“Just go in.”
As it turns out, the voice inside me that won that day also happened to be the quietest. Under the delicate midday light of late November, I was sitting in my car outside the humble door of Aradia Fitness, nestled in a business park with children’s martial arts studios and music tutoring spaces, debating with myself whether I wanted to go through with an Introduction to Pole Fitness class.
One part of me was quite vocal about how I would certainly be facing skinny college-age women who would probably ridicule my physique, and how I would most likely make a fool of myself. Another part of me dwelled on the thousands of dollars I had already spent on dental implants as a result of a childhood injury of falling flat on my face—what if I fell and hurt or mangled myself again? These loud, obnoxious voices debated back and forth internally until a smaller voice cut through.
“Maybe you’ll have fun. Maybe this is what you need. Just go in.”
So I went in, and I was surrounded by an array of equally terrified-looking women, some of whom were indeed collegiate, but others who appeared to be my age and above. There were all sorts of bodies, some slender, some Rubenesque. We made nervous small talk until we were greeted by the studio owner, Neelam.
Perhaps it was something in the color of her eyes or the sound of her voice, but Neelam radiated amber and honey, as if she were sunlight personified. She told us a brief story about her own dance and fitness journey, and as she stood illuminated by the afternoon glow cutting through the deep red curtains, the whole place felt exotic yet inviting, a little ruby oasis in the middle of suburbia. While even the mere sight of poles felt intimidating at first, Neelam helped us relax. She has this unyielding quality of calming everyone around her, and putting fears to rest. Her hugs are an indescribable medicine. That day, I stumbled my way through a few spin attempts but had fun practicing some body waves and catlike moves on the floor.
In the first month, I didn’t quite feel sexy or empowered. But, I did feel challenged, as though I was a child learning a new language, trying to memorize a few basic words through repetition. More than anything, what brought me back to Aradia after that first class was the sensation in my shoulders the next morning. I was sore in muscles I had never activated before. I had spent my entire life involved in some kind of physical activity—volleyball, golf, basketball, running, various Beachbody home fitness DVD programs—but I had never felt soreness in that particular spot. I was also sobered by how weak I was in other areas, and felt determined to pursue the kind of core strength that pole dancers and aerial gymnasts display. I knew that this kind of movement would be stimulating and different, and it was introduced to me at a time when I needed change.
October 2017 found me in a new job role with a better commute but a distinct lack of social support and diversity. Other than my boss, my office only had one other woman in it. My best friend in the area had just delivered a baby that month, and so my life both inside and outside of work felt deprived of camaraderie and sisterhood. By November, I became desperate for something to keep me motivated, and so a quick Google search of places where I could learn a form of dance that had always intrigued me revealed the Aradia studio in Ashburn, which had numerous glowing reviews.
The second class I signed up for was one called Liquid Motion, because the description emphasized more floorwork. Knowing that I needed to build up my strength and coordination to keep going with actual pole training, I thought Liquid sounded like a nice supplement that would develop some skills without leaving the ground. That was when I met the instructor, Karen, who is the living dichotomy of sensual and maternal. She exudes a hard core rocker chick vibe, always looking like she stepped out of an epic music video. Ultimately, she is a badass who cares for her students deeply; I have seen more than one woman come to class and break down in tears over some personal trauma, and Karen responds with comfort and strength, taking time to guide them away from pain, loss, or anger. Then, when Karen performs, she is alluring and coy, an icon of feminine movement. When you see her dance, you understand the dedication, discipline, and hard work behind the architecture of her muscles. She has an eye for details, and in simple tweaks to the position of your head or leg, changes something from impossible to possible. Liquid Motion clicked with me because it was the class where I first felt like I could say something beautiful with my body, which I previously often regarded with disgust or shame. Even when my simple toe point became a little straighter, I felt proud and eager to train harder.
Then there is Jenna, who combines physics and philosophy in her artistic approach to pole. She emphasizes the concept of opposition, which applies not only to the actual dynamics of spinning, but to creating aesthetically pleasing shapes with one’s body. She demonstrates endless patience with me, and watches my face with concern when I try to do a few spins in front of her. “I don’t think you’re quite feeling the joy of flying yet,” she says to me, and she’s got a point: I have been so focused on trying to execute these movements that I am growing increasingly frustrated by my inability to get things right. Her solution? “I want you to go back to the very basics, and just play with the sensation of swinging around the pole, even if you’re only doing a dip, so that you can really do this with abandon.” Jenna has a knack for finding her students’ strengths and building upon them, and has managed to snap me out of creeping dismay or defeat on several occasions.
There are so many other teachers at Aradia who are just as compassionate and talented, and I can’t wait to work with them all as I (slowly) progress up the skill ladder.
When I look back on the last several months, what I recognize in myself is profound emotional growth in addition to the physical changes. That aspect, to me, is something I have never gained while running on a treadmill in a crowded gym. I have developed, little by little, a stronger sense of self-worth and expressiveness. I feel like smiling much more. I take pictures of myself. I hear songs on the radio while I’m walking the dog and suddenly find myself doing some kind of toe drag or hair flip because I feel inspired. I still worry about things in my life, but now I have a few hours a week where, surrounded by ruby curtains and twinkling lights, I can take a breath. I can feel elevated by my classmates, like Jeanine, a nurturer whose laughter is contagious, and Kay, whose strength and confidence I wish to someday achieve.
A question posed by one of our visiting instructors, Nia, resonates with me still: “who is she?”
I’m still finding out. I’m still creating her.
But for those who are still hesitant about embarking on such a journey, for anyone trying to muster the courage to put on some skimpy shorts and sky-high heels, my advice is this:
Just go in.
By Our Student Liz.