High Heels, A Pole... and Me? - A Black Girl's Guide To Weight Loss

High Heels, A Pole… and Me?

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Yes. I said it.

High heels.

A pole.

…and me.

One of the things that I quickly noticed as I was losing weight, was the amount of activities that I wasn’t able to actively participate in because of my size or lack of muscle to sustain myself. I’ve written about my inability to lift myself out of a car without grabbing onto both the hood of the car and the top of the car door. I couldn’t get up from a seat without bracing myself. If I dangled from a cliff, I wouldn’t have the upper body strength to keep myself from plunging to my death.

I mean, okay… so the last one was in a dream, but shoot – I could hit a rock climbing wall! It could happen. I’m just sayin’.

Thanks to things like weight training/weight lifting, I’ve been able to fix that. I have the core strength (your core includes abdominal, back and pelvic muscles) needed to withstand most of what I throw at my body. I have the leg strength I need to get through a lot of my daily activity. My upper arm strength might not have me scaling a rock climbing wall in under 10 minutes, but I’m getting there.

At least… I thought I was.

This past Saturday, I decided to attend a pole dancing class. That’s right. Pole dancing. Conservative thoughts aside (for now), I have to admit that this class not only wore me out, but left me sweating and miserable… miserable in that “I got my behind kicked so hard that I don’t have the energy to be happy about it” kind of sense.

I know there’s someone who wants to know what on Earth compelled me to take pole fitness (the correct term), of all things.

A couple of weeks back, I got to visit one of those “Girls’ Night Out” parties that included all kinds of non-fitness related conversation… although I’m sure that if you engaged in the topic enough, you could burn a few calories. Just sayin’. The last portion of the party consisted of all of the girls watching a pole fitness routine – yes, on a nice big silver pole – and learning a trick or two of our own. As someone who’d never even touched a pole before, I was probably more excited than I should’ve, and instead of hogging all the time to myself I decided to sign up for the classes.

Yes, that's my instructor up there showin' off!

My class, hosted by Angela of Enticement Unlimited (Indianapolis), was actually pretty awesome. All I needed was my shorts and my pumps. (Those pink heels above were not mine. I was trying to get in my workout… not fall to my death.) We started out with a warm up that consisted of some pretty serious aerobic activity that had me sweating not even five minutes in. Lots of relaxing stretches to help me calm down and settle into what was about to be demanded of my body.

Did I learn how to spin on a pole? Yes. Did I learn how to do any tricks? I sure did. Did I love it? My gosh, you have no idea. I mean, you’re in a room full of women who want to get in some activity, maybe learn a few tricks to take home to “The Boo” or merely are interested in having a good time. Neither weight loss nor “OMG what will she think if she sees me doing this move too well? She’s gon’ think I’m a ho!” was on anyone’s mind in that room. It was a place of Black girls of all sizes getting it in and having fun laughing at our successes and failures on the pole.

The instructor was awesome. She paid attention to our slip ups and seemed actively interested in helping each of us execute the moves properly. I know some people complain about unattentive instructors or not having enough time to learn their routines… I’d say those were bad classes. I left my class not only excited to attend again, but really looking forward to becoming a better pole-er.

I’m sure there’s someone reading this with their face turned upside down about how slutty this is, or how this isn’t fitness. I can assure you – as someone who lifts weights twice a day, practices yoga everyday and runs every single day – you are wrong about both. Today is Tuesday – my class was Saturday and I am still sore. The amount of upper arm strength it requires to lift and hold yourself up in the air, the amount of thigh strength it takes to execute the following:

Tell me those boots aren't awesome. You'd be lying.

…and the amount of core (again: ab, pelvic and back) muscles needed to hold yourself up in the above position with no hands? Please. This is an aerobic workout of the highest degree. And the thighs that you develop from all that? That’s what I’m really looking forward to, here.

Yes, that is me... scared to death!

But it’s sexy… it’s unheard of… it sets back the movement… I don’t want to be objectified. So what if it’s sexy? Even the most conservative of us know that there is a time and a place for sensuality and sexuality… so where do you learn to tap into your sensual side? What would the harm be in taking a move or two (or a pole, for that matter) home to “The Boo” to appreciate? Like I’ve said before, I find it hard to believe society has a sensible understanding of appropriateness in sensuality and sexuality – a woman can’t enjoy something sensual or sexual without being some kind of slut or whore – and I’m not going to sit around twiddling my thumbs while they figure it out. I’ll be getting my workout on.. probably on a pole.

