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Everything You've Ever Wanted to Ask a Fitness Pole Dancer

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Welcome to Racked's Fitness Week: five days of workout coverage, so that you can start your New Year's resolutions off right.

Courtesy photos

We're picking the brains of some of the city's most interesting—and out there—fitness instructors in the name of Fitness Week. Yesterday we got the low-down on CrossFit and today we're sharing what 2012 US pole dancing champion Michelle Stanek has to say about her sport (yes, sport).

After the jump, learn how Demi Moore accidently redefined pole dancing, why there's no gluteal fold in competition attire, and what to expect if you take a class with Michelle at Body & Pole.

How did you get into pole dancing?

I got into pole dancing through one of my co-workers when I worked at a design organization. She and I used to take dance classes all the time—hip hop, jazz, ballet, whatever. She took me to this pole dancing class at Crunch and I really liked it. It was really hard—I thought I was going to be good at it because it was a dance class and I thought, "Oh, I can do dance classes." It was surprisingly difficult.

When did you take that first class?

That was in 2008.

So you really haven't been pole dancing for too long, considering you've won championships.

No, not at all. It's been just a few years. It's hard to find people who have been pole dancing—in this way—for more than eight years. It just hasn't been around for that long.

How have you seen pole dancing transition from entertainment for men to a legitimate fitness workout?

The program at Crunch—where I took my first class—originated because one of the directors at Crunch met Demi Moore when she was training for that movie Striptease and watched [Demi's] body completely transform just because of the movement of pole dancing. She was studying to be a stripper in a movie but her body just became slammin'. Crunch is always thinking outside the box so they decided to create a [pole dancing] class. It was starting to become an all-women's fitness class in various places around the country.

The fundamentals of pole dancing if you're a stripper in a strip club or a pole fitness athlete are the same. The audience and the purpose are completely different.

[Fitness pole dancing has] changed in the past few years—it's growing. There are more competitions, there are more performance opportunities, there are more media outlets and magazines, people are doing it at sport events and fitness events. [Fitness pole dancing is] starting to become more in the public awareness for what it really is instead of what people kind of condescend it to be. Awareness is getting better.

[The fitness pole dancing industry] went in a dramatically fitness avenue for a minute to legitimize itself, to prove itself as a sport. Like, "We're not doing this to become strippers, we're trying to take the sexual nature out of it." [It became] very strictly fitness.

What characterized that movement?

For example, these competitions that I'm talking about, you have to wear very specific [outfits]. You can not show gluteal fold—that's the term for it. You have to keep it covered at all times. You have to wear a certain type of top, it can't be too revealing. You can't do any kind of sexual movement: You can't whip your hair or do a body wave. I think it went in that direction to help legitimize [pole dancing] as a sport but I'm hoping we can open pole dancing to dancers and artists and athletes and bringing back the sexual content, if someone chooses.

What we're doing is not part of the strip clubs, anymore. It came out of that and it will always be part of the legacy of pole dancing but now it's a completely different entity and you can make it as fitness as you want or as sexual as you want or as artistic than you want. It's still completely different from where it was when it was in gentlemen's clubs.

What kind of experience does someone need prior to their first pole dancing class?

There's nothing required to be able to do it. If you come into pole dancing from a dance or gymnastics background, you will advance more quickly, but it's not required. As long as you have a good teacher, a good coach, and a good studio, you can become excellent.

Would you say there's a certain body type that's better suited to pole dancing?

If you have the rare opportunity to have very broad and strong shoulders and teeny, tiny, skinny legs then you will find that a lot of things will be easier for you. You do so much of inverting your body over your head with the strength of your arms.

It's very rare that people have those proportions. Just as long as you're fit. There's a definitely element of flexibility and strength that comes with pole dancing, so you have to be able to work at those things. For me right now, I'm working on my flexibility. I know there's so much more I could do if I could just open up my shoulders and my lower back more.

What muscle groups does pole dancing target?

All of them. It's a common misunderstanding that you don't use your legs as much, but especially when you get into more advanced moves you use your legs a lot in pole dancing. In the beginning, you will use your arms a lot—your shoulders, back muscles, and core. Upper body is definitely targeted.

How long does it take for a new student to "get it"?

That varies per student for sure. Some people get in the groove right away. For someone who leaves their first class a little unsure, maybe after three months of doing a beginner level class they'll start to kind of get it. Once you start surprising yourself with what you can do you're hooked.

What does one wear to a pole dancing class?

It is essential when you get on the pole to have shorts on. You want to have exposed leg skin—so short-shorts, not bicycle shorts. A tank top or a sports bra—you need to have your armpits exposed. You probably need your waist or your belly exposed for some holds.

What about on your feet?

Mostly bare feet. Shoes can be an optional choice later. But you should learn in bare feet. We do teach some speciality classes in heels.

Do you cover the pole or yourself with anything for traction?

You don't want to put anything on the pole, you want to keep the pole clean and dry. On your body, if you feel like you need a grip there's a lot of different types of grip aids. For example, there's this product called Dry Hands that's basically like a liquid chalk a gymnast would use. Your palms sweat, especially if you're nervous. If you're getting into more advanced moves and you need a little more extra grip, there's a beeswax type of product you can use in tiny doses to give you more tack on the pole. You don't want any kind of lotion or oils on.

Are there any other types of workouts that you think complement pole dancing well?

Crosstraining of any sort is promoted to keep yourself fit. I think a good complement to pole dancing is a yoga class or a flexibility class because that's going to focus on your body awareness, alignment, and flexibility. A lot of the moves you do in a yoga class will transfer directly to moves that you would do on the pole. I do a lot of indoor cycling classes because I love cardio and also as a balance for the lower body.

Lastly, do you ever feel the urge to practice on the subway?

Oh, definitely. That happens all the time. You can't resist it. Then you see the guys that come through and do their performances and they have no real pole dancing experience and they do the craziest tricks! They're so dope at what they do and I'm like, "Oh I gotta try that."
· Body & Pole [Official Site]
· Everything You've Ever Wanted to Ask a CrossFit Instructor [Racked NY]
· All Fitness Week 2014 posts [Racked NY]

Body & Pole

115 W 27th St, New York, NY 10001