Tiffany Butts comes out of a laid back position and into "the scorpion" as instructor Karen Everage looks on at Studio Fitness in Toledo.
Not everyone understands the fitness routine Karen Everage of Studio Fitness practices and teaches other women.
Three times a week, she and dozens of other women meet at the South Toledo studio to climb poles, whip their hair back and forth, and swing their hips, but it’s not what it looks like.
"We’re not entertainers or exotic dancers. That’s not what we’re about." said Ms. Everage, a pole fitness instructor and co-owner of Studio Fitness. "We’re about the fitness aspect of it. The bonus is we get to dance."
In Sylvania, about 130 women show up every week at Aegela Centers for Middle Eastern Dance, where they spend more than an hour hip-rolling and shimmying across the dance floor, but it’s more than just belly dancing.
Pole and belly dancing are by no means new, but their introduction as mediums for fitness has local women lining up at studios and fitness clubs to learn the intricacies of these dances and get in better shape.
"It’s way more fun than lifting weights or stepping up and down on a box," said Sara Thierry, a Bedford High School teacher and a pole fitness student. "It’s fun and it’s great exercise."
Pole dancing has gained popularity as an exercise form, moving from strip clubs to fitness clubs, as women learned of the physical benefits of the dance. Through conditioning and strengthening, the workout increases core and general body strength by using the body itself as resistance.
Before taking their places on the poles, the women at Studio Fitness warm up with a series of exercises and stretches. Exercises involving the pole rely heavily on upper-body strength, as women use their arms and shoulders to pull themselves up the poles.
"When they start, a lot of the ladies can’t pull their body weight up the pole," Ms. Everage said. "By the second week they can do it."
Like pole fitness, belly dancing focuses heavily on the core, with emphasis being placed on movement and muscle control.
"We’re isolating body parts and muscles, one from the other, as we use them," said Angela Fisher, better known as Aegela, owner and artistic director of Aegela Centers for Middle Easter Dance. "You’re working out without knowing that you’re working out."
Students at Aegela perform a variety of dances from countries around the globe, including Egypt and North Africa. Styles range from night club-appropriate routines to village dances.
Before class starts, the women spend several minutes stretching and warming up for dances that are filled with hip thrusts, belly rolls, constant arm movement, and fancy footwork. The moves require use of the abdomen, glutes, quadriceps, and triceps.
"It’s not just shaking your butt," said Elif Erturk, of Sylvania. "There’s a technique to it and it’s quite difficult."
The blend of creativity and fitness, mixed with a bit of sexiness, seems to be a winning combination for both of these workouts, attracting women looking for a more feminine approach to exercising.
"It has a sense of femininity about it," said Ms. Everage. "You’re combining your girliness with a tough workout."
In most cases, the result is a firmer, more toned body, especially the arms and legs, Ms. Everage said.
"They’re becoming a lot stronger," Ms. Everage said. "You can see that the muscles are more toned, especially in the arms, back, shoulders, and abdomen."
Women of all ages, sizes, and professions participate in the dance classes.
Kathy Herrera, a 52-year-old housewife, takes pole dancing, along with 40-year-old Tracy Hooker, a family practice physician, and a few college-aged students at Paulette’s Studio of Dance in West Toledo.
Aegela, is 62 and a grandmother. Some of her students include Veronica Garrett, a 50-year-old technical consultant, and Ms. Erturk, 26, who makes sandwiches at a Subway.
"We don’t have cookie-cutter types," Aegela said. "You don’t have to be in shape to do this. A woman of any shape, size and body type can do it."
Studio Fitness hosts a pole fitness class specifically for plus-size women. For some, the studios offer a sense of comfort and an atmosphere free of judgement, Ms. Everage said.
"The full-figured women, they’re afraid to go to the gym because they’re overweight," Ms. Everage said. "Instead, they come to this class because they’re with women who look like them."
Although pole dancing is now considered a legitimate form of exercise, there’s still a stigma attached to it, as the vertical poles were once considered exclusively the territory of exotic dancers and have long been permanent fixtures in strip clubs.
Instructors admit that the moves are sexy, but not sexual.
"I’m not teaching you how to rump shake," Ms. Everage said. "It’s professional. It’s a class where women can strengthen their bodies and build their confidence."
Prices for the classes range from $30 a month to $195 for a seven-week session, depending on the type of dance and studio. Drop-in rates start at $10 per class.
Many classes are pay-as-you-go and don’t require a contract, but a promise instead.
"All we ask is that they learn to like the woman looking back at them in the mirror," Aegela said.
Contact RoNeisha Mullen at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6133.
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