I’m just not willing to let something silly like stereotypes or pre-conceived notions or pettiness get in the way of my getting fit and finding an enjoyable way to do it. For crying out loud, had I let “society” get in my way earlier in the game, I’d still be 300+ lbs. I’m good on my own.

So, I say to anyone (who can shed a little insecurity and ignore misconceptions about pole fitness) who is looking for a unique and fun way to get in some activity, do a little digging. Find a good pole fitness class in your area and check it out. And don’t be afraid to enjoy it. I know I’ll be going back… I might even try to get on this girl’s level:

Trust me. I’m on it.

The proud leader of the #bgg2wlarmy, Erika Nicole Kendall writes health, fitness, nutrition, body image and beauty, and more here at #bgg2wl. After losing over 150lbs, Kendall became a personal trainer certified in fitness nutrition, women's fitness, and weight loss from the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She now lives in New York with her family, and is working on her 4th, 5th and 6th certificates.

62 Comments

  1. Ms. Nina

    June 29, 2010 at 10:01 AM

    My best friend is getting married in about a month and we’re taking her to pole dancing classes for her bachelorette party, now I’m really excited about it!

    • Erika

      June 29, 2010 at 10:07 AM

      Oh, yes – don’t be surprised if you find yourself clamoring to take your own pole fitness class! LOL!

      • Lauren

        November 27, 2011 at 1:14 PM

        I’ve been taking lessons for almost 5 years…it has changed my life!

        • Lesley

          June 10, 2013 at 9:20 PM

          Lauren, Out of curiosity, how has this changed your life? My cuzzins and I plan to do a pole dancing class to try it out. I do workout everyday in an effort to lose weight.

    • Tee

      July 26, 2011 at 1:18 PM

      I took a “beginners” pole class not too long ago for a girls party I hosted for myself and a few friends. It was oe of the BEST times I have ever had. Its a SERIOUS workout if you attend on a regular basis and LOADS of fun! I enjoyed it so much I didnt want to leave..until the more experienced girls came in and started showing off! LOL. I am a spontaneous person and will try just about anything once. I had LOTS of fun and will be returning for more classes! :)

      • Mieko

        July 23, 2012 at 11:52 PM

        Where did you go? Is it one here in Baltimore? Does weight matters bc I’m still on process with my weight loss?

        • Erika Nicole Kendall

          July 25, 2012 at 10:28 AM

          Weight matters in terms of the pole’s ability to remain upright and whether or not the pole is positioned properly between the joists in the ceiling and the floor. Anything above about 280lbs starts eeking up in the “concern” range. A good instructor should be able to accommodate this by A) keeping the routine more on the floor (as any good beginner class should, anyway); b) frequently checking the pole to make sure it’s still sturdy or C) offering an alternative class that’d allow you to still get your burn and tone on, that’d also prepare you for when you’re more able to take the pole-specific classes.

  2. Crystal

    June 29, 2010 at 10:11 AM

    I tried a pole class once and got wayyyy too frustrated to continue. it DEFINITELY requires more muscle strength than most people think.

    • Erika

      June 29, 2010 at 10:16 AM

      I feel you – I don’t think I would’ve made it back in the day, LOL.

      I must admit, though… there was a girl in my class who was a little smaller than my former size, who was KILLIN’ the pole. My instructor actually gave her “illusions” so that even though she didn’t have the upper body strength she would’ve needed to get as high up as the instructor could, she could still look great doing her moves.

      I feel like shopping for a good pole class should include watching how the instructor accommodates the members of the class who aren’t as agile as she. Because I have the strength, but I’m clumsy LOL and not once did she make me feel insecure or bad about it, LOL.

