Conquering the Pole

Lying on my back, legs spread above me in a wide “V,” I smile at the irony: I’m surrounded by women. It’s the warm-up to a beginner’s pole dancing class. With the candles lining the walls and Shakira pumping out of the speakers, everything has a fun, sensual spin to it.

Push-ups become floor undulations and leg squats become suggestive stretches. Standing up no longer involves clumsily hoisting oneself vertically — it’s now a bootylicious “stipper’s get-up.”

I’m dropping in midway through a program at 3Sixty, a pole-dancing studio on Catherine Street. As such, I have an hour to catch up on five weeks of step-by-step instruction.

Pole dancing is slowly mainstreaming and Corinne Brodthagen says she opened the studio this past June with the intention of making it a legitimate form of exercise. While her main clientele are 40-somethings, she sees everyone from university girls to 50-year-old ladies. I ask if she’s ever gotten actual erotic dancers to come in for classes. Only once, she says, when teaching in Montreal.

Sherri, the instructor, is a compact 39-year-old with spiky blond hair who looks a decade younger than she is. She promises to guide me along. First, she says, we’ll review pole tricks.

Now, when the Charlatan approached me with the idea of getting the down low on pole dancing classes in Ottawa, I went to the studio’s website to check it out. A gallery of pictures displayed stiletto-clad women suspended perpendicularly off poles, holding themselves upside down by only their legs, and generally bringing to mind more Cirque du Soleil than Lacy’s Strip Show.

I don’t care how you feel about pole dancing, or those who use it to make a living, but it’s hard not to respect the physical prowess involved.

However, this is a beginner’s class. Hospital trips are to be avoided when possible. So Sherri demonstrates “the fireman,” which is essentially what it sounds like, but circling rather than sliding straight down. I master the basics without too much difficulty.

It’s time for the “sunwheel.” Similar to the fireman, but instead of wrapping your ankles around the pole, your legs are up and out from your body. Think of sitting sideways on the floor and then imagine doing that in the air.

Stepping around the pole, toes pointed and form impeccable, I’m thinking I’m pretty good at this. Then comes the time for me to lift myself up and twirl gracefully down the pole. I grip and use momentum to lift my legs with gusto.

Sherri looks like an elegantly descending angel. I get halfway around, halt and screech to the floorboards like a crumpled pretzel. Not sexy.

With gentle encouragement, womanly support and a good deal of laughter, we smooth out the tricks and move through the routine. Regrettably, I wasn’t attending the last class when everyone dresses up in their finest burlesque-inspired lingerie and heels.

While I didn’t sweat much during the class, I was surprised to find that the next morning my thighs and forearms (arm and shoulder strength is crucial) had the telltale sensitivity of a good workout.

Published Jan. 15, 2010; The Charlatan