Sarah Tuff Dunn | Seven Days

Outside, it’s sunny and 50 degrees. Inside North End Studio B in Burlington, it’s a sultry 70 degrees — the perfect temperature to start stripping down and doing some pole dancing.

The stereo plays a slowed-down version of U2’s “With or Without You,” and the clock reads 11:45. That’s 11:45 a.m. Yep, it’s the middle of the day, and I’m working out with a bunch of women, not hanging out with ogling men.

Pole dancing is a fitness trend that’s been sweeping the nation. In the process, it seems to be stripping pole performance of its sleazy strip-club reputation. Wrap your head around this: According to its practitioners, pole dancing is now a holistic, dance-based approach to wellness.

Alison Mathes teaches this class through Bohemienne Fitness, her new business housed at Studio B. A dancer since age 5, Mathes moved to Essex in 2014 with her husband and young son. She founded Bohemienne Fitness “to inspire strong bodies and healthy minds through the unique power of pole, aerial and dance arts for adults,” as her mission statement reads.

The setup at Bohemienne, which Mathes says is the only pole dance studio in Vermont so far, resembles that of just about any fitness studio. That is, except for the five brass poles spaced around the room.

 

We ladies — seven of us, with an age range of twenties through forties — begin to warm up by making our arms float toward the ceiling and stretching our hip flexors with a few lunges on each leg. “So we can split someday!” promises Mathes.

After a few yoga moves, such as the cobra and child’s pose, we partner up on the poles and listen to Mathes’ instructions. “The mantra of pole dancing is ‘shoulders back and down,'” she says. “All of your latissimus dorsi muscles, down to your waist — you should feel like a superhero.”

I feel more like the Joker as I attempt to wrap my right leg around the pole to perform a few oblique crunches to Rihanna’s “Titanium.” I’m certain I’m going to fall smack on my left butt cheek. But I manage to hang on and find that negotiating the reps is a legitimate workout.

Melaney Pettini and Alison Mathes - MATTHEW THORSEN
Melaney Pettini and Alison Mathes | Photo by: Matthew Thorsen

“It’s great body-weight exercise,” Mathes explains. “When we pull our weight up onto the pole, it creates a lot of strength in the upper body, and that’s typically a place where women struggle; they feel like their upper body is a problem area.”

My “problem area” may be coordination, which will be tested later in the class. But first we cheer after Mathes says, “All right, guys, we’re going to dance now!”

We begin pole “walks” — essentially prancing around the shaft, using ballet-inspired moves mixed with some swagger. Think swinging hips, proud chests and bare toes dragging across the hardwood floor. “We create a lot of body awareness through our dance training,” Mathes says. “It’s athletics and it’s artistry at the same time, and that’s what I love about it.”

I pause between pole walks to watch the other women in the class. (Elsewhere, men reportedly are pole dancing, too, but not yet at Bohemienne Fitness, though the classes are open to anyone 18 and up.) Wearing loose tops and shorts, they look comfortable, happy and focused on their progress while also having a good time.

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