Pole dancing as exercise? One mom says it has her in her best shape ever
A couple of years back, Melanie Piek lost her human resources job amid the greatest recession since the Great Depression.
And, that’s when her life spiraled into control.
Piek, at age 38, opened a pole dancing studio with a partner – the first of its kind in Boulder County, Colo., placing herself at the forefront of a fitness trend that is both flirtatious and physically challenging. She’s since opened her own studio in Longmont, Colo. – dubbed Vertical Fusion – which has become so popular that she added a second location in Fort Collins, Colo.
She says the business has led her to being in the best shape of her life. Physically, the pole workouts defined the muscles in her 5-foot, 5-inch frame like never before and built solid muscle mass in her core, glutes, arms and thighs. Emotionally, the fitness business made her feel comfortable in her own skin (even if it was burned a bit from climbing the pole, and gripping it to perform acrobatic moves).
“It’s a toss-up of what the better benefit is – is it the workout, or is the confidence and empowerment that it gives you?” Piek says. “I say that they go hand-in-hand and are equally important.”
Piek – a mother of four – took her first pole dancing class in Denver back in 2008, and says she had her reservations. She was among mostly college-aged women and pole dancing conjured up images of strip clubs.
But, the Top 40 music was pumping and she says the atmosphere felt alive, a break from the rut of treadmill and boot camp fitness classes. Piek says she had danced jazz and ballet as a kid, and the class reconnected her with a passion. The workout, she remembers, was so invigorating that she stayed to watch the second class.
“There is something so invigorating about being able to hold up your body weight with two arms,” she says.
It also inspired her to start her own business. She became an Aerobics and Fitness Association of America-certified group fitness instructor and successfully completed the X-pert Pole Training for Instructors program, along with taking workshops and private lessons with professional dancers.
Her studio offers a range of fitness classes. There are seven levels, starting with “intro to pole” that introduces hip rolls, hair flips and a bit of booty shaking, along with basic pole moves, spins, transitions and floor work.
The most advanced class emphasizes complex transitions and aerial tricks – like the “Ayesha” move. (Think being suspended upside down on the pole, holding the weight of your body with the strength from your arms and the balance from your back muscles while performing graceful, mid-air splits).
There are also cross-training classes such as Pilates, “fit for pole” and Zumba. The studio offers some classes that are more sultry and adventurous, like the “candlelight pole flow” class.
Piek’s philosophy for the studio is to promote positive self-image, sustain a culture of growth and empower her clients.
“We never talk about weight loss,” she says. “Our goal is to help you embrace your body and feel good in the skin that you have and work from there. Along the way, if you meet your weight loss goals, that’s great. But it’s not the focus. Inevitably, people do lose weight and get stronger.”
Overcoming the stigma
Piek acknowledges the stigma surrounding pole dancing and knows it’s holding back some women from giving it a try.
“It’s hard to bite the bullet and say ‘I want to do this for me and have fun,’ ’’ she says. “I really commend the ladies who take that bold step.”
And, once they do, Piek adds, many find the studio and class experience to be different than what they expected: A warm and supportive environment where there’s no competition or judgment.
The studio also showcases talent with student recitals, which has proven to double as an effective fundraiser. Recently, the dancers raised $625 for a safe shelter.
Piek came up with the idea for a “Poling it Forward” program that commemorates students’ accomplishments by making donations to the community. Every student who accomplishes all the moves in a level have monetary donations made by Vertical Fusion in her honor to a scholarship fund for potential clients who couldn’t otherwise afford to take classes, as well as to a local charity of choice.
Dozens of donations have been made to Colorado nonprofits, including safe shelters for women, the humane society, food banks and groups that serve people with developmental disabilities.
Hooked on pole dancing
Tarah West knew nothing about pole dancing when she first started back in July.
West, 34, a programmer for a software development company, showed up to a class with a friend and was immediately impressed with the diversity in the class – ranging from young women to a grandma determined to “get her sexy back.”
“I’d see a trick and I’d think, ‘Oh, that’s so gorgeous, I want to learn to do that,’ ” West says.
The day after her first class she was so sore and her friend was walking down the stairs sideways to avoid bending the muscles that got such a good workout.
“You have so much fun and yet you’re working out so hard,” West says.
Already, she’s noticed arm definition and says she’s impressed with the strength in her shoulders.
Megan Thomas, 30, a dietitian, was looking for a hobby when she showed up to the Vertical Fusion studio a year ago.
She says she became hooked on how she could challenge herself, moving up in skill level and feeling stronger along the way.
Her favorite move is the cupid, where she grips the pole with one knee with her other leg extended gracefully along the pole, as she shifts into a position that resembles half of a heart shape.
Pole dancing can be for anybody, she says. In fact, she even brought her mom to one of the classes.
“If you go in and enjoy yourself, it’s probably the most freeing workout you’ll ever have,” she says.
(Photo courtesy of Iman Woods Creative)
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