pole dancing



It’s nearly seven thirty in the evening at the Aphrodite Pole Dance Fitness Studio near Venice beach, the door is pushed shut, the lights are dimmed, and Gabrielle Gumbs, the dance instructor, flicks on a song from her 90’s mix tape.

As the music starts, Anastasia, Triya and Katie slowly, rhythmically, migrate from the walls towards the three poles dotted around the room. I feel like I’m in the middle of a scene from Showgirls, or the set of a Britney Spears video.

“They were doing what we call freestyling,” said Gumbs, afterwards, as the girls grabbed water, sweaters and runners. “We always finish our classes like that. It’s a nice way to end things.”

Then someone spoils the nice ending by sticking their head around the door and asking us to leave – the next class is waiting. But while we might have had to leave a little early, pole dancing as a fitness craze isn’t going anywhere.

Rather than go the way of most fads—of dying out as swiftly as it arrives—pole dancing has gathered momentum over the years. When I did a Google search of pole dancing studios around my home, I was surprised to find about four or five of them within a two or three-mile radius – I had expected to find that many in the whole of Los Angeles.

What started out roughly seven years ago as niche and a little bit underground has slowly worked its way into the mainstream, said Gabrielle. And she credits a fair portion of the popularity to how pole dancing classes offer women a safe environment to get together without judgment or competition.

“And it’s fun,” said Katie, who has been pole dancing on and off for seven years. “It’s one of those places where women can come together in a really empowering, uninhibited way. That’s so important. There’s not that many places we can do that.”

Each of the girls got into pole dancing for different reasons. Gabrielle was made to take a class by her acting coach, who thought that learning to pole dance would make Gabrielle less conscious of herself, more confident and a better actress.

“And she was right,” she said.

Anastasia was looking for something different to do. While for Katie, the inspiration stems from a trip to Vegas.

“I was in this nightclub and this bouncer came up to me and put me on a box and told me to pole dance. I didn’t have a clue what to do,” she said, before bursting out laughing. “Now I do though.”

And what they each get out of it is so much more than just a workout – though rest assured, you do get a workout.

“You have to work very part of your body,” said Triya, who, with what appears to be a few Cirque de Soleil tricks up her sleeve, has been pole dancing for two and a half years. “You have to watch the bruises, too.”

On the studio website, Gabrielle writes how it’s important to “believe that you’re beautiful, because when you believe it, so does everybody else. Sex appeal comes from within.” And she said that everyone who goes through her studio leaves feeling more confident about themselves, about their body, and as a consequence, about their sexuality.

“You leave feeling like a bad ass,” she said. 

As popular as pole dancing may be, it still hasn’t made its way to everyday dining table conversation.

“I don’t lead with that information, let’s just put it that way,” said Katie, laughing. Some of the girls haven’t told certain family members and friends for fear of what they might think. “I don’t discuss it at work. That’s my professional life. It’s separate.”

Then there’s the issue of guys asking for private performances.

“No. I’m very strict about that,” said Gabrielle. “They have to earn the right to see a performance. They have to earn it. It’s not something that’s just given away.”

Nevertheless, whatever stuffy associations are still attached to pole dancing have been greatly washed away over recent years. Go online and you’ll find a laundry list of pole dancing competitions. You’ll even find pole dancing conventions.

And while Gabrielle does organize the odd performance by the girls at her studio, it’s not the reason she teaches. She gets a greater kick out of seeing the change in the people who come through the doors, watching them alter as they grow in self-esteem.

“It’s never intimidating. We laugh at ourselves all the time,” said Katie. “I can honestly say I’m now at a point where I’m probably the most comfortable I’ve felt about myself, and that’s thanks to these classes.”