published Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Pole dancing fitness trend leaves women feeling 'empowered'

The room is dark, except for strobe lights. Sultry music pulses from the speakers.

A redhead approaches one of several metal poles positioned around the room and grabs onto it with ease, spinning down to the floor. Then, she stands and encourages the four women behind her to take a turn.

Welcome to pole fitness.

Made popular first in larger cities, pole dancing has been a growing trend in women's exercise practice, combining cardiovascular exercise, flexibility and strength training.

"When you're doing tricks on a pole," said Raven Dill, the aforementioned dancer and instructor of Ladies Pole Fitness at Chattanooga DanceSport, "you're doing weight lifting."

She explained that pole dancers have to rely on their own strength to lift their body weight, usually upward of 100 pounds.

Rhonda Tinsley, who has taught belly dancing and sensual movement classes at Chattanooga DanceSport for years, also instructs pole classes. She calls it a great way to combine fun and fitness.

"Pole dancing is great cardiovascular work," she said. "It's good for upper and lower body at the same time. It's a great fat burning workout. It will give you all the benefits of any other fitness program, except it's a lot more fun. It has a "whee" factor, like swinging on the monkey bars at school."

The environment of the class is low pressure and supportive. At times the women work individually, paying no mind to one another. At other times, they call encouragement, applauding when one of the students executes an elusive upside down, no-hands move.

Ms. Dill moves from student to student.

"Gorgeous," she compliments one.

Leigh Cox, who is attending her second class, attempts an inversion with the help of Ms. Tinsley and Ms. Dill.

"If it's hard to do, you're doing it right, Ms. Dill said.

Ms. Cox said she loves the endorphin rush of achieving something she thought beyond her scope of ability.

"I've never been more sore," she said after the class. "But it's definitely a high."

"The endorphins are pumping," added her friend Chasity Knierim.

After practicing some different techniques, Ms. Dill guides the students through a routine set to Rihanna's "Russian Roulette." She performs it for them once and then leads them, calling out each step.

Pole dancing, she said, makes her feel strong.

"There are body builders out there who cannot do the things I can do."

Various workout trends that incorporate exercise with sensuality, such as pole dancing, have been touted as proponents of feminist empowerment.

I think when you feel very strong and capable, when you're suddenly able to do something you didn't dream you could do, and you have a lot more strength, you can feel it in your body," said Ms. Tinsley. "You can move in ways that are sensual and alluring, and when you do it just for yourself, that's very empowering."

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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