When I tell people that I take a pole class, they react one of two ways: they either think it's cool and impressive (and those people are the best kinds of people, honestly), or they'll crack some joke about how I'm training to be an exotic dancer. I'll make some sassy reply about how I work in a volatile industry and how you should always have a backup plan, but honestly, I've got nothing but respect for those dancers. They have the skill and upper body strength I can only dream of, and they work insanely hard—doing power move after power move while dealing with surely creepy advances from the clientele is not an easy task. I could go on, but that's another essay for another time.
I have a weird, fraught relationship with working out. I've written about it a few times before, I'll avoid rehashing all of the gory details here. In short, there really wasn't a happy medium between me doing it to the point of excess, or not doing it at all for fear of regressing into that sad state I was once in where alternating low-calorie food with appetite suppressants was the norm. On a whim, I started taking pole classes, not fully realizing how it would change me as a person.
Cheesy as hell, but true.
Tucked away behind a garden area in Brooklyn's Greenpoint neighborhood is the Incredipole studio, which I've often heard other students lovingly refer to as "the treehouse." The description is appropriate since it sort of feels like one. Apparently, the studio used to be a church, and coincidentally I'm there every Sunday, so it may as well be my religion at this point. The ceilings are high, gorgeous wooden beams decorate the room, and if you're lucky, the cutest dog named Gypsy will make a guest appearance and say hi to each student in between stretches. I had taken pole at another studio and liked it just fine, but couldn't keep up with some of the classes, and once my favorite instructor left, I stopped going as much. Ever since I started going to Incredipole, I'd do classes just about every weekend, and get FOMO to an insane degree on the weekends I wasn't able to go.
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For the first few minutes of class, we warm up and stretch on the mats. This varies depending on the instructor and class you're taking, but generally, the moves focus on opening the chest, loosening up the wrists, and strengthening your ab muscles. From there, we'll get on the poles and learn spins, climbs, and poses, all of which require serious muscle activation. The class devoted entirely on abs and inversions is one I look forward to every weekend, first because it is taught by my favorite instructor Kirstin, and secondly, I've been obsessed with going upside down on the pole since I even started doing it. Once I was finally able to invert, it became the only thing I wanted to do. I went on vacation for a week and was terrified that I would somehow lose my ability to invert, and when I got home, I went and inverted on my pole as soon as I was somewhat unpacked. "Glad that's the first thing you did after getting back from the airport, haha," my boyfriend texted back when I shared the good news with him.
Oh, and that's another thing—twice a week at Incredipole wasn't enough for me, so I went and bought my own to practice on the days I wasn't able to make it to the studio. In a similar way that running relieves stress for my colleague Victoria, pole does that for me. When I've had a crappy day, I'll get on the pole for an hour and feel better. When I'm sad, I'll get on the pole—I've actually even done it when I was so upset that I was crying, which is as cathartic and insane-looking as you'd imagine, but I felt so relieved afterwards. When I just need a second to myself, I'll get on the pole and work on the butterfly inversion pose I've been trying to master for weeks. I'll put on some music, lower my shades because I live across the street from the subway station and do not need people peering in, and I'll just spin and climb and invert for as long as my playlist will run.
More than anything, it has been so satisfying to see myself progress and do things I thought were completely impossible when I began this whole pole education journey. I learn something new with each class, and the community that Incredipole has created is one of the friendliest and most accepting ones I've been happy to be part of. Some of the women in my classes have been in that specific class with me since I started going to the studio, and I can't help but feel like a proud mom when one of them masters a move they've been working hard at for weeks. They're also insanely encouraging when I'm attempting a move, making each class an equal balance of therapy and training for me, and it's exciting to think about where we'll all be and all of the new things we'll have learned a year from now.
And of course, the body I was once so stressed out about has changed and responded accordingly. I'm stronger now, not necessarily skinnier, though that doesn't matter as much to me anymore. My legs are more sculpted from being able to hold myself upside down without using my hands, or climbing to the the very top of the pole, and my arms are more muscular from basically everything I'm trying to do. I'm less focused on how my flat my stomach isn't, and am more concerned with how I engage my ab muscles so that I can get my legs up over my head. I guess I've become kinder to myself as a result.
Anyway, if y'all need me this weekend, I'll be at the treehouse.