Pole Fitness 101
Pole dancing is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s also not what everyone thinks it is. Pole fitness instructor Vesna Jacob and her students delve into pole fitness and what it really means for women today to be doing it.
‘’Growing up, the pole was a very distant thing like you would watch it on TV and in movies. Back then, the Internet was not such a rage. Pole for me, growing up was a far-fetched idea and the fact that it was something I would dream of. You know, it’s something other people do; it’s not me. And now that I am doing it, it’s so strange but normal for me to be doing it. I never thought that would be possible when I was a child; it was a very distinct dream. Cool people do it, and I could never do it. Now, I feel like it’s within our reach, and that gives me confidence.’’ - Vanya
When you think of pole dancing, scenes of actresses doing highly sexualised dances might come to mind; exotic dances that seem far removed from your reality.
If you’ve never heard of pole dancing being used as a way to keep fit, you’re not the only one. For too long, there has been an idea that pole dancing is highly sexual, and no person would consider it to get fitter. You may wonder, how can swinging around a pole help you get toned?
To gain more clarity on what pole dancing is and how it can help, we spoke to pole fitness instructor Vesna Jacob and her students.
What is Pole Fitness?
Pole dance combines dance and acrobatics and revolves around the use of a vertical pole. Pole fitness is an extension of pole dance but utilises the pole as more than a medium for dancing. Many people may find it odd that poles can be used as a way to work out, but they require tremendous willpower and strength. Balance and agility are needed to ensure that you are holding onto the pole optimally with your body. Your body weight and core strength are ultimately what helps you stay on the pole, and it is one of the hardest workouts you will experience. From your hands that grip onto the pole to your thighs that are used to navigate movement, there are many facets to pole fitness.
‘’I started with a trial class first, about a month ago. It was more of an introductory session, and then I got involved with the beginner class’’ says Janhavi.
Many students in Vesna’s class get started with a trial class. Vesna tries to do trial classes once every two weeks to give people a chance to experience pole fitness. Pole fitness is not commonly found even in New Delhi, and her trial classes are a way to encourage people to try out new things that can be out of their comfort zone.
As Vesna says, ‘’I always say that this is my affair. I have my marriage (Pilates and physiotherapy), and pole fitness is my affair. The experience was humbling for me. We all have, as women, regardless of where we grew up, insecurities like, oh, am I too skinny or am I too fat? When you get on the pole and start learning, all of that starts becoming secondary. You start becoming so much more accepting of your body and start realising you have everything.’’ For her, the belief that doing pole fitness is more than just regaining physical strength is what she aspires to relay through her classes. For many of her students, it is a sentiment they relate to, helping them stay focused on themselves during classes.
‘’I was a classical Bharatnatyam dancer pre-COVID, and I wanted to get core strength and additional exercise. Vesna stepped in and is now helping me get there.’’ COVID was a disruptor to many people’s lives, and Vesna’s classes have become a way for people to regain what they lost during that period.
Related story: Make Leg Day Fun:5 Type of Squats
Feeling a Sense of Empowerment
‘’I was extremely conscious of my body. While people tell me I have a great body, I can’t seem to believe that. Even during the trial class, I was looking at my body and finding faults. Doing these classes has made me comfortable in my own skin,’’ says Taruna. Learning to be comfortable in who you are and how you look can be challenging for everyone, but taking action to change that narrative is equally hard. Understanding that your body is capable of so much more than just how it looks can be incredibly empowering.
Vanya says, ‘’I had a baby two years back, and I couldn’t get back to my pre-pregnancy body or fitness levels because COVID had hit. So, I completely lost all my strength. It’s fun, it’s something I knew I would love, and something that will help me get my strength back’’
Related story: 6 Moves To Ease Back Pain
Whether it’s Malaika Arora or Jacqueline Fernandes, item songs utilising the pole have been common for a long time. But, rather than empowering women to try something new, it has sexualised the dance form and downplayed its other aspects. ‘’I was watching this series with my mom when a pole dancing scene came up. This girl was pole dancing, but the inherent nature of the girl that they’re showing is that she’s characterless. Pole fitness is by far the toughest exercise I’ve done, and it’s not at all sexual’’ says Taruna.
