In the trailer for “Hustlers,” Jennifer Lopez, in character as a ruthless and ambitious strip club employee, takes the stage, performing a series of gravity-defying spins and flips on the pole with seemingly little effort.
In reality, it took her months of rigorous training to nail the performance.
“It’s rough on your body, it’s real acrobatics,” Lopez said in a behind-the-scenes video of her training for the film, showing off scrapes and bruises from hours of practice. “This is just as hard as anything I’ve ever learned. It might be the hardest.”
Pole dancing is one of the most physically challenging workouts you can do, according to experts. We talked to two pole dancing instructors to find out what makes it both difficult and rewarding, and what advice they have for people curious to try it themselves.
Pole dancing has been gaining popularity, largely thanks to sex workers fighting against stigma
Pole dancing is a form of performance art that has been gaining mainstream popularity over the past decade as a fun and empowering fitness routine. It also has a long and complicated history as a means of making ends meet for women who are often from marginalized backgrounds. The growing respect for pole as an athletic achievement is largely due to countless professionals who have fought remove the stigma associated with sex work.
“I always thought I was very fit, but it was extremely humbling to try pole for the first time,” Kiele Jael, an instructor at Incredipole with more than a decade of dance experience, told Insider. “You realize it’s a lot harder than you think and respect all the people who have been doing it for so long, especially people in the sex industry, because it takes a ton of work.”
Pole dancing is an intense workout, but anyone can learn it
Regardless of skill level or background, pole dancing is always a great workout, according to Dalijah Franklin, an award-winning performer and instructor at Body & Pole, as well as the founder of Black Girls Pole.
“I teach people who have never touched pole before and I always hear, ‘I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t know it would be this hard,'” Franklin said.
Pole dancers have to literally defy gravity, holding their entire body weight in the air by just a few strategic points of contact on the pole, according to Jael. It can be painful, causing scrapes and bruises as a result of friction with the hard metal surface.
Then there are the the acrobatics — attempting to spin or even flip in midair requires intense core and upper body strength.
“You start to gain muscles in places you didn’t know muscles could grow,” Franklin said.
Some of the more complicated acrobatics, like those Lopez performed onscreen, can take months or even years to master. But anyone can try it.
“Literally any body can do it, any age, race, ethnicity, weight, height, can take a pole class,” Franklin said, adding that she’s taught people in their 70s who were trying pole dancing for the first time.
Pole dancing is both a mental and physical workout
Pole dancing isn’t just about strong, graceful movement. It also involves a lot of charisma as part of the performance. Students who are learning pole gradually build confidence and comfort in their bodies as they master the movements.
“I never felt more sexy or confident than when I’m doing pole,” Franklin said. “It’s challenging, it’s fun, it builds confidence, and your body will feel different than it’s ever felt before.”
When Jael first learned pole in 2007, there was more of a stigma around pole dancing, and she didn’t tell anyone she was practicing until nearly three years later.
“It really helped me to appreciate my own body because I could move in ways I never thought I could move. At the end of the day, I felt very empowered, being free in a space where I could feel sensuous, powerful and like I’m literally flying.” Jael said.
The best way for beginners to approach pole is to get rid of assumptions and expectations, and be ready for something new, according to Franklin and Jael.
“Go into it with an open mind,” Franklin said. “It can be whatever you want it to be, and it’s a great workout any way you do it.”