Lewdness and sparkly booty shorts are often associated with the idea of pole dancing.
To others who attend a one-of-a-kind studio in St. George, pole dancing is less about lust and more about fitness.
Annie Berry, owner of the only pole dancing studio in southern Utah, launched her studio, Southern Utah Pole Dance, in April when she recognized the opportunity to share a new form of fitness with her hometown. The studio is located on 348 N. Bluff Street, Suite 205.
Berry said people of all ages, skills and interests have enjoyed her classes, despite the assumptions people often hold against pole dancing because of its association with strip clubs.
“Everyone loves it,” Berry said. “It’s strength training where you’re building muscle, but it’s really fun; you’re not just sitting there doing repetitions. You’re doing something creative, and you get to dance and defy gravity.”
Berry said she teaches a variety of pole dance approaches, from modest and classy to a little more racy or saucy. She said both men and women can enjoy pole fitness. She can teach a Chinese, acrobatic and more masculine method alongside the more feminine style of pole dance.
James Gonzalez, one of Berry’s class members, said he enjoys the aerial aspects of pole fitness, and men shouldn’t be afraid to give it a try.
“It’s challenging,” he said. “It takes strength, coordination, balance and stamina.”
Berry’s level one and two classes follow a more feminine style with basic holds, spins and choreography. On the other hand, her pole tricks classes can appeal to both feminine and masculine forms of pole dance by focusing on climbs, inversions and other tricky maneuvers.
She said people of all skills and preferences can find a place in pole fitness, with or without dance experience.
“The best way to build strength for pole is to do pole,” Berry said. “So if you can’t hold your body weight, you can build up to that in the level one class, and there’s plenty of fun stuff you can do as you’re building that strength.”
Berry said she herself had little upper body strength before learning to pole dance. She wasn’t a dancer, and she lacked coordination. However, pole dance brought a whole new element of fitness into her life, just like how it can bring a whole new element to dancing itself.
“It adds another dimension to dance,” she said. “You can take it vertical, you’re climbing, you’re spinning, and you can do handstands off the pole.”
Mckayla Lees, a sophomore psychology major and dancer from St. George, said she was hooked as soon as she attended one of the free open gyms on Saturdays. She said she started researching more ways to better her body than just simple dance, and that’s when she discovered pole fitness.
“I think the biggest thing is the strength—you can gain so much strength from it,” she said. “Just from Saturday my arms are like dead, but I am excited about it because that means I’m going to grow some muscle and hopefully get better at it.”
Lees said she was a little skeptical about trying to pole dance because she wasn’t interested in a sexual focus. Feeling sexy, however, turned out to be a mere by-product.
“I’ve actually found that it’s more of a sport really, than to be sexy,” Lees said. “The fact that people can do these things just amazes me, and it takes a lot more strength to climb up a pole than just the sex part of it. That was something I was kind of concerned about, just being me, but I was like, ‘You know, it’s OK to be sexy, and if I do feel sexy, then awesome. I can be strong and sexy.’”
Erica Franco, a freshman nursing major from Grand Junction, Colo., said people often have mixed reactions when she tells them she takes pole dancing classes.
“It’s so funny because they just look at me like, ‘Pole dancing? What are you doing?’” Franco said. “But I’m like, ‘No, it’s pole fitness…It works out your whole body, (but) it’s like you don’t even know you’re working out.’”
Both Lees and Berry said the negative assumptions behind pole dancing mostly derive from ignorance.
“People want to judge you when they don’t know anything about [pole dancing], which is the hard part,” Lees said. “If you do your research, it’s not just about sex or stripping.”
Berry said her studio is more expensive than she can currently afford. Next month, she will be moving her classes into her remodeled garage. However, if demand increases and if she can find any other pole dancing instructors interested in joining her studio, she may be able to move back into the studio off Bluff Street.