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 has been busy training for her new tour and the video for her latest track, Cellophane, both of which feature the star effortlessly twirling her way around a pole.
Not only is the dancing mesmerising, 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.
So, 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.
The Pole Dancing Experience
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.
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.
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.
Grip is an issue when pole dancing. "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.
By the end of the session, I’m already sold on pole dancing. It’s challenging but so much fun. “We recommend students to start with two classes a week. 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,” van Onna tells me. “As your strength develops and you get really into it, you can definitely train three to four times a week.”
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.