9 Things You Learn at Pole-Dancing Class

Get enough practice and this could be you.
Get enough practice and this could be you.
Photo by Alloy Images/courtesy Pole Show L.A.

I wrongly assumed that an L.A. pole-dancing studio would look like a cross between the interior of Showgirls in Hollywood and a Rihanna music video. Actually, walking into BeSpun pole-dance gym felt a lot like going to any other exercise class: The one-room studio has pristine hardwood floors, cubbies on one side and yoga mats neatly stacked under benches in the corner. If it weren’t for the seven poles along the hardwood floor and the merchandise rack filled with patterned underwear, I would’ve thought it was a ballet studio.

It only takes a few minutes in a pole-dancing class to realize there’s a lot more artistry and ab conditioning involved than you’d think. I have very limited dance training but I’m a retired gymnast, and there is nothing like a class that tests my flexibility to remind me just how “retired” I really am. Though a pole workout requires a specific dance-friendly brand of platform stilettos, it also demands an extreme amount of athleticism. Still, inside the studio, you'll find encouraging, welcoming women of all body types and ages (wearing varying amounts of clothing). Here are nine things you’ll learn in an L.A. pole-dancing class:

1. A very legitimate pole-dancing maneuver called “cockroach legs” exists, and it looks exactly like you’d imagine it would.
I’ve been doing yoga on and off for years, and I still have trouble keeping a straight face when an instructor references the “half-pigeon pose.” So hearing the phrase “cockroach legs” was more than I could handle. After my Sexy Basics class, I hung around the studio to watch a more advanced choreography class. And sure enough, “cockroach legs” involves lying on the ground with your butt pushed up on the pole — your bent knees are together and your legs come down, around and out, just like a cockroach’s antennae. It succeeds at being both hot and reminiscent of the most disgusting household pest.

Much like yoga, spinning or Pilates, pole dancing has its own vernacular. The pole-dance jargon does not stop at “cockroach legs.” There is also the "fireman’s spin," the "around-the-world spin" and a whole host of other moves I was not nearly advanced enough to perform. Yoga poses were actually integrated into our class as well, and I was thrilled to practice my child’s pose midway through the floor workout.

2. Sexy free dance is a real thing that happens at 10:45 on Saturday mornings.
And it will force you to reach a level of intimacy with yourself that you might not be prepared for before noon on a Saturday. After our sexy warmup, we had three minutes of sexy free dance. A combination of staring yourself down in a mirror and grinding with a wall, the sexy free dance was something my semi-puritanical bones struggled with. While some women thrived on the lack of direction, I spent most of the allotted  time trying to will six years of Catholic school out of my body. However, if you are a person who body-rolls in front of the mirror on a regular basis, this is the workout for you.

3. Sexy 101 is working your hands up your body.
At any given pole-dancing class, the instructor will casually encourage you to take your “hands up the body” because, according to every pole-dancing instructor I’ve encountered — about four, between two different studios — it is “Sexy 101.” Feelin’ yourself in the comfort of one’s own home is different from feelin’ yourself next to seven other novice pole dancers. If you can shut everything out and just focus on your own dance workout, you’ll find that moving your hands up your body naturally progresses into whipping your hair, etc. However, if you get hung up on the fact that you might look like a crazed robot, as I did, you will not be able to achieve the same level of sexiness.

4. Arm strength is a crucial component of sex appeal.
I know this because any move we attempted that was preceded by the word “sexy” demanded more arm strength than I had. The warmup demanded both sexy push-ups and inverted sexy push-ups. The instructor looked stunning as she effortlessly moved through the push-up, finishing by arching her back and flipping her head up. My own attempt involved shaky arms, as I tried to support my body weight while hovering inches from the mat. By the time I pulled my chest upward, I felt like a beached seal next to a school of sexy dolphins. And I've never had more respect for the women who go to pole every week than when I woke up the next day painfully aware of my sore arms, thighs, abs and hip flexors.

5. Hanging upside down from a pole will make you regret the Eggo waffles you scarfed down on the way to class.
And while the blood rushes to your head, you will get a chance to take a quick peek at yourself in the mirror before body-rolling back up to a standing position. While the more seasoned dancers seemed to maintain the color in their faces, mine gradually started to resemble a splotchy pomegranate.

6. Outfit-wise, anything goes.
Most people in the beginner class (myself included) were sporting typical Saturday-morning gym attire: shorts or tights, sports bras and tank tops. The evolution of clothing from the basics lesson to the advanced class felt a little like leaving a wedding at a Northern California vineyard and walking into a West Hollywood nightclub. Thigh-highs, stilettos, sequined panties and lace bras were out in full force. It’s honestly a comfortable environment where women hang out in six-inch heels and crop tops without worrying about who’s leering at them.

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7. Sometimes the things that feel the sexiest look the least sexy.
I assumed I would be at my most exposed while my bare legs were wrapped around a surprisingly cold pole, but my most exposed moment was definitely when my face was unglamorously pressed against the dance floor, inches from the mirror. With my right cheek on the floor, supporting my weight with my shoulders and knees, I followed instructions to push my ass directly into the air. I was actually able to accomplish this, and was momentarily thrilled, quite enjoying the sight of my body’s arc. After this shining moment, I did not have the ab strength to complete the remainder of the floor work, and instead maintained eye contact with myself in the mirror as my body crumpled into a heap. A "sexy" heap.

8. It’s hard to channel the same amount of sexiness you could after six shots of tequila when you’re stone cold sober.
Standing between two girls in their 20s, preparing to do our sexiest walk, one woman turned to me and said, “I feel like I should be drunk for this.”

I couldn’t have agreed more. The only thing that would've pushed me away from the Tin Man posture I’d assumed and closer to the looseness pole-dancing requires would be a substantial amount of bourbon. While dragging my feet with a slight bend in my knee, and extending my legs as I stepped forward (looking a lot like a sexy antelope), I understood why pole-dancing classes are an appealing bachelorette party activity: It’s incredibly fun, the women are super supportive, and hitting a few wineries before class really wouldn’t have hurt, as long as you kept the class very basic and laid down extra mats.

9. Your Legally Blonde knowledge might help you out.
We learned to do what my instructor called a “bend-and-snap on steroids,” and the fact that our instructor shared an affinity for Elle Woods’ teachings really spoke to my 2001 soul. If you’re crouched on the floor, you push your “booty” into the air and then whip your chest up from your pike position. (If it looks like something Reese Witherspoon might've pulled off if she were cast in Justin Bieber’s "Sorry" video, then you’re doing it right.)

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