  3. JoAnna

    June 29, 2010 at 10:22 AM

    Wow…

    Great photo of you by the way. This reminded me when I was a teenager and a certified lifeguard and was also enrolled in gymanstics and karate with my cousins to keep us busy after school. Pole dancing takes a lot of flexibility, strength, and muscle control. It is sexy, the kind of sexiness that comes from being in very good physical condition and being able to pull yourself over a fence or a wall if need be. At one time, being a ballerina was considered being “slutty” in Europe, because the dancers often obtained “protectors”. Nothing was said about the men. ‘sigh’

    Funny how the men who pay to see this stuff usually aren’t nearly in as good shape as the dancers… And the women who criticize are probably the ones who can’t do any of the moves in a thousand years!Anyway, another incentive to get back to that shape waaaay back in my memory. Thanks for the suggestion.

    • Erika

      June 29, 2010 at 10:28 AM

      Wow, amazing thoughts! I wasn’t aware that ballet was looked down upon, too – amazing how puritanical we as a people can be, sometimes.

      And you’re right – pole dancing is used for “male entertainment,” and criticized by both men and women (men who reduce it to mere “adult entertainment” and women who refuse to see any value in it) – but I think we’re well beyond time for us to get over it and get into it, lol. :)

  4. Santresa

    June 29, 2010 at 10:23 AM

    OMG!!! I have to say that I’ve thought about pole dancing class but I was convinced that I was too big to try to swing from anybody’s pole. After reading your comments and watching that video, I’m all pumped and on a mission to find me a class immediately. To have that type of body strength would be wonderful and to get those thigh results…I’d be in heaven. Plus, I wanna do the things that woman did in the video!

    • Erika

      June 29, 2010 at 10:30 AM

      You absolutely should! I will say this, though – be sure to pay close attention to what I said in a previous comment – if you don’t have as much body strength as you think you’d need to hold yourself up, by all means request to sit in for ten minutes on a class to see if the instructor can/does/would accommodate you in that fashion. That was the main thing I was impressed by with my own instructor.

      Be sure to let me know if you find one! :)

    • Nikki

      May 1, 2013 at 11:31 PM

      Any ladies 200+ lbs and are interested in doing a pole fitness class fear not! I am 280 and it took me 2 months to do a pike hold (holding the pole between your thighs), but I did it. I had to go to the gym and lift weights and do push-ups between classes, and I still slid down the pole my first time (watch out for those pole kisses ladies haha). But you can do it!! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!!

  5. Sonja

    June 29, 2010 at 12:13 PM

    Oh wow!! I use to sell poles and stuff but I never tried one because I was scared I would break the pole or something, but you continue to inspire me with my weight loss and I am on day 8 of tracking!! woo hoo!! Pole fitness here I come!!

  6. Nicole

    June 29, 2010 at 2:18 PM

    I love pole dancing/pole fitness/vertical dance/whatever people want to call it! It’s the best workout, and it doesn’t feel like a workout at all because you’re having so much fun. It definitely beats the gym any day. I started in Atlanta back in 2008 and have been continuing since I’ve moved to NYC. The beauty about this is that you can make it into whatever you want it to me: slow and sensual, strong and athletic, whatever. Studios vary just like the types of pole dance. Some have levels so that you progress at a slower pace, while other have more of a drop-in feel where you can come and go as you please and progress as quickly as you want. Pole is fun with shoes, without shoes, in your underwear, in a tank top and shorts, alone and among other people. :-)

  7. PhluffyPrincess

    June 29, 2010 at 3:26 PM

    Go ‘head girl! I’ve done a class for a friend’s birthday and it was a lot of fun. Now that I am getting more physically fit I keep saying I am going to do it again. You looked great!

    • Erika

      June 29, 2010 at 6:39 PM

      Thank ya! You should definitely give it another shot – it’s so physically challenging, that you can’t help but to tone up while you’re on it! :)

  8. Eunice

    June 29, 2010 at 3:49 PM

    Oh man. Now I want a pole! I was at a “gentlemen’s establishment” this past weekend and this one girl was twisting from one side of the pole to the other using only her legs. It was ridiculous. I am majorly jealous of the core strength that required. Gonna have to look up a class in the area. :)

    • Erika

      June 29, 2010 at 8:02 PM

      Using only her legs? WTF? #gangsta LOL!

      That’s what I’m sayin – the amount of strength it takes for those who are TRULY amazing on the pole like the girl in the video? I’m trying to be on THAT level. She made that look like mid-air ballet! LOL!

