Pole Dancing for Beginners

We take pole dancing for a spin—and figure out it’s way harder than it looks.

By: Tanya Pai

Our writer (not pictured) figures out pole dancing is even harder than it looks. Photograph courtesy of Flickr user lululemon athletica.

It could be a scene from any workout class: about a dozen women, outfitted in tank tops and T-shirts, sports bras, and stretchy pants, waiting expectantly for the instructor to begin. The difference? We're all standing next to a shiny metal pole descending from the ceiling. I'm about to take the Intro to Pole class at Pretty Lady Pole Fit in Alexandria, and so far things are not nearly as glittery or fishnet-y as I was anticipating.

Not knowing what kind of equipment I'd need, I dressed in gym clothes and sneakers but brought heels just in case. No matter; I'm informed I'll want to be barefoot for the class.

We begin with some isolations--head and shoulder rolls, hip circles--to warm up, and then jump straight into moves with the pole. Our instructor tells us to grasp it with one hand high up and walk around it. Easy enough. But, she says, "Make it sexy." Right. I glance around at my classmates, who range in age from early twenties to middle-aged, all of whom look slightly nonplussed. I do my best to add a little swagger to my step, trying not to feel foolish. But that's nothing compared to what comes next: the "body wave." Our teacher grasps the pole and rolls her body up toward it and back in one fluid motion, ending with her knees bent, butt sticking out. I attempt to replicate it amid stress flashbacks of awkward middle school dances. There've been a few nervous giggles rippling through the room up to this point; when we try the body wave, they escalate into full-on guffaws.

During the 50-minute class we learn several moves, some easy ("cat claws," which involve leaning forward, grasping the pole, and shaking your hips from side to side as you walk your hands up and down), and some more difficult (one move is basically a modified pushup, but with more back-arching).

The most fun is when we get to try the "fireman's spin," which has us actually swinging around the pole. It takes a surprising amount of effort to hold myself up for even a brief time, and it's even harder to coordinate my limbs around the pole--let alone to make it look even remotely graceful or seductive. Apparently the trick is to have as much of your skin in contact with the pole as possible, for maximum friction, which leads one participant to comment, "It feels like my skin is rubbing off!"

Once the instructor shows us all the moves, we practice on our own for a while, and then she leads us in a couple of short routines, scored to Rihanna and Beyoncé tracks playing in the "hot seat" chair-dancing class in the next room.

By the end of the session, I'm breathing a bit hard and my arms are tired, but I haven't broken a sweat. I can tell, though, that any more advanced tricks would require some crazy core and upper-body strength, a theory our teacher proves at the end of the lesson. At our request, she demonstrates a move they definitely don't teach until the advanced levels. She scales the pole about three-quarters of the way up, then flips over and slides down headfirst, one leg wrapped around the pole, one arm extended toward the floor, like an inverted Miss America waving to a crowd. There are audible gasps.

So does the class count as cardio? Not as such. But as a break from the tedium of the gym, it's a blast. The next day I find myself with sore lats, shoulders, and triceps--and a hell of a lot more respect for Demi Moore.

Pretty Lady Pole Fit. 7700 Richmond Hwy., Alexandria; 703-360-7653; prettyladypoleparties.com.