I was minding my own business Insta-scrolling early one morning recently when FKA Twigs, twirling her lithe body around a pole, popped up in my feed. You see, FKA Twigs was training for her tour and the video for her track, Cellophane, both of which feature the star effortlessly twirling her way around a pole. Not only is the dancing mesmerizing, so is her sculpted physique.
Before long, I was Googling "pole dancing classes Amsterdam’" and discovered that there was, in fact, a pole dancing studio just two kilometers from my apartment. Now, let’s just put this out there—I don't consider myself a naturally sexy person. I left my bump n' grind days behind me in 2006 when I left college (or uni, as we call it in Europe). But, sexy aside, you can totally tell that pole dancing would be an incredible form of body-sculpting exercise. The studio I found, Pole Dance Factory Amsterdam, is on the same page: they offer a variety of classes, from beginners sessions to exotic floor work and sexy pole advanced.
I signed up for a taster session and headed to the studio. What struck me about the place was that, aside from the poles, it looked like a combination between a dance and yoga studio. I was told to bring shorts to the session because you need skin-to-pole contact (chafing and bruising are very real pole dancing concerns). Tatjana van Onna, founder of the Pole Dance Factory Amsterdam, tells me, “doing new tricks will always give you some bruises and chafes, but after a while, your body will adjust to it and you won't get them anymore!” Good to know.
Meet the Expert
- Tatjana van Onna is the owner and founder of the Pole Dance Factory Amsterdam. She has been teaching pole dancing since 2012 and is recognized as one of the best pole dancers in the Netherlands.
- Rie Katagiri is the creatrix of Erotic Movement Arts (EMA), a multi sensory, pleasure based, conscious movement and fitness experience for women. She has been teaching pole dancing for 15 years in Los Angeles and has worked as a choreographer/movement coach for film, TV and musicians that have garnered various accolades in the industry.
As it turns out, there's more to pole dancing than chaffing and slithering down a pole. Here’s everything you should know before trying a pole dancing class.
How Pole Dancing Helps Your Body
Pole dancing is a challenge, but it’s fun and the overriding attitude in the class is to give everything a go and see what happens! I can tell that if I had been weightlifting a bit more recently that definitely would have helped me. One move, where you place one foot on the pole and lift yourself up with your hands and kick your back leg out into a mid-air splits, requires strength that, quite frankly, I don’t have right now. “If you did gymnastics as a kid, for example, you will nail basic lifts a lot faster," says van Onna. "If you have a background in any kind of sports where you use coordination and core, it will help you to develop faster in pole dancing too. Some people cross-train by doing yoga, dance or Crossfit; basic strength definitely helps you develop in pole dancing.” She's not lying.
One unexpected benefit of pole dancing is an improved grip strength. "To get more grip in the pole, you can use grip products especially made for pole dancing," notes van Onna. "There is grip for people with dry skin and also for people with sweaty hands." However, she recommends starting without grip products to build up your hand strength. “The strength in your hands will get better and it will soon become easier to hold onto the pole; your skin does stop chaffing, too," she promises.
This 2Toms Grip Shield ($11) is recommended to help improve grip, especially for those who have naturally sweaty hands.
In addition to building strength, stamina and coordination, pole dancing instructor and Erotic Movement Arts founder Rie Katagiri says that one of the greatest benefits is the spiritual connection between inner and outer strength. "As little girls, many of us have been indoctrinated into the limiting gender narrative of 'boys are strong, brave and athletic and girls are sweet, polite and charming,'" she says. "Pole dancing is one way for many women and men to bust through years and years of emotional, mental and physical deprivation from finding their potential."
What Is a Pole Dancing Class Like?
The first 15 minutes of the class was focused on warming up before we got to work on the pole. Our first move of the day was the "fireman’s spin," which involves lifting yourself up while spinning and hooking your feet around the pole. Say what?! Immediately I was struck by a revelation: pole dancing is really bloody hard. You need upper body and core strength, rhythm and no fear. I say no fear because 10 minutes later I was upside down, legs wrapped around the pole with the instructor, Lianne, holding my back and telling me to squeeze my thighs together. Within 30 minutes I have a newfound respect for pole dancers, a very likely bruise on my left ankle, some chafing on my inner thighs, and a growing sense of achievement.
"Pole classes are like any fitness class in that it depends on the instructor, the style of pole dancing and the intention of the studio," says Katagiri. Most studios offer a variety of different types of pole dancing classes, such as sexy burlesque classes, "power" classes for overall strengthening and "Flexy" classes that are focused on increasing flexibility. She says that you can expect teachers to make skillful adjustments and feedback so you are able to progress and learn.
As stated above, don't wear leggings as you need skin contact on the pole to allow you to perform the moves. Also avoid wearing jewelry and lotions. Most instructors suggest wearing spandex or fitness shorts with a sports bra or tank top. Some also suggest wearing protective knee pads.
As far as footwear, talk to the instructor to find out what is appropriate for your specific class. You may be encouraged to go barefoot or wear ankle booties, while others suggest wearing exotic platform heels— which always adds an element of fun! Most instructors recommend six or seven inch heels. Not only do you look sexy, wearing heels also really strengthens your ankles. Make sure your heels have a strap so they don’t slip off.
"Generally, the environment is fun, challenging and sexy with good lighting, loud music and an edginess that other dance classes don’t really quite have," Katagiri says. You may also find yourself bonding with other students in the class as well.
How Often Should You Take Classes?
“We recommend students to start with two classes a week," says van Onna. "In the beginning, you will have sore muscles and bruises for a few days after your training, so it is good to recover a bit from this before you start your second training session.
"Hydrate a lot, get good rest, use arnica on your bruises and take an Epson salt bath the next morning," says Katagiri.
As your strength develops and your form improves, you can work your way up to three to four times a week.
Is Pole Dancing Suitable For Anyone?
Talk to your doctor if you have certain conditions, such as arthritis, back pain or other past injuries, to make sure pole dancing is right for you. In general, always listen to your body and stop if you feel any pain.
"If a student has concerns about whether pole dancing is right for them, I suggest a private session first," says Katagiri, who explains it is important to find an experienced instructor with a broad knowledge of the body. Many times, pole dancing classes can be customized so you can work around any injuries.
The Final Takeaway
I walked into the class and instantly compared myself to the women in the reflection staring back at me in the huge floor-to-ceiling mirrors at the front of the studio. I was self-conscious in my shorts and not feeling my best, but by the end of the class, I found myself looking differently into that mirror. I felt confident and strong and a sense of achievement and warmth towards everyone in the room. Apparently, this is common.
"Pole dancing brings you so much more than just a good workout," says van Onna. "A lot of women gain confidence and feel a lot more feminine after taking pole dance classes for a while. Besides that, the pole dance community is such a beautiful and friendly community to be part of. New friendships develop and pole dancing becomes a special part of your life!"
And, if it helps me get a body even just a little bit like FKA Twigs, I’m sold.