Not your average workout

Owner of Aradia Fitness, Chelsea Blair, gets down to get fit. PHOTO BY SARAH KYLLO

Sarah Kyllo–Omega Contributor:

Crystal Lai had just completed her second year at the University of British Columbia when she decided to add some spark to her life by taking a pole dancing for fitness class at Vancouver’s Tantra Fitness. Quickly, she moved up the pole from student to instructor and now holds the 2010 title of Miss Pole Dance Canada.
Pole dancing hit the Canadian fitness scene in the early 2000s, and while it has been considered a fad, many in the industry feel it continues to gain momentum despite myths people may believe.
“It may not have blossomed as fast as it has in other countries, but it’s growing steadily. This is just the beginning for Canada to show the world its potential in pole dancing,” says Lai.
On the fitness side, pole dancing is unique in that it combines gymnastics and dance to complete different holds and spins on the pole, requiring more strength than people may think.
“Pole dancing is a whole-body workout as you use your own body weight as resistance, which in turn, allows you to gain strength in a more effective and quicker way,” says Lai.
Pole dancing combines cardio with movements that strengthen the legs, core, back, and upper body, says Jess Gilmartin, owner of Polenastics Vertical and Aerial Fitness Canada in Port Moody.
“It helps to tone the body because you are always moving and constantly lifting your own body weight. Most people notice they are more toned after taking only a few classes.”
Many pole dancing companies offer various levels women can work their way through—the moves increasing in difficulty as they move up levels.
Pole dancing has commonly been associated with exotic dancing performed in gentlemen’s clubs, creating myths about what pole dancing is all about—getting in shape.
“One myth is that all pole dancing for fitness studios are the same and teach you how to grind and be sexy,” said Gilmartin “I’ve had a lot of students say they thought the class would be full of bikini clad women in stiletto shoes, grinding up on the pole or on the floor doing some raunchy move and this is absolutely not the case.”
“We do not remove any clothing nor do we walk around in our underwear,” says Chelsea Blair owner of an Aradia Fitness Franchise in Kamloops.
“What the girls like to do with those movements after class is up to them. Just don’t judge a book by its cover.”
The truth is, pole dancing for fitness has more to do with helping women physically, psychologically and emotionally, says Gilmartin.
“I would say 95 per cent of women I’ve met or taught who start pole dancing have all said it helps them feel more confident and more in touch with their femininity.”
Krystal Wall, owner of Aradia Fitness Canada, says that while there are myths about pole dancing, people are becoming more accepting of the idea of pole dancing as an alternative form of fitness.
“The student testimonials put it into perspective,” she says.
Lai, who was a student at Tantra Fitness before becoming an instructor, says pole dancing has allowed her to discover herself, feel comfortable in her own skin and release stress.
“When I pole dance, all my troubles and worries go away. It’s my escape and haven. Pole dancing makes me happy and allows me to feel that I’m really enjoying my life. It started out as a hobby—now I live and breathe it.”
Blair, who was a student of Aradia Fitness before opening a franchise, says pole dancing has not only helped her get in shape, but also increased her confidence.
“I find that now, I’m a very confident woman. Now, I walk down the street with my head held high feeling strong and sexy.”
For Karen May, pole dancing with Polenastics has helped her get back in shape without even realizing it.
“Basically you’re getting a workout and you don’t even know it,” she says. “You’re so focused on learning the skill that it takes your mind off working out.”
She says the other perk is the supportive nature of the classes.
“Everyone is so encouraging… everyone is looking to better themselves each week and it’s nice to have people cheering you on. You certainly don’t go to the gym and have the girl next to you say ‘Good for you. You did 15 reps today.’”
Despite the myths, pole dancing for fitness has become increasingly popular, thanks in large part, to the buzz of women who express the personal benefits of their own experiences.
“I think more people are accepting it as a form of fitness because more studios are coming out that offer it as fitness and not just a form of dance,” says Gilmartin.
“We, in the pole fitness industry are really trying to get pole dancing for fitness out there as a sport.  Holding competitions—like Miss Pole Dance Canada—helps us get the word out and showcases the talent out there.”
And as for those who don’t think pole dancing can be called fitness let alone a sport, the general attitude is, don’t knock it before you try it.
“I would challenge those to try pole dancing before they set their minds on it not being a sport,” says Lai.
And if they still aren’t convinced?
“I definitely challenge them to try things I do before they pass judgement on it.”