Gone are the days when pole dancing was restricted to darkened strip clubs - women the world over are taking to the poles in droves as a fun and sexy way to get fit. We talked to a pole-dancing expert to get the low-down on getting down low.
Can pole dancing truly break free of its sleazy stigma, and find its place in the ever-changing world of mainstream fitness? Natasha Williams, founder of BodyMind dance studios, believes so.
"There are so many women out there who have a terrible self-image, even beautiful women. This is my way of showing women how to learn to love themselves, get to know their bodies and get fit at the same time,” she said.
Fighting the stigma
Williams specialises in sensual dance fitness classes as well as pole dancing classes. Although responses are mixed initially, she says, after a few classes women are hooked.
“Most of the women don’t fear learning to pole dance, but rather worry about what their friends and family will think of them doing it. It has taken us a while to break the mindset that they are all strippers.
“Women dance to feel good about themselves, to get fit and have fun. Most of them are bored of ordinary gym classes and need a little something extra to get them working up a sweat,” she said.
And who better to do it than a pole dancing veteran. Williams was an exotic dancer for 15 years, mostly overseas, before she moved back to South Africa and opened her first BodyMind studio.
“Pole dancing may have originated in strip clubs, but all women want to feel sexy, and a lot of them want to keep their relationships alive – so rather than have their man out there watching a stripper, they can keep him at home and get fit at the same time!” she said.
Fitness made fun
It’s not as easy as professionals like Williams make it look. Still, she is adamant that this form of dancing is for everyone of every body shape and size and across all fitness levels.
According to Natasha, the benefits of pole dancing are multi-faceted.
“Physically, pole dancing will improve your strength, especially upper body, core strength, toning, all-over body sculpting and physical intelligence. By that I mean you hold the pole with your right arm and push with the left, lean forward, kick out and point your toes - and smile at the same time!”
Pole dancing also increases muscle tone and flexibility, allows one to build stamina and strength, can improve circulation, will sculpt your body in all the right places (hips, tummy, thighs, upper arms and buttocks), improve body posture, give you rhythm and of course – give you some tips and tricks for the bedroom.
The dance classes help the body to release endorphins (feel good hormones) which relieve stress.
As always, the more you put in, the more you will get out. Natasha reckoned it takes three to six months for a novice dancer to become comfortable with the pole, and a year until they’re able to do the advanced moves.
What other options are available?
If the thought of pole dancing is daunting the conservative in you, there are a number of other classes in sensual dance available which all have the same results. Oh, maybe this isn't going to be any easier to get your head around: “Our sensual dance fitness classes teach women how to lap dance and move sexy," says Natasha.
“They are popular. Most of the clients start coming for the pole classes and stay for the fitness classes." There's one thing that helps: sorry guys, this is girls only, at least where Williams is concerned.
“We want to offer a safe space for women to be with each other, without feeling watched. As for teaching men - I don't know how to teach a man how to be sexy - that is another man's job. It's not that I am not capable; I just don't think they would listen to me,” she said.
“Dancing provides a safe place to let your hair down and to forget about your worries for a couple of hours, and just think about yourself for a while.”
What the expert says
Health24’s Fitness Doc, Dr Ross Tucker, said that although he had never personally tried his hand at pole dancing, he believed it would be an effective form of exercise.
“I don’t know the specific data, but I believe in any exercise which gets people moving, and if pole dancing has other benefits such as improving a woman’s self esteem, then that’s even better,” he said.
Tucker added that since pole dancing probably combined the three primary components of fitness; that is cardio, resistance and toning/stability, it was, in his books, worthy of thumbs up.
The evolution of exercise
“Thirty years ago exercise was seen as only running or walking, but as the need for alternative exercises grew, so have the options. In the eighties you had aerobics, in the nineties you had spinning and perhaps pole dancing is the latest trend.
“I suspect that pole dancing is based on the same principles of aerobics and I know that dance classes are very popular in the gyms. It’s an evolution of exercise and I think it’s great that people are making exercise more accessible and fun,” he concluded.
Sources: Natasha Williams, BodyMind Studio’s; Dr Ross Tucker (aka Fitness Doc)
(Amy Henderson, Health24.com, updated February 2011)
Exercise: tips to get you started
Pole dancing strips away fat