CHICAGO - In a small fitness studio in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood earlier this week, Patty Yaconis taught a pole dancing class to a handful of women dressed in metallic booty shorts and crop tops. Wearing a tank top and capri leggings, Yaconis started by instructing women through a series of stretching techniques in a room lined with full length mirrors. A speaker blasted a sensual song.
Drama and exaggeration are the name of the game in pole dancing. A dancer starts with small, sexy strolls around the pole followed by short spins and the occasional body roll or hip swing. Beginners then complete moves like the fireman, walking around the pole while holding it with their inside arm. Leaning outward and using their momentum, they hook an ankle around the pole, completing a series of spins downward.
"Yes - that's beautiful! Feel the move, keep the posture up!" Yaconis said to the class of beginners.
Coming off of last weekend's Super Bowl performance and sex positive media like the film "Hustlers," women across Chicago are swarming local pole dancing classes with hopes of mimicking the iconic Jennifer Lopez, fitness club owners said. While pole dancing is often stigmatized for being overtly sexual, dancers are hoping to embrace the sexy while highlighting the physical and confidence boosts that come with swinging on a metal pole.
"Everyone is calling me because of J.Lo. If J.Lo can do it, they can too," said Francesca Garcia, owner of Fempress Fit in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood. "This is a skill just like any other, you have to practice it."
Back at the Lakeview class, Yaconis grew tired of demonstrating in slippery leggings, so she took off her pants and continued teaching in a pair of velvet gray underwear. Yaconis said bare thighs grasp the pole best. In pole, only amateurs wear pants.
"Pole dancing is sexy, it's sexy for both men and women but it is also very fitness driven," Yaconis said. "Pole is a little of everything, if you want to come and dance and have a good time that's wonderful, but you can become more advanced in moves and build strength."
Yaconis said new clients are often shocked to find out the difficulties of lifting one's body. Pole dancing incorporates cardio and strength techniques combined with dancing and flexibility.
"I emphasize to older women that I'm over 50 and have been doing this for 6 years," she said. "It's a great workout for building that upper body strength as we get older. If you aren't doing weights or upper body strength, women lose that."
Climbing and straddling the pole requires traction and dedication. One participant wore padded knee pads to protect from possible falls. Like football players watching tape, many propped their cell phones along the mirrors to capture video and watch how high they could climb.
Garcia, who has been pole dancing since 2007, is a certified fitness instructor and has a pole dancing certification. Pole dancing became a way out of her corporate job and into a more interesting fitness regimen.
Sarah Abboud started taking classes at Fempress Fit early last fall. Abboud was inspired to start pole dancing because of her academic research on sexual health and health promotion.
"It just combines dancing with a lot of physical activity and strength building," she said. "The space is also very positive and supportive. Over time it felt like a kind of therapy. There's a focus on enjoying my body and what I want to do."
Dancing in stilettos is the next level of advancement. A beginners heel is about five inches with a two-inch shoe box platform, Garcia said. Like a good pair of snow boots, professional dance stilettos have a ribbed rubber bottom.
One dancer at Fempress Fit, Jade White, has graduated to dancing in red lace-up boots with an eight inch heel. Each shoe weighs about two pounds.
"I love the shoes," White said. "I love the strength and flow that happens when I dance. It's like a girls club, there's no competition, we're trying to lift each other up as we lift ourselves up."
Formerly in the Navy, White said pole offered her a supportive and predominantly female environment.
"It's not my problem is someone sexualizes my dancing, I'm doing it for me," White said. "I spent a lot of time with beefed up boys. A male dominated gym isn't my happy place, this is my happy place."
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