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Gym Belle  - noun  one who enjoys pull-ups, push-ups, lifting things up/putting 'em down, PRs of all kinds, racing, jumping, spinning, daring and blogging re same (more here)


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S is for Sprain

"Hi, Dad.  So, I think I sprained my wrist."

"How'd you manage that?"

"Pole dancing."

So not a conversation I'd ever planned on having.  But in my New Year's Eve haze, full of excitement for 2010, I signed up for an intro class at S-Factor.  How could I not be curious about pole dancing?  Easily, what, 70% of all music (by which I mean songs that make it to iTunes top 100) is about, or at least references, strippers and/or their poles?  The pole is part of our zeitgeist.  I thought it was important to be able to cross something off of my "classes that scare me list" to kick off the new year right, and pole dancing seemed like the way to go.

Of course, pole dancing classes for lay people are not without controversy.  Some insist that pole-themed classes normalize and thereby perpetuate the degradation of women.  Others contend that they empower.  Personally, I can't quite believe that much harm is inherent to the act itself.  Further, IMHO, any action that is fundamentally reaction, such as co-opting the pole as a feminist icon, is flawed, or at best, limited.  In short, I'm neutral on pole dancing as a political statement; my hesitations were not philosophical. 

Instead, it was the whole naked-sex-strippy-dancing thing that put me off.  I think I'm fairly well adjusted when it comes to my body.  Like any red-blooded American, I hate bathing suit shopping.  But I'm fine naked and I have no particularly loathsome body part.  And dancing?  I'm at my best drunk or alone in my living room, but who isn't?  Sex is good, but now that I think about it, all of my sultriness is tongue-in-cheek.  And, while I like attention, I'm somewhat selective about the attention I call to myself.  I'm also mildly uptight by profession.  Let's just say I wasn't born to pole dance.

The appeal was totally the tricks. When my dog sees other dogs swimming, she looks at me with this quizzical expression as if to ask, "Those are dogs.  I'm a dog.  Can I do that?"  Apparently, I have the same reaction to women hanging upside-down from poles.

I'm aware of 3 locations to try pole dancing in NYC, although I believe there are more.  Crunch offers a pole dancing class.  It's tremendously popular and, from everything I've heard, quite a scene, so I didn't want to try that first.  New York Pole Dancing is touted by some as the most authentic place to learn.  It's supposed to be more about the pole and less about the general workout.  Authenticity really wasn't a selling point for me on this one, though.  Also, they have spelling errors on their website.  That left S-Factor, one of the more famous pole dancing studios, thanks to Oprah.  If I've got this right, Teri Hatcher first mentioned it during her Oprah interview, and then Oprah later asked S-Factor creator Sheila Kelley to demonstrate on the show.  I'm not much of an Oprah person, but if she's cool with S-Factor, I figured it had to be harmless.

S-Factor advertises itself as being a workout for all women.  The idea is that any woman, no matter what her body type, can do this.  The "S" is supposedly in reference to the shape of the female body.  The class was full of rhetoric about embracing your curves.  (To the extent that I have a pole-related hang-up, though, it's not my curves.  Those are fine.  It's my lack of legginess; I'm not even 5' tall.  Still, I was willing to extrapolate.)  S-Factor offers $40 single session introductory classes and then 6 levels of 8 week sessions.  From what I could tell when I was there, they used to offer more single classes, but it sounded as if they were cutting back on those.  Of course, there are also DVDs.

I arrived just before 2 for the 2 hour class and was worried that I hadn't left enough time to fill out the release forms.  I needn't have been concerned.  It was 2:20 before we finally got started.  That bugged me.  When we finally did enter the studio, the smell of rubbing alcohol was overwhelming.  No problem there.  The room was dark and had no mirrors.  We each took a yoga mat and sat.  As it turned out, we had three instructors that day.  One of them, in the end the one that I liked best, was wearing a tank top and lacy boy shorts. 

The first woman led us through a pilates-esque sequence.  It was dark, the music was loud and they'd asked us to take our hair down, so it was easy to get lost.  I think that's part of the shtick  though: as long as it's what you feel, it's ok.  Most of the underlying movements were familiar, but everything was extra slow and exaggerated and you were supposed to be feeling yourself up throughout.  Some of it was cool.  I mean, at Physique we all know what "thigh dancing" and "back dancing" mimic.  Here, they own it and I back that.  Still, I'd be lying if I said I was totally ready to embrace the vocabulary.  "Humping" is a bit jarring, and since when is "ass" a technical term? 

Once we were all warmed up, we learned the "S-Walk."  This entailed walking very slowly, so slowly you were kind of off balance, and dragging your feet.  We all did much better when the instructor told us to walk like we'd had a few martinis. 

Finally, it was pole time!  We learned the "Firefly."  Basically, you S-Walk up to the pole, start walking around the pole, reach up high on the pole with your inside hand, then pivot swinging your outside leg around the pole, grab on with your other hand, tuck your other leg, and spin.  Upon dismount, you're supposed to stick your "ass" up to "own" the trick.  It's like what you did as a kid at the playground - only sluttier.

My (way-)ex-figure-skater-ness came shining through as I approached the pole.  In my head I'm thinking back-crossover, back-crossover, and I snapped my hips towards the pole ready for my scratch spin.  I pivoted with tremendous momentum and rotated down the pole way faster than my outside hand anticipated, thus spraining my wrist.  Awesome.  Being me, I tried this another 10 times or so anyway.

Next, we learned a "dance" that basically entailed walking to a wall, turning around, sliding down, crawling and then standing up.  We practiced a few times.  The last time, they did something with the lights that made our shadows appear on the wall.  I have to tell you, as much as I understand the reasoning behind the no mirrors policy, I wasn't able to get into it until I could see myself.  I actually think I would have been better off with mirrors, or at least shadows, throughout class. 

During the last part of class, the instructors explained the progression of the S-Factor courses to us (you can be hanging upside-down by level 2).  Classes meet once a week for eight weeks.  Sessions are 2 hours long, and a large portion of that is abs, strength, stretching, etc.  In addition to the pole dancing, there's a lap dance component, as well.  In the lower levels, everything is choreographed for you.  By the time you hit the upper level classes, you're supposed to be ready to improv. 

Next, our three instructors demonstrated an upper level routine.  It took them several minutes to decide what song they wanted to perform to.  Again, the inefficiency grated on me a bit.  Especially since they ended up choosing Lithium.  Great song, but in the context of (albeit faux) stripping, it seemed even more depressing.  Anyway, if you hadn't been able to pick out which two had dance backgrounds and which one was the accountant, it became super easy once they started dancing.  Afterwards, they went on about how addictive pole dancing is and how they all have poles in their apartments.  I didn't appreciate the infomercial.  (I may have been a little cranky at this point because my wrist was becoming somewhat painful.)

My impression was that most of my classmates didn't work out much.  Several commented on the difficulty of the first part of class.  I didn't find it particularly hard.  I can see how the full-length class would be a real workout, though, depending on the instructor.  And, depending on the instructor, it could be a lot of fun.  Still, I don't think I'll be signing up for an S-Factor course anytime soon.

Now that I've tried it, I do think pole dancing is the kind of thing I could have fun within the privacy of my apartment.  Sadly, I don't think a pole would fit in with my decor.  Perhaps if I found an antique? 

- Gym Belle -

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