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Pole Dancing Comes to FitRec

Exercise class is fun—and a very serious workout


For most people, pole dancing conjures up unsavory images fit for a Sopranos episode, so let’s get a few things out of the way.

BU’s Pole Dancing Circuit class was not intended to train a new generation of exotic dancers. This FitRec class was about fitness, and fun.

Micki Taylor-Pinney, BU dance program director, says the three-session not for credit class was created to introduce students to an increasingly popular form of exercise and self-expression, one that demands muscle strength, coordination, and flexibility.

“Pole dancing has had a certain image,” Taylor-Pinney acknowledges. “But more recently, it’s had a rebirth for fitness. So what we’re offering is a mix of dance and exercise, really not unlike aerial dance.”

It’s a workout whose popularity is growing both in the United States and abroad. Studios dedicated to pole dancing have cropped up in nearly every major American city, and international competitions abound. There’s even a nascent effort to make it an Olympic sport.

Taylor-Pinney says that students had requested a pole dancing class, so FitRec rolled out a pilot class this spring. The class was deemed so successful that Taylor-Pinney has scheduled four more sections during the summer. The four- or five-week-long classes will meet once a week and will be taught by modern and contemporary dancer and dance instructor Liz Roncka (Sargent’95,’97), who taught the pilot class.

Roncka says she became interested in aerial movement performed using ropes in the late 1990s as a professional dancer. She began studying pole dancing about four years ago as a means of fitness and artistic expression and eventually became certified to teach it.

Performing exotic moves in a safe place surrounded by supportive people is often part of pole’s appeal, and Roncka occasionally wowed observers during class with her aerial splits and other gravity-defying poses.

“Students are choosing pole for a reason,” she says. “Yes, they’re curious and it’s different because it’s aerial, but you also want to experience a more free and empowered version of yourself.”

During a recent class, Roncka walked students through complex maneuvers, helping them through sequences and challenging moves that left them suspended from the pole. Floor and barre work designed to build strength on the pole were also incorporated in the class.

Sticking to the pole is a requirement for most pole maneuvers, so the dress code for the class calls for exposed skin. Shorts may be no lower than mid-thigh and students need to wear a form-fitting top or sports bra. Using a moisturizer before class is a no-no, because it causes a dancer to slip.

Aerial dance student Allie Cole (CAS’21), who has studied trapeze since she was nine, says the class was a natural extension of her athletic interests. “I wanted to see what my skill level would be,” she says. “All the women who do it are so strong and they make it look so easy.”

The biology major says she learned that pole dancing is not easy, but it’s fun and a good strength-building workout. Sure, there were a couple of self-conscious moments, like executing a “body roll,” a maneuver that requires rolling your body like a wave with the pole at your back.

But her discomfiture was fleeting. “This is just a way to express yourself,” she says with a laugh. “Any style of dance is.”

Kayla Anderson (CAS’19), a member of the BU Ballroom Dance Club as well as the Women’s Rugby Football Club, says she took the class to try something new. A psychology major and dance and public health minor, she says she’s always looking for new physical activities.

“I’m an adventurous person,” she says. “And at the end of the day, it’s just entertainment.” In fact, she had already been to two pole dancing parties for friends’ birthdays and viewed the class as a way to explore it in a more structured way.

“You can show off a lot or a little. You can just make it about you,” she says. “You have that power to pick what you want to do with your body.”

Roncka says no men have signed up for the class so far. She would like to see men join in, she says, noting that the Indian practice of Mallakhamb, or suspended yoga using a pole, is performed primarily by men.

Megan Woolhouse can be reached at megwj@bu.edu.


7 Comments on Pole Dancing Comes to FitRec

  • Jon on 05.02.2018 at 9:25 am

    Every parents dream is to work hard, sacrifice, and save money to afford to send their children to a decent University in the hopes that their children will have a better life. No where in that dream was pole dancing involved….As a father who has daughters your whole goal in life is just to keep them off the stripper pole…and here BU goes and brings the pole to them…for $50k a year.

    • Katharine Kolin on 05.02.2018 at 5:16 pm

      I’m sorry that you fear your daughter’s sexuality and self expression. Being a woman at university in the 21st century, I’m sure she’s done a lot of things you’d consider more offensive than exercising on a pole. And you should be proud of her for it.

    • gcollins on 01.12.2019 at 1:51 pm

      It is a good exercise for upper and lower body similar to the ropes.
      I understand your concern about it being associated with strippers but
      BU is not offering this course to train future Stormy Daniels
      The more exercise programs women are involved helps with mental and physical function and they and often are less sexually active which is one reason sports are encouraged especially in high school women
      Get the men involved in the class

  • Katharine Kolin on 05.02.2018 at 10:18 am

    I have a lot – a LOT – of issues with the way this article is written. While it’s great that BU is offering a pole dancing class, which can boost confidence in one’s body while being a unique and enjoyable exercise that engages every muscle for a full-body workout, the emergence of pole dancing as a mainstream exercise has had problematic consequences in terms of the dialogue surrounding pole dancing’s origins and the othering of strippers. The very first sentence of this article opens with the false assumption that even the idea of the action pole dancing conjures up “unsavory images”. Why does the context of a strip club make pole dancing “unsavory” while it’s an “empowering and strength-building” exercise in the context of a university fitness center? “BU’s Pole Dancing Circuit class was not intended to train a new generation of exotic dancers. This FitRec class was about fitness, and fun.” First of all – why does the implication here even EXIST that strippers – who are PROFESSIONAL pole dancers – don’t care about the fitness and fun of pole dancing when they invented it and brought it into the mainstream, and made it accessible? Also, why does the author feel the need to provide a disclaimer that this class isn’t intended to encourage the individuals taking the class to become exotic dancers? Why does the author feel the need to draw this imaginary line between pole work in the context of stripping and pole work in the context of a gym? The most concerning aspect of this all, however, is that the teacher of this class seems to actually agree with this idea – that somehow there is some higher ground to pole dancing in a gym versus in a club. To be in that environment is not empowering – it’s an embodiment of the breed of contemporary feminism that alienates the disenfranchised – among them sex workers.

    • Katharine Kolin on 05.02.2018 at 10:22 am

      This is all especially tone-deaf in the wake of SESTA and FOSTA.

  • Jess Lambert on 05.02.2018 at 11:21 am

    I’d like to second Katharine’s comments. Pole dancing and stripping are a great form of exercise – but it’s important to recognize that the women who are taking the class in the FitRec are not only exempt from the scrutiny, stigma, and shame that society places on strippers and people in the sex industry – but that this article seems to suggest they are complicit in perpetuating it. Stripping is fun, and it does keep you fit! And as a form of self-expression, it’s important to situate pole-dancing in it’s context: sex work and the strip club. Taking it out of the strip club, cleaning it up, and refusing to acknowledge its history while simultaneously insinuating that strippers and sex workers are ‘less than’ is whitewashing the industry and ignoring what’s happening in the US today. It also ignores the financial insecurity of many students on BU’s campus who may actually have worked in the sex trades in some form or another – and further marginalizes their experiences, insisting on their shamefulness.

  • Foreign citizen on 05.02.2018 at 9:21 pm

    To the commenters above! I wholeheartedly agree with you. But let’s face it, if there wasn’t any association between the pole dancing and the sex industry this article would not have been written. Instead there would simply be another entry in the fitrec catalogue of course offerings. Pole dancing, yoga, kick boxing, volleyball.

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