I Faced My Fears and Tried a Pole Dancing Class—Here’s What I Learned

Guiltless confession: I have a crush on Jennifer Lopez. Seriously, what’s not to adore about this woman? How one person can be so multi-talented as a singer, dancer, actress, fashion designer, producer, style icon, and businesswoman is truly beyond my comprehension. I’ve always been a fan of her work, and her most recent role as Ramona in Hustlers is no exception. 

I thought I was ready to watch my girl J.Lo wind and grind on a pole, conning the men of Wall Street while surrounded by an incredibly powerful girl gang (Lili, Cardi, Lizzo, and Keke, just to name a few) but I simply wasn’t. Based on her previous experience of killing the game and proving her eliteness in all areas of life, I shouldn’t have been surprised that she made pole dancing look effortless and sexy, too. But just like new girl Destiny (played by Constance Wu), I was shook and wanted to know, “how the hell does she do that?”

I scoured Yelp for a Chicago pole dancing studio that would welcome a beyond-awkward newcomer like myself. As I scrolled through my options, my eagerness turned to fear and I felt a lump grow in my throat. Going to a pole dancing class meant that I actually had to do the pole dancing class… minor details. I pictured myself tiptoeing around a shiny pole, staring back at my warped reflection while surrounded by beautiful, confident women and playing my own version of “the pole is lava.” It could go horribly wrong. I could fall flat on my face, contract ringworm, sustain an injury, and/or bruise my ego. It could be the worst thing I’ve ever done. 

But then, for a moment, I had another thought. It could be the best thing I’ve ever done. So I said “screw it,” signed up for a class, and reserved a spot by prepaying. Ya girl is ballin’ on a budget, so there was no way that I was letting my $30 go to waste — a little life hack that I like to call “tricking myself into doing something I’d otherwise cancel on 101.”

I took a pole tricks class followed by pole dancing. Both classes exceeded my wildest dreams and allowed me to pretend that I was J.Lo, if only for a moment. Here are the top takeaways from the experience that had me shaking in my boots, laughing, smiling, sweating, moving, and grooving.

 

Pole dancing is no joke

Listen, I’m not saying I thought pole would be easy. However, I think I underestimated just how difficult it would be. I’m fairly athletic — I danced from middle school until college and am a regular at my apartment building’s gym — and I’ve been able to keep up and blend well in almost every fitness class I’ve tried. Pole was a whole new ball game. When it came to inversions, climbing, and holding graceful poses, my body said “ope” and forgot everything it had ever learned about proprioception or physics. I was a true novice. When the instructor saw my face amongst a sea of regulars at the beginning of class, she introduced herself. She gave me a layout of what the class would look like and shared words of encouragement. “Today is going to be hard. Let that excite you. Hitting a move for the first time is the best feeling!” she said, cheerfully. The vibe of the room was friendly and open. Nearby athletes offered helpful hints when I was struggling and a “yessss, sis” when I hit my first forearm stand. I think that I’m used to associating “being new” with feeling unworthy and embarrassed, but the environment fostered exploration without judgment, which helped me to let my guard down.

 

Less is more

I guess if I had done a bit more research, I wouldn’t have shown up to my first pole dance class in sweatpants. The second I walked through the door and got a glimpse of the groups’ attire, I thought to myself “I am in danger.” Wearing booty shorts and a sports bra hasn’t been a part of my *~aesthetic~* since college dance team days, and I didn’t even consider that it could be a beneficial part of suspending myself above ground while wrapped around a metal pole. Alas, I was standing in the lobby and there was no turning back now. I stretched the ankles of those grey sweatpants into the creases of my groin, lost roughly 21 percent of my leg circulation, and sported the sexiest diaper you’ve ever seen. If you’re planning on taking a class, note that your bare skin is your friend and will help to make pole tricks possible. Lesson learned.

 

You’ll be upside down as much as right side up

Another lesson that I learned: don’t chug a venti pumpkin cream cold brew pre-pole. To mark the start of the class, the instructor gathered her students and stated, “let’s start on the floor.” For the first 20 minutes, I found myself upside down propped up on my shoulder, forearm, and head, warming up and making shapes and moving my body in ways that I never had before. I kept having to sit up not due to muscle fatigue, but due to my lack of confidence in my ability to keep my coffee down. Once my body adjusted to “the upside-down,” I found it to be strangely fun and liberating. 