The sexualisation of pole dancing is nothing new though. Women dancing seductively to entice male crowds has been a historical phenomenon, and while that might still be the story today, instructors like Vesna are trying to change that. Today, many people think that pole fitness is more about sports than seductiveness, and that’s a change that’s happening for the better.
‘’I play sexy songs, so you feel sexy and comfortable. It’s not for somebody else, it’s for you. If I am comfortable in my own skin, what will I do with my body, my life, whatever I want, it’s up to me. I can never be objectified, because I am the protagonist of my own life, and that starts with inner confidence,’’ says Vesna.
Related story: Top Five Fitness Myth And Why They Don't Help
Gaining Power on Your Terms
‘’If this (pole fitness) can be within our reach, then it can be a stepping stone for other things. I am going to consciously use this, I got this opportunity and I want to cash on it as much as I can. I’m going to cling onto the pole and use it to my advantage in other areas of my life as well.’’ – Vanya
Too often, women are unable to feel in control of their lives, and it can lead to a feeling of despair and helplessness. A 2015 study published in the National Library of Medicine reveals that women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression compared to men, and historical patriarchy is a contributing factor to it. A University of Virginia 2011 study showed that women are 47 per cent more likely to sustain severe injuries in car accidents because the safety features are predominantly designed for men, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Throughout generations, women have been unable to gain power and control, whether it’s due to a lack of education, societal standards, and parental expectations.
‘’I suffer from this condition called hyperhidrosis, which is extremely sweaty palms and feet. It’s not related to anxiety, but sometimes being out with people brings it out. The pole was just to see if I could do it because I can’t do many other things. Vesna has just made it feel like it’s such a normal thing. Right now, I don’t think so much, and now I don’t think so much before trying out new things’’ – Sathvika
Whether it’s a medical condition or anything else, acknowledging flaws and moving on from them is important. For Vesna’s students, pole fitness is a way to acknowledge what they’re lacking and how they can grow from it.
Reltaed story: Common Mistakes People Make At Gym
Controlling Your Narrative
Have you ever heard a piece of gossip about yourself that was absolutely not true? Opinions can have a way of wreaking havoc on anyone mentally, especially when it’s consistently done over time. Controlling your narrative and understanding how to react to it can be difficult. For Vesna’s students, even telling family and friends about pole fitness is challenging. ‘’Mom knows, dad knows it as a fitness class,’’ as everyone else nods in agreement; it reflects the state of life for many women today.
Being liberated in your body and mind is not good enough for society to become accepting of new ideas, even when it’s sorely needed. What feels good for you might not necessarily be okay with everyone else, and maintaining a fine balance between the two is all women have been taught to do. Taking control of your narrative by doing things that feel empowering for you is crucial, and pole fitness is exactly about that.
‘’This is a good medium for letting go. There is so much to grab onto and let go of when you are on the pole. You don’t hear anything, including opinions, when you are on the pole.’’ – Raruya
Understand that not everything is meant to go your way, but it doesn’t have to control and shape your narrative. ‘’It’s an achievement that needs to be celebrated. I don’t want to let go of it.’’
Related story: Beginner's Guide To Pre-Workout Supplement
Making the Most of Pole Fitness
‘’Lots of people think you have to be a certain way or behave a specific way to do pole fitness. I want to make it accessible, that whoever you are or wherever you are coming from, you can do pole fitness.’’ – Vesna
Learning how to let go of cultural restrictions and societal expectations will never be a walk in the park. There are times when you’re going to question whether you’re doing the right thing. But ultimately, it’s a journey of self-discovery and understanding what makes you tick. Pole fitness isn’t restricted to gender, body size, or even age. If you are dedicated, it’s time to break barriers that have kept you shackled this long.
‘’I wanted something to break the monotony of everyday life. I just wanted to see what else I can do.’’
Here is some other fitness inspiration to kickstart your journey: