Swing around the pole

Standing before a wall of mirrors, one hand on her inner thigh and the other behind her neck, the instructor peers over her librarian glasses and says, “Touch yourself.”

The room erupts into giggles as the Lululemon-clad women do as she says. Separated by brass poles drilled into the floor and ceiling, the small group of women watch as the instructor slithers across the hardwood floor. They try to mimic her movements with Akon’s song “Dangerous” playing in the background.

“I just thought they’re going to teach you to do pole dancing, like a stripper,” says Lan T*, 25.

It is Lan’s first pole-dance class and the two friends she came with didn’t tell her much about what to expect. Aside from wanting to learn how to pole dance, she says she wants to overcome her shyness that prevents her form dancing provocatively at nightclubs.

While the cost of an introductory lesson ($25) is on average $10 more than the cover charge at a downtown nightclub, clients don’t seem to mind. The women-only environment is a major attraction for clients, says Shannon Crane, owner of Aradia Fitness.

Not only can women dance with no one watching, but they can avoid the drunken debauchery which so often accompanies a club night.

Toronto is now home to studios which offer pole dance and other forms of sensual movement. Aradia Fitness, Flirty Girl Fitness, and Laura Furtado’s Sensual Dance for Women are among those downtown.

Other companies such as Cheeky Girls and Live Once are north of the city, but service the Greater Toronto Area with in-home parties. The biggest difference between lessons and parties is dance conditioning and core exercises that are part of a one-hour lesson, but not a party.

“The parties’ focus is fun, not fitness,” says Crane, 37. “We’ve had women bring in male strippers, if they booked extra time in the studio.”

Crane’s women-only rule is only broken on one other occasion.

“They’re usually gay friends that come, we love gay guys,” she says. “We aren’t bringing in 20 oggling guys.

Crane owns the Queen Street West studio which is part of a franchise boasting 17 locations across North America. She became a franchisee two years ago and now doubles as an instructor and office manager, but admits she has no previous dance experience. Instead, she comes from an online sales and marketing background.

“This summer’s party bookings were double last summer,” says Crane. “There was one day I had 11 parties — that was my personal best.”

Clients can have their parties in the studio which is equipped with eight poles, as well as a rooftop patio in the summer. This will cost $350 plus GST for a group of 10, or $35 plus GST per person for larger groups.

For those looking to add a little more oomph to their night, they can have their party at Rok Boutique down the street.  Crane is friends with the owner of the rock club, who lets her rent the venue before it opens at 10 p.m.  These parties cost $320 plus GST and require a minimum of eight people. This works out to $40 per person and includes an alcoholic shooter from the bar.

While clients are not allowed to bring alcohol into the studio, “They can come in drunk, which is fine but usually not the best thing to do before you go pole dancing. I just hope they don’t puke when they’re working with the poles,” says Crane.

If you don’t feel like making the trip downtown, you can also book a party for your home. These routines will be slightly different, as there will be no pole, but they will still be sexy and fun.

Back in class, Lan is doing stretches and breathing exercises. She giggles at the erotic names they’ve been given, but tries to touch her toes anyway. Meanwhile a small group of women have made their way over to the poles and are learning “the fireman”.

No emergency here though, just some good, old-fashioned pole dancing.

*Lan T. did not want her last name disclosed.