and the only thing that spun was our own bodies. But before the last exercise of the day, our instructor told us to remove the pins. It was time to spin, baby.

Sound dangerous? Yeah, that’s what I was thinking, too.

Per Olympic Gymnast’s demo, we hung onto the pole for dear life, hooked one knee on, spread our legs, then kicked backward. We did the move solo first, and then we did it in pairs, with two people on opposite sides of the pole, spinning concurrently, like a carousel.

No wonder they saved the real spinning for last. It wasn’t as scary as I thought — and it was the most fun part of class by far.

The Cooldown

The Cooldown
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After that, we went back to our mats for a simple yoga-centric cooldown.

While stretching and mourning the loss of sensation in my arms, I watched in awe at the aerial silk and hoop users on the other side of the room. They were practically up on the ceiling.

I’d only been a couple feet off the ground, and my arms felt like they’d been in a car accident. But at that moment, watching them fly, I knew I would come back to this studio.

The Verdict

The Verdict

On the way home, another friend asked my friend and I: “So? How was it?”

Our response basically amounted to: “It was awful. I can’t wait to go back.”

I mean, do my arms still ache when I do basic activities, like type or open the car door? Yes. But do I feel inspired, empowered, and surprised by my own abilities? Also yes.

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If nothing else, this class was worthwhile for showing me that even when something is intimidating as hell, I can still make it through. But even more than that, it made me imagine what it’d be like if I could get on the pole, like really on it, the way Olympic Gymnast was on it. After admiring the strength of fitness pole dancers for a long time — and now that I have some firsthand experience of how hard the art really is — I have a faint, blurry vision of myself, somehow able to do those tricks, too. And that vision is awesome.