For Kathy, pole has been a journey of liberation. She told us that she took it up as an overworked corporate lawyer who needed to escape from the humdrum of a rather stressful life and to flex her creative muscles.
Kathy acknowledges the stereotypes associated with pole, but says it's important to see it as an art form which has evolved to what it is today. It offers women empowerment, athletic artistry, and mind-blowing, superhuman strength to its performers.
For many of us, there comes a time where we experience a plateau in our lives, mentally and physically. As a result of sharing Kathy's story, many of our readers expressed their interest to try pole — because they too were either at a plateau, wanted to try a new hobby or were simply curious.
So, when an opportunity to try out pole dancing came by, I saw it as a chance to explore a new challenge and let you in on what it might be like to actually go ahead and try the art form.
For a person who hadn’t done pole dancing before it was everything and nothing I expected at the same time.
The studio I visited is located in Fairlands, Joburg and aptly named Body Mind Studio, which accurately describes my pole dancing experience.
One thing I can say right off the bat is that it’s not quite the glamourised pole dancing you see on Rihanna’s Pour It Up and FKA Twig’s Cellophane music videos, with platform PVC stilettos and fur coats.
I suppose it can be if you’d like — though it's hard to imagine working up a sweat in a fur coat, and looking as flawless as the dancers in the music videos do, but I digress.
For me, the instruction was to wear shorts, a t-shirt and be barefoot — in addition to this, I had to bring water and a towel, which was an indication of what to expect in the class. A good workout.
I’ve never been one for playing sport but I have dabbled in other forms of fitness. If you have a background in dance or yoga (which I've tried before), pole dancing could be a natural adjustment.
There was an air of familiarity with Body Mind Studio, as it is fitted with a mirror-wall — similar to ones found at regular dance studios and gyms — which makes it easy to see your progress.
After ensuring I was working with a steady and secure pole, I had to go on with the business of the day.
Of course, as a beginner, I fumbled, quick-stepped switching to the correct positions and landed on the floor at the wrong angles at times.
But surprisingly, I picked up the moves far more easily than I thought, and bent my body in ways I didn't think possible — at least not that early into my first class.
This is what I learnt:
1 - My body knew what to do
After conquering each move I started to trust my body. And needless to say, soon after trying the moves, one by one, I was able to combine them into a decent routine in just the first 20 minutes of my class.
This might have a lot to do with the individual attention that I got from the instructor, but still, I wouldn't have imagined so much progress in such a short space of time. I was astounded by what is possible for the human body.
My body played along, it knew what to do — so I walked away trusting my body far more than I ever did before.
2 - Mindfulness and presence
I also didn’t expect how mentally relieving pole dancing is. Sure, many people say exercise, in general, is relaxing but it can be tricky trying to maintain calm while speeding on a treadmill or while lifting heavy metal. With pole dancing, there’s a special mind and body connection.
I can say with certainty that I have new-found trust in my body and mind connection and experienced a connectedness after the class.
I found that the required strength for pole dancing comes from the arms and the core, but the alignment of the rest of the body is also important.
Tasks such as having to think about what the feet are doing while simultaneously rolling over the shoulder from the pole, with practice, generate a strong sense of awareness and alignment.
3 - Elevated sense of self
Another aspect of the class that I appreciated was how the language that accompanies training is positive, uplifting and affirming.
As soon as I figured out each step I experienced a high sense of accomplishment as I was repeatedly being reminded by the instructor that I could keep my body elevated with just two points of contact on a pole. This trumped concerns about failure and perfectionism.
The instructor’s positive reinforcement translated to confidence and a lifted mood.
When I later scoped the room with buzzing preteens and moms who had the class as part of their self-care day and young adults who are expanding their fitness repertoire, I realised that this is something I’ll most certainly get back to.