The Latest Fitness Craze: Pole Dancing
Want a workout that combines aerobics, dance, yoga, strength training, and a few good laughs in every session? Once featured only in men's clubs and strip joints, pole dancing is emerging as the latest health-club rage. "You're using all your muscle groups at one time," says Vanessa Connell, owner of Fitness with a Twist in Verona, Pa., whose 90-minute classes get women from their 20s into their 50s gyrating and corkscrewing to the sounds of Donna Summer and Justin Timberlake. Over the past year, more than 1,000 have signed up for the $175 set of six weekly lessons.
The naughtiness factor is part of the pitch. "We want women to let loose, have fun, and feel great about their bodies," says Christina Moran, 38, an accountant, mother of five, and co-owner of Goddess Fitness in Bethesda, Md. Classes are offered at nine levels of difficulty and combine floor stretching and lunge exercises with both slow and sensual and tough airborne moves around the 9½-foot pole. "Even shy dancers turn into toned and sultry vixens," promises Crunch, a fitness chain with 30 clubs nationwide. With some success: "Classes are packed to capacity," says Donna Cyrus, executive vice president of programming at Crunch in New York City, whose glass-walled studio attracts more than a few male gawkers, too (though rarely a participant).
The workout puts demands on all parts of the anatomy, from the chest and upper arms to the abs, glutes, and calves. (View some typical moves here.) Easy first moves at Goddess Fitness, for example, include "the fireman," in which you grip the pole, spring up, and spin downward as the name suggests. By Level 9, you're a pro at the "helicopter," a decidedly gymnastic upside-down spin in a crunch position with legs and toes pointed outward in a "V" with the pole between them. But much of the fun comes from the vamping: At the S Factor in Los Angeles, where stars like Kate Hudson and Teri Hatcher take part, some participants come barefoot in yoga pants; some wear stilettos and bomber jackets.
S Factor owner and actress Sheila Kelley learned about pole exercise when she played a strip-club dancer in the 2000 movie Dancing at the Blue Iguana. She took it up for real to lose 50 pounds gained after the birth of her second child and now sells instructional books, DVDs, and videos, as well as poles for in-home use ($279 with mount), at www.sfactor.com. Kelley opened her first studio in 2003 and now has 10and about 12,000 current students and grads.
Beyond the gym, women are mastering the technique at girls' nights, bachelorette blasts, and 50th-birthday fetes. EPM EmpowerNet's Wantmorefun.com has signed up more than 500 instructors who share their moves at private gatherings-much like Tupperware parties-for a fee of $25 to $30 per participant plus any margin on the poles they sell. "I've taught women from ages 15 to 90," says EPM-trained instructor Patricia Pelto of Westland, Mich., who calls her business the Pole Dance Factory. This year, EPM-affiliated instructors will host more than 100,000 parties, according to company President Colin Sprake. He expects that number to double next year.