[Johannah D. Wilson | Myrtle Beach Online]

“The beauty of pole fitness is that anyone can really do it, and it is fun.”

Disco lights shimmer against shadows dancing in darkness as music blasts through a sound system being blessed by the voice of Nina Simone.

“Birds flying high. You know how I feel. Sun in the sky. You know how I feel. Breeze drifting on by. You know how I feel. It’s a new dawn. It is a new day. It is a new life for me. Yeah …Ooh. And I’m feeling good.”

The bodies belonging to the shadows are energized by Simone’s “Feeling Good,” as they swirl around a pole to her mellow crooning.

Here, during an acrobatic workout that is graceful and a tad naughty, Ashley Spalding is leading the charge to gain or maintain ultimate wellness, inside and out.

“The beauty of pole fitness is that anyone can really do it, and it is fun,” said Spalding, who was recently voted No. 1 Fitness Trainer by readers of The Sun News for Best of the Beach 2016. “Women who are physically fit who want a challenge do it, as well as women who are over 300 pounds and everything in between.”

This 35-year-old beauty is a beast about grinding to help folks get the bodies they desire. As the lead aerial and personal trainer at Wicked Fitness in Myrtle Beach, she plays the role of cheerleader and sergeant to those who seek her out.

“She is encouraging,’’ said Jodie Rowe, band teacher at St. James Middle School. “She is supportive, but she is also hard on you in a good way. You feel encouraged to do it for yourself and for her.”

Rowe’s 33-year-old frame has lost 17 pounds in one month with Spalding’s assistance. She not only gives Rowe nutritional advice, but she also guides Rowe and others through a vigorous weekly workout known as “Boot Camp,” held Thursdays prior to pole dancing fitness.

“Ashley has a good spirit,” Rowe said. “She is always happy when we come in here. We come in here and begin exercising and we think we are going to die.”

Tiny, but tough, Spalding engages clients in challenging regimes that cause them to be mindful of what they eat during the time they’re pushing themselves to unknown fitness limits. Yet, her teaching style makes the most demanding moves manageable.

“Push it up ladies,” Spalding said to clients working on leg stretches designed to create firm bottoms after they wrapped up a robust workout on the pole. “Push it up ladies. Our booties will thank us later. Feel the burn ladies. Feel the burn.”

When the intensive stretching was over and the groans and moans subsided, Spalding said, “See, you didn’t die. You ladies did it. You all are awesome.”

Spalding knows, as most of us do, that when it comes to shedding pounds, pain partners with gain. Muscles we didn’t know existed start aching, and our bodies are sore in places we can’t locate. Yet, we don’t let our hurts hinder our hopes.

Spalding understands. She is a petite 5-foot-3 weighing 127 pounds. Now. There was a time, however, when she had at least 40 extra pounds on her current and arguably hot body. The former U.S. Marine, professional model, makeup artist, bartender and bar manager keeps it real and relatable.

“I have severe fibromyalgia, which actually got me medically discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps,” she said. “In order to no longer be on massive amounts of medication, I decided I was going to try and control it through diet and exercise. When I did, I kind of fell in to aerial arts by accident in searching for my passion.”

Since pole fitness swung into her life nine years ago, Spalding has added more specialties to her extensive resume. Her classes include belly dancing, cardio bar (ballet moves with cardio), twerking and a class using stability balls, and one that specifically targets bellies, booties and arms.