I face the pole in gym shorts and six-inch heels. Per my director's instructions, I wrap my left knee around the vertical bar, grasp it at head and waist height, and push off the platform with my right foot. Suddenly, I'm orbiting the metal strip, falling in dizzying circles to the ground.
A skilled exotic dancer looks weightless as she twirls through midair, as if tied down only by a silver thread. But here, in this beginners' pole-fitness class in an industrial section of Rohnert Park, my own mass feels magnified. When you're trying to slide slowly and gracefully down a pole, gravity is one unforgiving bitch.
Which is why pole-dancing is a great workout. And also why iCandy, the studio where I'm learning these moves, exists. The company, founded by a group of mothers and grandmothers, markets itself online as a "studio for fun and fitness." According to its staff (and evidenced by my sore muscles), pole-dancing isn't just an illicit activity involving tassels and one-dollar bills; it's also a sport.
A sport for which I'm wearing open-toed platform shoes.
Gaga's Awkward Twin
Housed in a gray warehouse, iCandy looks like any other suburban dance studio from the outside. Inside? Not so much.
The reception area is designed in hot pink and black decor. A sign in the corner titled "10 Great Things About Pole Dancing" lists one-liners like "Nothing gets you in shape like swinging from a pole" and "Lets out your inner sex goddess." The large red studio contains 12 poles, each with its own spotlight, and plenty of floor-to-ceiling mirrors. Two Betty Page posters adorn one wall, while another sports an ad for "Lil' Mynx:
The World's Finest Removable Dance Pole."
Karla Thompson, business partner of iCandy owner Pam Carter, checks me in when I arrive for my Saturday class. Her simple black workout attire looks surprisingly understated against the pink wall behind her. She asks for my shoe size and hands me some patent-leather heels, so I obediently remove my sneakers, strap them on and take a few wobbly steps. Teetering around in my puffy polyester shorts and Disneyland sweatshirt, I feel like Lady Gaga's awkward, minivan-driving twin.
Six women beside myself have shown up for the lesson. Currently, none of the elementary classes is co-ed, though Thompson and Carter are launching an aerial fitness program that may include both genders, depending on interest. We're an assorted group, aged roughly 25 to 50, dressed in Lycra-style activewear.
"You'll probably burn from a hundred to 500 calories, depending on how much you put into it," Thompson, who teaches the class, tells me before we start. As we strut, kick and hobble our way through an hour of Pilates-inspired moves, I guess (or hope) we're closer to burning 500. Throughout our routine, the pole functions as an unconventional exercise ball; we squat against it to target our quads, grip it to stretch our legs and finally hook it with our knees and spin.
But of course, the pole is no mere exercise ball. It's a symbol whose connotations are clear in iCandy's not entirely sexed-down routine. To a blasted selection of Katy Perry,