From the moment LaDona Sutherland strapped on her glass high heels I knew this was not the average fitness class. Then again the 10 poles standing in the middle of Goddess Dance Studio were the real clue. The studio, located in downtown Summerville, offers pole dancing classes.
A pole dancing class? Honestly, I imagined before class began a disco ball would drop from the ceiling as the room turned dark and smoky. And that, explains instructor Elizabeth Pike, is the stigma pole dancing classes have been fighting for years.
Pike was an accomplished dancer with the Boston Ballet when she visited a friend in Florida enrolled in a pole dancing class. She said she thought pole dancing was for strippers and no real athleticism was involved. That was 15 years ago and she has been taking classes and instructing ever since.
Pole dancing is harder than it looks according to Matti Earnest explaining she couldn't even lift herself up on the pole when she first started. Now she is part of the advanced class lifting and spinning with girls half her age.
"Pole dancing is like therapy and fitness all rolled up into one," she said. The confidence and strength built accomplishing new moves encourages her to try harder. Besides, she adds, "How boring is it to walk on a treadmill when you can be doing this?"
The class is very intense and fast paced. From the moment it begins, everyone is performing combination after combination as Pike works with them on form and technique. Pike said a pole dance instructor has to pass certification classes just like a personal trainer. They have to know what pole maneuver works what body parts and muscle groups.
Sutherland says pole dancing has helped her loose 4 dress sizes in 12 weeks and after awhile many of her co-workers were asking for the secret to her success. Afraid to openly say she was taking the classes she kept quiet until she reached her goal.
As for her shoes, Sutherland explains they are a confidence builder. "When I put them on, I feel like a different person." She added the shoes actually are a key part of the workout. The taller the shoes, the more intense the workout.
Sutherland and others say it is the women in the class that make it so enjoyable. Mostly the class consists of women looking for an alternative to the same old gym routine.
"I don't have the attention span or motivation to go to the gym," Candace Shaver, a 22-year-old law student, said.
Shaver is the youngest in a class full of married mothers who don't fit the pole dancing stereotype. When asked about the perception associated with a class of this type they are quick to explain this is a sport.
"Pole dancing is basically a parallel bar turned vertical, it is still a sport," Earnest said.
"Just because it originated in a strip club does not mean it is not a sport," Pike said. She added a petition is circulating to add pole dancing to the 2012 Olympics.
Seriously, what will get more air time, pole dancing or rhythmic gymnastics? If the petition goes through, the US Men's basketball team may have to plead for exposure.
Until then, the classes continue to grow in popularity. Pike said the three studio locations, Summerville, Hanahan, and Mount Pleasant, usually operate near capacity with people traveling as far away as Columbia to participate.
The classes are full of women who gain confidence from each other and are all really good friends Pike said. They get their energy and motivation from each other, they are a very supportive group.
I for one will not be taking the class not only because I don't look good in heels but simply because it looks way too hard.
Paul Zoeller is a freelance photographer new to the area. Do you have an idea for a new blog or a question about a current blog? If you do contact Zoeller at firstname.lastname@example.org.