 

Big heels are all the rage

It didn’t take me long to realize that when it came to pole dance heels: the bigger the better. I’m not talking five-inch wedges, ladies. I’m talking bold, peep-toe heels with a four-inch platform and an eight-inch heel. I’m talking heels so high you can break your ankle by just looking at them. Watching my fellow classmates click around gracefully underneath the disco lights was absolutely mesmerizing. I didn’t invest in a pair for my first class and instead, sported my boring, bare feet — but hey, we’ll get there! 

 

The magic happens when you step out of your comfort zone

If it hadn’t been for that fleeting moment of courage and a $30 down payment, I might not have checked pole exercise off of my bucket list. On my Uber drive over to the studio, I was admittedly nervous, but continually reminded myself that my favorite moments in life have happened when I’ve tiptoed outside of my comfort zone. Becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable has become my new resolution, and not to toot my own horn, but I may be on to something.

 

Pole is sexy, empowering, and beautiful

Pole dancers are absolute badasses. Anyone who is able to put themselves out there, literally flip their body upside down on a pole, and even attempt to look good doing it is sexy AF in my book. Pole allowed me the rare opportunity to explore my inner J.Lo, to challenge my strength, and to feel empowered. Intro to Pole, you haven’t seen the last of this girl!

 

Pole is for everybody — including you!

Part of my apprehension surrounding taking a pole class was that I didn’t “fit the mold” of what I thought to be a pole dancer. When I arrived to class, my expectations were thrown out the window as I realized there simply isn’t a mold. Members of the class weren’t one age, one gender, one size, or one talent level. They came from all walks of life to challenge themselves, feel empowered, and sparkle with sweat. In that way, I felt right at home.

 

From one novice to another, here’s what you need to know if you too are tempted to check pole dancing off of your bucket list:

 

Research the studio: when I decided that I wanted to take on the world of pole, I searched for studios in my area and took to Yelp to research reviews. Look for key words like “welcoming,” “safe,” “clean” and for those written by fellow beginners!

Bring a buddy: it’s always easier walking into an unfamiliar situation with a familiar face! Side note, if you’re looking for a fun group activity for a bachelorette party or girls’ weekend, this has “tackle with your girl gang” written all over it.

Remember that skin is your friend! No matter the weather, you’ll want to strip down to an outfit that will allow you the most traction when you’re hoisting yourself up on the pole. I suggest sporting a workout tank and your teeniest booty shorts underneath sweatpants and a sweatshirt. You can shed your outer layers once class begins and/or once you’ve warmed up.

Show up early: says the girl who couldn’t show up on time if her life depended on it. Getting to class (at least) 30 minutes early will allow you to check in, acquaint yourself with the studio, find a place for your belongings, introduce yourself to the instructor, and start stretching.

Bring a water bottle: pole tricks and dancing will get your heart rate going, muscles firing, and sweat glands working. Be sure to keep some h2o handy before, during, and after the class to stay well hydrated.

Wear heels (or don’t!): I touched on this before, but be prepared to be surrounded by regulars who are wearing sky-high heels for class. If you take on the challenge of wearing heels, I’d pick a pair that you’ve worn before and that you already know that you’re comfortable in! If you’re not feeling up to heels (@me), then bare feet or socks work just fine.

Don’t eat a huge meal (or chug a large coffee) before: save yourself the trouble and give yourself some time to digest before class! If you’re taking a pole tricks course, know that you’ll be upside-down practicing inversions for a bit and you simply don’t want your venti cream cold brew coming upstream if you can avoid it.

Don’t be hard on yourself: When I look back on all of the times I’ve said “no” to something because I was afraid of how I would look or how I would feel if I wasn’t successful, I see a laundry list of missed opportunity. Magical things happen when you cross the boundaries you’ve set for yourself and seek out experiences that exist outside of your comfort zone. Did anything about pole come naturally to me? Heck no. Did I have a great time, share in a few laughs, get a good workout in, and meet some awesome humans? You bet I did. To date, it’s one of my favorite things that I’ve done by myself and it has ignited a fire in me to seek out more. More challenges. More laughs. More perspectives. And, obviously, more ways to be half as cool as J. Lo.