  9. Rita

    June 29, 2010 at 6:43 PM

    I did a pole dancing class for my besties 25th a few months ago and I agree, it was one heck of a workout! After taking the pole dancing class and watching the instructor execute each move so easily, I quickly got my butt back on track with healthy living and eating…talk about motivation! (The few tricks I did pickup made the boo smile, yet another plus….imagine what he will do when I’m in shape and doing it even better!)

    It’s definitely an experience to be had by all. I’ve recommended it to a few co-workers who now attend class regularly to supplement their “every day” workouts.

    • Erika

      June 30, 2010 at 8:21 AM

      YES! Shoutout to good friends and good times! Nothing like celebrating a birthday with a workout. :)

  10. thewayoftheid

    June 30, 2010 at 8:50 AM

    Loves it! I’ve always wanted to try this but fear’s always gotten the best of me.

    • Erika

      June 30, 2010 at 11:01 AM

      Girl, don’t be afraid – go hop on a pole! LOL!

  11. cjbrownsc

    June 30, 2010 at 11:34 AM

    Pole fitness and belly dancing are areas that I’ve wanted to explore for awhile now. I never thought about the strength required to do pole moves until my hubby pointed that out to me one day (imagine that)! LOL
    There is a class here in my town and I may go observe after I finish my swim lessons that begin next week.
    I’m also love exercise that doesn’t feel like exercise – that is, until the next day!!

  12. Amora

    June 30, 2010 at 11:48 AM

    Yes!!! I love pole classes. I was attending SFactor in my city. My instructor Monique is FANTABULOUS!! Congrats to you for achieving your goals. I recently lost 4olbs myself. I took up pole classes to challenge myself and to keep working out interesting for myself. It was definitely a great choice!!. Love your site.

  13. Soleus17

    July 1, 2010 at 9:31 AM

    I loved every words in this post! I tried a pole fitness last fall and LOVED it. I vowed I would start and think about it now and again but haven’t yet. Thank you for rekindling a fire under my behind to go, go go! :-) Ps. I heard someone in that video say the performer had only been doing pole dancing for a year! That’s insane. She’s amazing!

    • Erika

      July 1, 2010 at 10:02 AM

      My trainer has only been doing it for a little over a year, I believe she said.. and she is THE BOMB. They’ve got me wanting to buy a pole for my house, but I can only imagine how visitors (or my little girl, for crying out loud) would feel about it. LMAO

  14. Igotloveonmy4head

    July 10, 2010 at 8:50 PM

    Wow! That youtube video was amazing. It looked like ballet…with a pole as an accessory. haha I was very impressed with how beautiful the dance was. She kept it classy all the way. Thanks for the post ma’am!

  15. Kenya

    July 17, 2010 at 3:33 PM

    I swear to God, watching and reading this has made me want to get back on my 2 a days. Wooooooooooow, homegirl KILLED that. I have always wanted to take a pole fitness class, but thought I was too large to do so. Now that I’m closer to my goal, I think I may go ahead and check it out. We have a class here locally so I may just give it a try. I’d be happy if I could do what you were doing in that picture, I imagine that it is a great workout. 3 cheers for pole fitness!

  16. victoria

    July 28, 2010 at 10:54 AM

    Girl i love it go girl

  17. Nicole

    November 4, 2010 at 10:09 AM

    Is there any irritation from rubbing against pole?

    • Erika

      November 4, 2010 at 10:19 AM

      Irritation? As in rash? No, unless you’re allergic to chrome/titanium/whatever.

      There IS soreness, but that’d be the same with any workout.

  18. rissa

    November 29, 2010 at 3:40 PM

    dunno why but it’s so hilarious to me how many responses there are to this post. Ive been wanting to take one of these classes for about 2-3 years now. i’ve decided that it’s going to be my success rewards. with the kind of shape i’m currently in, i know i wouldn’t stanad a chance. i cannot wait.

  19. Tracie G.

    January 13, 2011 at 9:17 PM

    Pole dancing is such an amazing activity…and one day I’ll be that strong. Thank you for sharing.

  20. Curlstar

    February 28, 2011 at 5:59 PM

    I have been forgetting to pull up this article again and let you know that this one inspired me. Seriously. I read this one last year and I looked for classes here in DC. I found one and I’ve been on the pole ever since! I even had my sister’s bachelorette party as a pole party. I have been loving my time on the pole. LOL My trainer has been telling me that I’ve been moving really gracefully on the pole (guess that’s the dancer in me) and that she can really see the progress that I’ve made since last year. I’m still working on getting a good pull-up though.

