“Please don’t wear any lotions. You’ll need to wear shorts so your legs are bare, and high heels are introduced during week four,” were some of the instructions explained to me over the phone.
Senioritis. That is where it all started.
By just the third day of class it hit me hard. I knew I would need to find something around East Lansing to keep me from going crazy. I thought that a gym membership would be the answer. But the thought of running on a treadmill like a hamster stuck on a wheel had me feeling trapped and bored out of my mind, which is why one day when walking down M.A.C. Avenue, Pin Up Pole Dancing caught my eye.
It may have been the hot pink curtains in the windows of 303 M.A.C. Ave. that stopped me dead in my tracks. Or it could have been the fact that I had read about the business-savvy Megan Dolby, a senior MSU student and a successful entrepreneur in the newspaper, but 10 minutes and one phone call later I was enrolled in a six-week beginner course with 11 other females after the same thing as I was. [rhi]
The first day of class was like the first day of college; I didn’t know what to expect. I sat cross-legged on the studio floor and waited for a bunch of Barbie look-a-likes to stroll in to show off their moves. I wondered what on earth those 13-foot metal poles would have in store for me and even worse if they would cause me any embarrassment. I silently applauded myself for getting into a situation 100 percent outside of my comfort zone.
“Pole dancing is a form of art, a form of dancing,” our teacher said as she demonstrated a move called “The Princess.” With grace and ease she threw her body around the pole while describing the movements and muscles we would need to utilize in order to successfully do the skill ourselves.
As she walked away from the pole to her spot at the front of the room, 12 sets of wide eyes looked back and forth from her to the three poles gleaming in front of us.
Was she crazy?
We may have thought she was, but 23-year-old Dolby knew what she was doing. In a sense, she is much like the students who enroll in her classes, eager to find a unique approach to feeling good and staying fit.
“I hate the gym,” said Nichole Ouderkirk, when I asked her why she took the class. As a member of a meet-up group that tries different activities together like cardio salsa, Ouderkirk and her girlfriends took a private lesson at the studio to give pole dancing a shot.
“I liked Megan’s attitude, and the fitness aspect was a huge thing for me,” she said. Immediately, Ouderkirk was hooked and decided to try out the whole six-week course.
Oh, and I forgot to mention, she’s a 39-year-old mom of three.
“Suddenly you’re not Nichole anymore: you’re Mike’s wife or Katelyn’s mom,” Ouderkirk said. “You lose your identity, and for me this class was a way to get it back. It was a way to get back in touch with the fun side of me.”
And that is exactly what Dolby set out to accomplish when she envisioned her own pole dancing studio. As an ex-gymnast and accomplished dancer herself, Dolby wanted to combine her interest in business and her ability to teach to create a successful dance studio. In January of 2008, after over a year of planning and designing, classes were officially opened to the public.
“There’s a purpose behind this. There are not a lot of fun activities around here in East Lansing for women. Here they can have fun, get toned, be sexy and meet other women,” Dolby said.
Have fun? Check. Get toned? Check. Feel sexy? Double check.
After week one, not only were my arms feeling stronger, but I had a new found confidence about myself and a new appreciation for the art of pole dancing, instead of the take-off-your-clothes-for-money aspect that is so frequently associated with the activity.
By week three we were learning tougher skills in succession like “The Venus” and the “Hurkey Swing,” and I decided to look around the studio to sneak a peak at the others’ progress. Already I could tell that they too were improving while becoming stronger and more confident. I felt so proud of not only myself but everyone else. We were a small but mighty team of 12 determined pole dancers, all in this together, all helping one another to have a fabulous experience.
Who needed a treadmill after all?
“For women who are my age, going to the gym is like going to a meat market,” Ouderkirk said. “We want to go to stay fit but the gym is a distracting environment. With the intimacy of a smaller group, I get more out of it.”
Dolby designed the classes while keeping size in mind, adding that the class structure makes women more comfortable.
“All the classes offered are intimate, and the regularity, the identification that women make when taking the class, allow the women to feel close with one another,” she said. She jokes that it is the women in the class who will understand your jokes and what you are talking about when it comes to anything to do with pole dancing.
And what is fitness without a little fun?
However, not all women view the experience as liberating or positive for how society views females and their sexuality.
English professor Jyotsna Singh, who teaches Introduction to Women Studies at MSU, says fitness and exercise are very important for everyone’s health, and more power to women who pursue fitness. However, she said she believes the connotations associated with pole dancing may have a downside.
“Given the negative associations of pole dancing with the total sexual objectification of women, I am not sure it achieves the goal of making women feel powerful and beautiful,” Singh said. “How about swimming, gymnastics, biking or the many other ways of enjoying exercise, rather than clambering up and down a pole?”
While pole dancing is certainly not for everyone – and Singh does support a woman’s personal decision to choose whatever forms of fitness she finds of interest – the classes offered at Dolby’s studio are the perfect fit for the female looking to try something new.
For me, the fit could not have been better. I had a blast during week four when we were required to go through class in high heels (but not wedges because that is cheating), and during our last class session I was excited (and a little nervous) to be able to invite my closest girlfriend and fiancé to our class “recital,” where I performed my entire routine and everything I had learned in front of them.
But the best part was underneath all of the fun, I had become stronger as a woman both physically and mentally, and had made some pretty great friendships along the way.
“I really do enjoy seeing people succeed in the class because if they weren’t, that’s a reflection on my teaching. It’s encouraging and inspiring to see the improvements people make,” Dolby said.
For further inspiration, Dolby can anticipate the majority of her students coming back to re-enroll because of the benefits they experienced the first time through.
“I have high blood pressure and my female doctor told me that pole dancing would be a great way to improve health-wise. I’ve noticed my upper body strength has improved, and I am a lot stronger now,” Ouderkirk said.
The real kicker here? Since taking the class, Ouderkirk has stopped taking her blood pressure medication. “I’d like to get my own pole and take this seriously so I can stay fit. This is exercise, that’s all it is.”
As for me, I’ve been longing to embrace those scary 13-foot poles again and to get back in the studio to learn some new tricks. I would hate for that senioritis to set back in.