OCEANSIDE — Pole dancing may not be the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks about exercise, but for dancers at Darkside Fitness it’s the best way to get fit.
Pole dance and its cousin, aerial dance, which uses silk ropes and hanging hoops as an apparatus instead of a pole, have been trending as alternative forms of physical fitness in the last few years.
Arianna Lasche was previously a dancer in her youth, but as an adult couldn’t find an avenue to continue it — until she found pole dancing. For her, the workout she gets from it doesn’t compare to anything else.
“I gained a lot more strength than I did from doing any other sport,” Lasche said. “After I started pole, I was actually able to do pull-ups in the gym.”
Lasche said pole is a “much better workout” than lifting weights.
“I didn’t even recognize it though because it was so much fun,” she said.
Andrea D., the owner of Darkside Fitness, said most of her dancers agree that pole dancing is a lot more enjoyable than going to the gym.
“We get a lot of girls that don’t like working out and want something more fun,” she said. “You don’t even realize you’re getting a workout, but you’re engaging your shoulders, your core, your whole body.”
Andrea prefers The Coast News not use her last name due to the stigma pole dancing has behind it, and because she also works as an occupational therapist. In fact, Andrea is planning to add a therapy office in the upstairs of her studio soon.
As an occupational therapist who also teaches pole dancing, Andrea pays close attention to proper technique and ensures that her beginner students get the modifications they need when learning dances.
Andrea opened her studio in 2015 after a few years of teaching pole dancing at another studio. When she first got into the style years before that, she thought of it as a joke.
“I was like, ‘Oh, this would be funny,’ and I didn’t really think it was going to be legit,” she said. “Then I went and took a class and it was actually really fun and really challenging.”
Like Lasche, Andrea was previously a dancer who was looking to continue the practice as an adult. Nothing stuck like pole dancing.
Andrea also didn’t immediately have the upper body strength that pole dancing takes. Like most beginners, it was something that she trained her body to learn through consistency.
“Most people have no upper body strength, and it’s pretty rare that somebody has the strength to do this stuff immediately,” Andrea said.
She encourages dancers to come twice a week to keep up the consistency and build their strength. Once or twice a month won’t cut it, she said.
Pole dancing even has different styles: slow and sexy, which is Andrea’s main style; exotic, which is the quintessential stripper style; and contemporary, which is influenced by lyrical and modern dance styles.
Platform heels are also part of the pole dancing style, though many beginners opt not to wear them. The heels range between 6 and 10 inches and definitely make pole more challenging the higher the length — but also make it more fun for dancers.
Lasche noted that the heels’ arch isn’t super steep and that most of the shoe is the platform anyway, plus dancers are strapped in and secured.
“They’re like serious equipment,” Lasche said.
Some of Andrea’s dancers are strippers who have started taking classes with her to learn new tricks or to clean up their style.
Andrea explained that many women who work as strippers jump into the dance by learning on their own or from other women in the clubs where they work. This often leads to poor form, which can result in injury.
“I think it’s good that they come learn from someone who has a master’s in occupational therapy and learn how to protect their bodies,” Lasche said.
Though Andrea welcomes dancers who are strippers and supports their choice, she doesn’t promote stripping and feels that it is an unhealthy lifestyle.
Andrea has learned a lot about people since opening her studio and even since she started pole dancing. During her time dancing and teaching pole, she has received lots of backlash over the dance style.
“When I first started, I lost a whole group of friends who didn’t like what I did,” she said. “From what I’ve seen, it tends to be insecure women who are very judgmental and men that just can’t see pole anything other than something sexual.”
For Andrea, pole dancing isn’t just about feeling sexy.
“It’s more just about being confident with yourself and feeling good about yourself and your physical appearance,” she said.
Andrea has watched dancers go from being nervous and intimidated in their first pole dancing classes to gaining tons of confidence beyond just the studio.
Some women have divorced after starting pole.
“They didn’t have good relationships to start,” Andrea said. “Pole gave them confidence and their men didn’t like it.”
On the flip side, Lasche said pole has also brought couples closer together.
“I had been with my guy for a year when I started pole, and he’s so happy to see me doing something I love,” she said. “Having him be able to see me find a way to express myself again and blow off steam and starting to feel good about just being in my skin — I think it just makes people better off.”
Samantha Nelson covers Oceanside, Camp Pendleton and the decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. She earned her journalism degree from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, and has previously reported for The Athens Messenger in Athens, Ohio, and USA Today in McLean, Virginia. Follow her on Twitter: @samm1son