  21. Julianna

    April 11, 2011 at 7:54 PM

    Thank you for showing the positive side of pole dance. I teach intro to pole dance and hip hop at a polde dance studio and it’s always so shocking to people. They really think you’re literally a prostitute. There’s such a lack of respect for women who take the time to learn the pole and build the strength to do it well. It’s not for the weak, but you don’t have to be super strong to start-that’s what classews are for-to help you get better and stronger. That strength building is great for your mind as well because it’s joyous to be able to do something you never imagined you could do.

    If you’re ever in Los Angeles swing by:)

  22. Belle

    April 15, 2011 at 8:40 PM

    I love you for this, you know. I’m only just seeing this, but go you Erika!
    Do you still do classes? I didn’t realise you needed upper body strength for this! I weight train too, but I’m interested in the thigh dvpt part lol as well

  23. Latoya Jeeter

    June 18, 2011 at 10:13 PM

    Wow, I always wanted to take a pole dancing class but as you were my upper body is not as strong.

  24. Janelle

    September 8, 2011 at 3:37 PM

    Hey Erika ~ I live in Indy. Do you have the information for that class/instructor? My friends and I are starting a weight loss initiative and looking for new ways to workout. We’ve kicked the idea around for a while and would love to do a pole class.

  25. Aja

    September 8, 2011 at 4:09 PM

    I attended my 1st pole class about 3 weeks ago. I am hooked! I told my husband that I want a pole for Christmas. I LOVED the way my body felt afterwards. YES, I was most definately sore and enjoyed every moment of it. As we were learning moves I found myself deciphering which muscles were being engaged in order to execute correctly. I can just imagine how toned one can become incorporating pole fitness into their normal routine. I just hope that ppl allow themselves to to focus on the stigma attached with pole work and give it a try. They might actually surprise themselves!

  26. Lisa

    September 8, 2011 at 7:49 PM

    I have always been a conservative girl–all of my life—

    –but after reading this article and watching this video—-I am REALLY considering this. I think it will be just what I need at this juncture of my weight loss and newly adopted vegitarian lifestyle. I believe my family will think I have officially lost my mind, but what else is new. Thanks for a great website.

  27. Tee

    December 19, 2011 at 4:11 PM

    Wow… I can’t believe she’s only been doing it a year. That’s amazing. My friend started doing pole fitness classes here in LA a few months ago. When I get to a workable weight, I’ll definitely take some pole fitness classes.

    My goal isn’t just to look better, but to be stronger, more fit for the coming zombie apocalypse.

  28. DSweetone

    February 27, 2012 at 3:02 PM

    I never thought of it as exercise. I’ll have to check it out. This article was quite informing. The lady in the video seemed be very light on her toes and graceful. It made me think she may have had ballet training. In any event, I’m glad that you enjoyed it and thanks for another well written article. i’m in Chicago so maybe I can look up the instructor that you visited.

  29. Lakeshia

    April 16, 2012 at 3:18 PM

    I took the class in Feb. and was sore for an entire week. Jelly from Laurie Ann Gibson So You Think You Can Dance was our instuctor at 411 Dance Studio in Atlanta, Ga. We discovered muscles we didnt know existed in our bodies. Im so excited to attend my next class, hopefully very soon! I salute and have a new respect for all you Pole Dancers…

  30. Melissa Jones

    April 16, 2012 at 3:49 PM

    What a coincidence!! Its funny how things happen, this morning, I got an email from one of those deal websites for pole dancing classes. I have always been interested in taking them but I have just been self conscious. Forty pounds ago and before two kids, I actually had great upper body strength (at 180 lbs none the less!). I used to be able to do handstands and keep myself up while moving my legs in different positions. I was also very flexible doing splits and bridges all for no apparent reason. I’m more upset of losing that strength and flexibility than the weight I’ve gained. Rant over, I am definitely going to try this soon!

  31. Edie

    April 17, 2012 at 3:14 AM

    She is AMAZING! I’d KILL for legs like that! Great post!

