What to Expect at Lava Barre’s Exotic Dance Class

We tried the Arlington barre studio’s newest class, Lavalicious.

Jessalyn Medairy, who placed fourth in the US Pole Dancing Championship in 2010, leads Lava Barre's newest class Lavalicious, which is a barre- and burlesque-inspired dance class. Photograph by Erik Uecke.

First things first: I am not a dancer. I don’t necessarily have two left feet, but on a night out I’m more of a swayer and head bobber than the girl who starts the party in the middle of the floor. As much as I wish I were, Beyoncé I am not.

Which is why it made absolutely no sense that on Saturday afternoon I found myself at Lavalicious, a new class at Clarendon’s Lava Barre that’s described as a barre-inspired, burlesque/pole dance class—without the pole.

“We won’t be doing any pliés in this class, guys,” instructor Jessalyn Medairy bluntly told the class of 14 women at the start of the session. “I’m not big on pushups, and I don’t want anything to do with the treadmill. This is exotic dancing.”

“Oh, God,” I thought to myself as I quickly retreated to a back corner of the room. As we faced the front mirror, Medairy took us through a warmup of hip shaking and hair whipping. With admiration, I watched Medairy dance without a care in the world. With her long, blonde hair streaked with colors and her animal-print pants, she exuded confidence, sexiness, and coolness. I, on the other hand, winced in embarrassment as I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, trying to mimic one of the top ten pole dancers in the nation. A marionette would have looked more relaxed than me.

“Your hands are just as important as the rest of your body,” Medairy said as she demonstrated how to glide our hands up and down our bodies and through our hair. Then she yelled, “Okay, now take off your shirt!” I almost bolted for the door—but then she laughed and said, “Just kidding!,” and moved us to the floor for a session of dynamic stretching.

Many of the class participants were much older than me and totally into it. Although intimidatingly skilled, Medairy had a way of making everyone feel welcome and relaxed, as if we were all at a good friend’s bachelorette party and not in a room with complete strangers.

After our stretching session, we moved to the barre to learn how to do, of all things, headstands. Pushing aside the fear that there was a good chance I’d crash into the wall and end up with a concussion, with the help of a partner I threw my legs above my head and steadied my feet against the barre. It was surprisingly easy. Once we nailed the position, we learned how to do an upside-down squat, extending and bending our legs against the barre while still in a headstand. While also slightly terrifying, it opened my eyes to the strength and flexibility exotic dancers need to lift and twist themselves into outrageous positions while on a pole.

Once we finished attempting chin-stands—yes, chin-stands—we only had ten minutes left until the end of class. Maybe it was all the blood that had rushed to my head or perhaps I’d simply begun to enjoy myself, but by the time we finished a short dance routine to end the class, I was all smiles. And I wasn’t the only one.

“To be with a group of women while expressing your femininity—there’s nothing like it,” one woman said.

Lavalicious is offered at Lava Barre (3260 Wilson Blvd., second floor, Arlington) every other Saturday at 3 PM. Single classes are $24. Medairy also teaches pole dancing at her studio Pole Pressure, with multiple locations in DC and Leesburg.