Sometimes going to the gym can feel like an unbearable chore, schlepping yourself and your gym bag into the place for the same boring workout you did the day before and the day before that. It doesn't help that you haven't seen the results you were hoping for or that you spend the entire workout looking forward to the end of it.
Perhaps what you need is a challenge, something that doesn't involve complicated machines, bulky equipment or boring repetitions. A distinctive fitness experience like this does exist, and it requires only yourself, a positive attitude and ... a pole.
Part dance and part gymnastics, pole dancing, also known as pole fitness, is inspiring people -- young and old, from various backgrounds, careers and fitness levels -- with an exhilarating, challenging and sexy workout.
Exotic Dance Meets Fitness Training
In 1994, Fawnia Dietrich spent the first four months of her exotic dancing career learning her way around the dance pole -- and lost 30 pounds from the activity. But as she struggled to perfect the dance and physical skills needed for pole dancing, it occurred to her that there was no school for pole dancing, no classes to help women ease into the art. They were simply expected to get on the pole and figure it out for themselves.
Dietrich decided to change this by opening the world's first pole dancing school in December 1994.
"I think the true shift from 'stripper' to 'fitness' came between 2000 and 2002, and [it shifted] globally [in] 2005, when the entire world was catching on," said Dietrich.
Once the Lil' Mynx line of dance poles became available for home use in January 2002, Dietrich says women around the globe began purchasing poles, along with her instructional DVD, so they too could have fun while getting fit.
While pole dancing is sexy, it's also challenging, offering extensive physical benefits. You'll undergo a loss in body fat and an increase in muscle strength and power as you learn to lift and hold your body weight on the pole. You'll experience improvements in your cardiovascular system, as well as in your overall flexibility and coordination, as you practice dance movements and body positions that involve smooth and precise transitioning from one to the next.
Who Pole Dances Anyway?
With its origins in adult entertainment venues and exotic dance clubs, there's no shortage of myths and misconceptions surrounding pole dancing, pole dancers and their classes.
One common myth is that men don't participate in pole fitness.
This is false. Women may make up the majority of students, but men also often join in and benefit from a pole fitness workout. Many excel at the sport, adeptly using their natural upper body strength to lift themselves up and around the pole.
Another myth about pole dance classes is that all the participants will be unrealistically fit, impossibly perfect exotic-dancer types.
This, too, is false. There just might be an exotic dancer in a pole fitness class, but there will also be entrepreneurs, new moms, lawyers, senior citizens and many others who are looking to get back in shape.
The point is, in a pole fitness class, all are welcome, all are accepted and all are celebrated.
"One of my most memorable was a widow's party, where I taught a unique group of widows who meet once a year. I have taught the deaf and mute and worked with people with prosthetic legs," said Dietrich. "People come to pole dancing classes because it's fun and an amazing workout. When the class is over, people leave feeling a new sense of self-esteem."
Owner of Verticality Pole Fitness in Houston, Texas, Christine Spiro has seen the same effect with her clients.
"People often say to me, 'I'm coming to your class as soon as I get in shape,' " said Spiro. "My response? No need to wait.! Sign up for a pole fitness class now. That way, you can have fun while getting in shape."
What to Expect From a Pole Fitness Class
Pole fitness classes are generally an hour long, unless you choose to take a workshop or private lesson. Because of the maturity level required for the classes, most studios require that members be at least 18 years old to participate.
The instructor will welcome you to class and try to ease any nervousness you may be feeling. The class begins with a basic warm-up, generally 10 to 15 minutes long.
Participants then practice a variety of moves appropriate for their level. Beginners often start with spins such as "the fireman," a move in which you'll learn to hook your legs around the pole and spin to the floor.
Pole dancing does not require special clothing. Dietrich suggests that beginners wear comfortable clothing such as yoga pants, shorts, workout tops or T-shirts. Suggested footwear includes bare feet, socks, running shoes and, sometimes, heels. All schools are different, but many require students to reach a certain level before they are allowed to wear heels. In higher levels, shorts must be worn, making it easier to grip the pole.
In all levels, no lotion or oils are permitted, and instructors will usually ask you to remove any jewelry so you don't hurt yourself or damage the pole.
Pole Dancing Competitions
Pole dancing competitions for both amateur and elite athletes are held in every state, with competitors arriving from all over the world.
Like all athletes, the competitors must be self-motivated and extremely disciplined if they want to excel in the sport.
"These women and men train and prepare for their contests with a strict schedule of pole practice, dance classes and [they] work regularly on their flexibility," explained Dietrich. "Being a great competitor is really about the complete package, so a clean nutrition program is key to ensure the athlete's body is in peak physical condition."
And if the International Pole Sports Federation has its way, the sport will soon be an Olympic event. After all, if an athlete can perform feats of fitness on a piece of horizontal equipment such as a bar or a balance beam, why not on a piece of vertical equipment like the dance pole?
Dietrich predicts that pole dancing will make its way into the Olympics as a demonstration event for the 2016 or 2020 Games.
Schools like hers and Spiro's are doing their part to help make that happen by acting as ambassadors for the sport in their communities and training pole fitness athletes.
"I would love to see this become an Olympic sport. I think it would be an amazing event," said Spiro. "It's up to those of us in the pole community to work toward educating the public about this sport. With time and persistence, I really believe we will get there."
In the meantime, Spiro, who gave up a successful career in the oil and gas industry to pursue her love for fitness and pole dancing, is having the time of her life.
"Sometimes I wonder how I got here," she said. "But regardless of the path, I'm glad I arrived."
By: Whitney Grunder
China Photos/Getty Images News/Getty Images
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