  32. marie

    July 24, 2012 at 2:02 PM

    At 2.40 she holds herself withone SINGLE foot!!! Whaaaat???

    She is so sensual!

    #totallyimpressed

    • Edie

      July 24, 2012 at 5:09 PM

      IKR?! And @ 3:16 she holds herself up with what?! Her ARMPIT! She’s AWESOME!

      • marie

        July 25, 2012 at 12:55 PM

        OMG fabulous!

  33. Tatiana

    September 17, 2012 at 10:44 AM

    that video is serious!!!! I’m watching it like this O_O the whole time… i’d like to try it seems like it would give a boost of confidence and some added sexuality which is pretty awesome, gonna research some places now!

  34. Cindy

    November 1, 2012 at 1:25 PM

    I just started pole classes a week ago. I now have 4 official classes under my belt but I practice just hanging from the pole to build up my upper body strength. Last night I managed to lift both legs and swing with just my arms and I was extremely excited lol. I’m 44 and just learned how to do a handstand against the pole, first time in my life i’ve ever been able to do a handstand. I started the classes as a surprise for my man and I love it so much i’m continuing them for me. I actually feel halfway graceful when I’m dancing and goodness knows I have no rhythm and am clumsy to boot so if I can do it anybody can do it.

  35. Janna

    March 2, 2013 at 12:55 PM

    That’s so awesome! I just got too excited to see this post because I was researching where they offer these classes in my city last week lol. I’m not ready yet because I want to lose some more weight before I attempt the pole. I am bottom heavy and weak in upper body strength so I’d like to lighten up a bit first. The pole dancing sounds like fun. I’m really impressed by that photo of your instructor holding herself on the pole with her thighs lol.

  36. Darlene

    March 16, 2013 at 1:11 PM

    I absolutely love this video. I’ve been poling for almost a year and I LOVE IT!!! It is a great and fun workout. It is also my addiction :-) I take a class weekly at my local studio and I pole at home during the week. It’s fun to just play around, learn new tricks and challenge your body to do things that you never thought you could do. I think this is something that every woman should try at least once…. You’ll be amazed! Don’t get discouraged…the overall strength will come. Happy Poling Ladies :-)

  37. Jennie

    May 6, 2013 at 4:06 PM

    First time commenter here. I LOVE pole dancing. I danced at a bar during college and it was the BEST shape I’ve EVER been in, in my life. I remember after the first couple of shifts I had to take a few days off because I literally couldn’t walk.
    I’ve never been to the gym version, but when the bar was slow us girls would teach new pole tricks to each other and that was always a blast.
    Have fun! I’m totally jealous, there’s nothing like that offered in rural Iowa where I live now.

  38. Tracy

    July 18, 2013 at 2:22 PM

    I’m convinced! Read your article, watched that amazing video, looked up the closest (and best reviewed) pole studio and I am going right now to sign up for a few sessions! Oooo! So much fun and a tremendous workout! How sexy is that!!!

  39. Tara

    January 5, 2014 at 10:51 PM

    I too had been taking pole classes for several years and really enjoyed it. Having sprained my ankle last year, I’ve been out of class for almost a year now and can tell a big difference in my body. Hoping to start back again here in the near future!

  40. Keisha

    January 15, 2014 at 1:29 PM

    My sister & I are very interested in taking pole dancing (mostly me). I’m not the most flexible person & that has me a little worried. I’ve been checking out some places to go & it seems so intimidating. I know I have to start somewhere but when you’re a big girl in a room of skinny people, it can be a little discouraging. Even if they’re beginners as well. Does anyone know of a good, affordable place in NYC that they would recommend or has heard of?

  41. Melissa Craig

    June 18, 2014 at 3:40 PM

    This video is private… This has happened with a couple videos I tried watching on your blog. Strange.

    • Erika Nicole Kendall

      June 18, 2014 at 7:53 PM

      Some of these blog posts are years old, and people decide to change the permissions on their videos once they feel like they’ve gotten too popular. If you spot an old video, just dropping a quick comment to let me know will help me keep tabs on what I need to update. :)

      • Melissa

        June 18, 2014 at 9:02 PM

        Oh ok no problem! I will let ya know as I scroll through every post!!! LoL I’m loving your blog keep up the good work!!!

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