The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Pole dancing new option for fitness

By Marcy Smith and Joe Miller/reporters

RALEIGH, N.C.—Sonya Bruton likes her latest exercise routine because it gives her something in common with her 10-year-old: a chance to learn something new.

“ You forget what kids have to go through to learn things,” says Bruton, who is 39 and, in addition to her job as executive director of the N.C. Community Health Center Association, finds time to teach cardio funk, cycling and body sculpting. “Some things have to come in stages.”

It may seem odd, though, that the pursuit that lets Bruton connect with her child is a mainstay of men’s clubs worldwide: pole dancing.

But it’s not sex that the three-month-old Aradia Fitness Center in Cary, N.C., is selling. It’s a brand of feminism.

“We provide a place for women to come and feel good about themselves, to develop their self-esteem,” Terri Kerr, owner of Aradia, a dance studio specializing in dance centered on a floor-to-ceiling brass pole two inches in diameter, said.

Aradia co-founder Tracy Gray was more emphatic last year when she told Canadian Business Magazine: “We’re in the business of female empowerment.”

A studio is born

Gray and Christine Boyer founded Aradia in Toronto in 2004. The concept was quick to attract attention, media and celebrity (devotees range from Kate Moss to Pamela Anderson) alike. Last year, pole dancing got the ultimate endorsement for a commercial enterprise: airtime on Oprah.

That’s where Kerr learned about Aradia. Kerr works in health care, but as her 50th birthday approached, she was looking for a change in her own health care.

“I’d always wanted to pole-dance,” Kerr, who was a gymnast at Michigan State University in the 1970s, said. “Just not naked with a bunch of people watching.”

Inspired by the Oprah episode, Kerr made the pilgrimage to Aradia’s Toronto headquarters. Smitten, she took the 10-day instructor certification course (for the first two of Aradia’s 10 levels), plunked down her franchise fee and made Cary the unlikely site of the first pole dancing studio in the U.S.

Canada, home of hockey and ice fishing, seems an unlikely birthplace for pole dancing. Yet in a little more than two years, 17 Aradia studios have sprouted across the land.

And in Cary? Since January, says Julie Handysides, Kerr’s assistant and instructor-in-training, more than 150 women have taken a turn on one of Aradia’s nine poles.

“We’ve had women of all shapes and sizes, of all ages,” says Handysides, a competitive gymnast in high school and a recent graduate of Southern Adventist University in Chattanooga, Tenn., said.

The mom next door

First-timer Ellen Dalbo said, “It’s important for women as they get older to feel sexy.”

As is the case with most Aradia clients, she hopes to make pole dancing part of her weekly workout routine. She runs a few times a week and attends cardio classes at a gym. This class, though, speaks to
her inner dancer.

Aradia offers a beginner “teaser” class for women who aren’t sure if pole dancing is for them. That usually doesn’t turn out to be the case, says Handysides.

“We’ve only had one woman come and not feel comfortable,” she said.

Given the rep of pole dancing—babes in pasties and thongs strutting in stilettos—one might expect a bit of primping, prancing, showoff-iness around the poles. Not so.

The studio has no mirrors. The lights are turned low. The music is something you might have heard before, but not so that it’s distracting. Class members wear shorts or yoga pants, with a tank top and bare feet. No stilettos in sight.

“It’s a very nonjudgmental place,” Kerr says. “We ask the women not to talk outside the class about others.”

So … what happens?

Burton says that she has seen women of all sizes move around the pole with “grace, ease, comfort.”

“It’s a feeling of being in water,” she says.

Indeed, a firefighter’s spin around the pole, without feet on the ground, is freeing, invigorating in a curiously childlike way—like swinging on the monkey bars.

“I can tell already it’s great for the stomach and thighs,” Dalbo says.

Across the hall, in a smaller studio, more advanced students fling themselves upside down so that their legs are wrapped around the pole and their heads are facing downward; they then slide slowly down the pole. Super-advanced dancers like Kerr do this move while spinning around the pole, legs extended.

It’s the kind of movement that makes you rethink a doughnut earlier in the day, notes Handysides. (Although a 165-pound woman spending 50 minutes on the pole would work off the equivalent of two Krispy Kreme glazeds.)

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