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Chasing after the Anti-Run: The Pole Dance

Working out -- in an alternative way -- at Pole Perfect Fitness.

Working out — in an alternative way — at Pole Perfect Fitness.

About two years ago, I jumped on the “alternative fitness” bandwagon. I started religiously attending Zumba classes, which incorporate a blend of exercise moves such as squats and lunges with Latin dance moves like salsa and merengue. It was fun and I caught on easily — not to mention that an hour-long Zumba class passed by a whole lot faster than an hour on a stationary bike — or worse, a treadmill.

Zumba hit the gym scene fast and women — and men — everywhere were scrambling to classes. I myself gave in to the trend and got my Zumba instructor certification last summer; now, I teach Zumba at my college in Ohio.

Other types of “alt fitness” classes have also risen to popularity as of late. These aren’t your mom’s jazzercise or step aerobics classes — classes de jour such as yoga sculpt and Soul Cycle, with a cult following that extends even outside of its birthplace of New York, round out offerings at studios and gyms alike.

If you’re anything like me, you hate running. I played tennis all through high school, and I spent a year on the track and field team as a sprinter; every practice was a nightmare-and-a-half. Sometimes you just can’t get to the gym, so you decide to tie on your ratty old tennis shoes and go out on a jog. But no amount of beautiful scenery or blaring music can detract from the fact that your lungs are on fire and your legs have suddenly become highly unstable and that running is Satan in disguise.

In a new age of health consciousness and kale smoothies and detoxes and 5 a.m. running groups, I’m trying to find something that’s fun, that’s still exercise, and that won’t leave me crying in a heap of salty tears next to a treadmill in the center of a crowded gym.

So, I took a pole dancing class. It’s been on my secret bucket list for a while, but the urge flared up again after a friend sent me this video.

I arrived at Pole Perfect Fitness, located on the third floor of the Canal Place shopping center in the CBD, a tad early out of precaution and nerves. Upon arrival, I was prompted to sign a waiver that pretty much said the studio wasn’t liable for whatever injuries I might sustain during the hour-and-15-minute class. It also  requested an emergency contact. I panicked and put down my boyfriend, who lives in California. I’m still not sure why, because I know all he would do would be to laugh if he got the call that I had been injured in a pole dancing class.

A class in pole dancing at Pole Perfect Fitness.

A class in pole dancing at Pole Perfect Fitness.

The poles were somehow attached to the ceiling and floor, six in total. Pole Perfect’s website adds a disclaimer that weight limits for the poles vary based on the class; the one I attended had a weight limit of 250 pounds. When I arrived, it was easy to see why — the instructor was still setting up the poles. I had assumed they were permanent fixtures in the studio.

We started out the class, which included the instructor, an advanced student, two other newcomers, and myself, with an easy warm-up of stretches and a few squats, all while holding the pole. My faith in myself was restored. This was exactly like Zumba, but with a pole.

Don’t worry: I was soon discouraged. Quickly we moved on to more advanced moves. A key part of pole dancing is stabilizing your shoulders. Too high, and you’ll just hang there when you try to swing. Too low, and you can’t swing at all. I sort of got the moves in which you have both hands on the pole, one leg on the pole while the other leg joins to meet it when you swirl around. It took me approximately 35 tries and, trust me, I was the very last in the class to get the hang of it.

Everything else completely baffled me. This perhaps wasn’t the best fitness choice for me, given that I was the kid on the playground who refused to slide down the fireman’s pole. There’s just something about a sticky red pole on an elementary school playground, with a posse of bullies at the bottom waiting to mock you as you fall to the sand, and probably clunk your head on a wooden overhang on the way down. No thanks. This was the adult, albeit slightly more provocative, version, but I’m still the same fearful nerd.

The moves we tried were all variations on the first, basic one that I only partially understood, with the second leg either meeting the first or bending back at the knees to form a triangle. It looked sexy on everyone else. I could barely swing around the pole with one leg cemented to the ground.

We finished the class with a nice cool-down of stretches that mirrored the ones we had started with, the ones that had falsely inflated my hopes for great success. I did not live up to those hopes in those 75 minutes.

One day later, and I’m relatively sore. Pole dancing is no doubt both muscular and aerobic. I worked up a sweat and woke up this morning with sore arms and abs. Granted, I have almost no upper-body strength — only what’s required to change the coffee K-Cup on a Keurig. I may have made a relative fool of myself in the class, but it’s also a skill that you have to work at. I highly doubt someone could step right up to a pole and just start swinging around perfectly. But there are always exceptions and prodigies out there; I’m simply not one of them.

In the coming weeks, in my quest to find fun workout alternatives to the same routine, I’ll be exploring different types of exercise classes. Pole dancing, while certainly fun, challenging and muscle-toning, is unfortunately not my calling. Luckily, there are plenty of types of fitness classes popping up all over New Orleans. And I’ll be there to try them and, no doubt, embarrass myself along the way.


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