Photographs by Alicia Wilkinson
Sometimes I regret my sheer lack of sexiness and smooth femininity. Like when I laugh so hard I snort. Or like the time I tripped over an extension cord and spilled a cup of tea all over the front of my shirt. Or the time I was walking down the street, my nose buried deep in a battered copy of 1984, and I ran face-first into a utility pole.
So when a friend told me I could take pole-dancing classes, I was intrigued. Here was my chance to learn the “art of sexy” which the public school system so resoundingly failed to teach me. Here was my chance to feel fully like a woman, free of tea-stained shirts once and for all.
My friend recommended Poledello, a winkingly-named studio located in downtown Tacoma. She’s student there, and if her Facebook page was any testimony, she could do some wicked cool stuff on the pole.
After enlisting two other sexily-challenged women to take a class with me, we showed up for our first lesson. We pulled onto Commerce Street and exited the car, quizzically surveying the neighboring drag theater, medical marijuana dispensary, and hookah bar.
We entered the studio, and before us, seven shining sixteen-foot tall poles rose from clean, inviting hardwood floors toward the heavens. As class began, we were instructed to pick a pole. I took the one in the far left corner, feeling awkward in a pair of booty shorts I’d never worn outside of my apartment. But ten minutes in, I was distracted from my desperation to hide myself, having already broken a sweat. Thirty minutes in, and the muscles in my legs were aching.
By the time the hour-long class was over, I was sweat-soaked, my arms and legs were sore, and my inner thighs bruised from squeezing the pole. But I was smiling. Big. Like from ear to ear.
I found I didn’t (yet) possess the upper body strength to pull myself up the pole, but I could rock the hell out of some “dirty bunnies” (basically a sexy bump and grind from a squatting position against the pole). The hour had flown by: it had been a blast and also an incredible workout.
I could tell if I put in the hard work and commitment to “practicing pole”, I could end up gaining some pretty amazing skills. This is something Noelle Wood, owner and instructor at Poledello, makes very clear. Pole, Noelle says, “is not for the faint of heart.”
Noelle has been practicing pole for seven years, and first discovered it in her native California, when she attended a bachelorette party where the guests would be pole-dancing. “I was the one who didn’t want to go,” Noelle confides, but she ended up loving it. She eventually made her way up to Washington, where “there was not a lot happening” vis-à-vis pole dancing. She opened her studio in 2009 and is still here “on a wish and a prayer.”
When asked if her 7th and Commerce Street location has been problematic, Noelle says no: “It’s been fine, no problems,” she says of her colorful neighbors. “Many of the surrounding businesses are open until 2 AM. They look out for us. Our clientele has been fine. There’s been no trouble.”
Of course, most people do not think of pole-dancing as a workout. They instead associate pole-dancing with strippers and strip clubs, lap-dances and champagne rooms, and oversexed, ogling men.
“(The association with strippers) doesn’t bother me,” Noelle claims matter-of-factly, “because that’s where it came from. It’s important to respect that. It’s not a bad thing. It doesn’t have to be taboo. Without the strippers, we wouldn’t be doing it.”
In practicing pole, Noelle and her students experience increased stamina, strength, and endurance.
Pole is strength-building, especially for women, because it forces them to use the upper body, which tends to get neglected. “It’s a full body, full mind workout,” says Noelle.
Some people do come to Poledello strictly for the sex factor. Most of these people end up taking the sensual workshops Poledello offers which don’t all involve pole-dancing. They learn about sensual dancing and sometimes even lap-dancing. But many other students come because of an existing interest in dance, ballet, gymnastics, circus arts, or for a great strength-building exercise.
Over the past three years, Poledello has even had two strippers come in and take classes, strictly to learn new tricks to make more money.
Poledello also has three male students. And, Noelle shares, they all really enjoy practicing pole. She would like to see more men doing it, so they would “respect pole-dancing more…so they would see how hard and challenging it really is. You have to want it. It takes a lot of commitment and dedication. It is not an immediate thing. You see benefits as you go, but as far as mastering it, it takes time. It takes technique and strength to master it. I would like men to see that.”
Students at Poledello can attest to the fact that pole is indeed extremely challenging, but also immensely rewarding.
Sandra Mathis sums up pole in one word: empowerment. “I’ve never felt more alive and sexy in all my life,” says Mathis. “I’ve been taking classes for just over a year now and am doing pole tricks I never thought were possible.”
Angie Darby states: “I was amazed by the intensity and I believe that this may be one of the most challenging, yet rewarding, sports I have ever undertaken.”
Noelle is currently planning a full-scale production, taking place in October, to introduce anyone who is curious to pole-dancing. The production will spoof Twilight and feature pole-dancing vampires and werewolves, with full lighting, a stage, and drinks.
Noelle Wood’s vision for pole-dancing doesn’t stop with her studio. She would like to see state-sanctioned competitions in Washington, which doesn’t yet have them. She wants people to see pole as both an art and a sport, as beautiful, challenging, and requiring incredible skill and technique.
“I would like (pole) to be put into the mainstream,” Noelle tells me. “Not at a bar, not at a club, but in a convention center, in a competitive fitness setting, so people can see what it really is.”
Can’t wait until the October production to check out the Poledello? Check out the Poledello open house on Friday, June 8 at 8 pm. Admission is free.