Senior English major Johana Mandap begins her Thursday night in midair. She appears to float as her and five other students spiral, twist and turn almost 10 feet off the ground, inside the hot pink and black studio adorned by twinkling string lights. As her body moves like a ribbon in the wind, she only has the strength of one hand wrapped on a tall, silver pole to support her.
Mandap is pole dancing. However, she is not pole dancing for what you may think. Mandap and other students are here for the physical, emotional and creative benefits they get from the “taboo” dance.
“It’s the best experience you’ll ever have,” said Taryn Zank. “I took the first class as a joke three years ago and I’m still doing it now. It tones your body like crazy and it’s the hardest workout I’ve done. It makes you really confident and teaches you how to control your body,”
After three years, Zank now teaches at multiple pole dance fitness studios in the Sacramento area.
Pole dancing as an exercise has increased in popularity in recent years as fitness studios dedicated to the dance are popping up across the country. It is also now recognized as a competitive sport and dance.
Locally, Sac State students such as Mandap practice their skills at Sacramento Pole Dance Studio in Natomas, started by Sac State alumna Lisa Hellman.
Hellman said students in her classes can burn an estimated 400 to 500 calories an hour when dancing consistently.
“It’s anaerobic; it targets all your muscles and it’s all about learning how to control your body using your own weight as resistance,” said Hellman. “Yet you can go through a whole class without feeling like you really worked out…there is nothing to support your body except for yourself- that’s why it’s such a good workout,” she said.
Mandap began taking classes at the studio three months ago and has begun to see results.
“I feel like I’ve toned different parts of my body. Pole dancing is a lot of core work. I’ve noticed a slim down all over my body” Mandap said.
Hellman, like many others, had misconceptions about the dance. However, after visiting a strip club in Las Vegas, she started practicing pole dancing as a way to get in shape.
“When I got in there I was shocked at what it actually was,” said Hellman. “What was originally in my head was this nasty dirty place but it was not, and I just thought the form of the dance was beautiful. I have about a 10-year background in ballet and it brought back the dancer in me. It made me want to get fit.”
Hellman then began teaching friends and shortly after opened studios in Davis and Natomas, where she instructs a wide range of women including Sacramento State students.
“It runs from very tiny girls to very [tall] girls,” said Hellman. “You have girls of all different ages, sizes and ethnicities.”
Hellman said anyone can try pole dancing, yet many women are hesitant to try the dance.
“One of the biggest misconceptions is that people think they have to be fit in order to come here and take classes,” said Hellman. “You don’t have to be at any level to get started.”
Hellman described the taboo connotation as one of the biggest reasons many students initially try pole dancing but, once students try it, she credits not only the exercise, but the self esteem boost made by friendships and accomplishing goals in a non- competitive environment as the reason why girls come back.
“It’s just a bunch of girls cheering each other on and helping each other,” said Hellman. “They are fun and giggly. Everyone is helpful and sweet.”
Mandap also agrees and recommends other Sac State students try the dance.
“It definitely makes me feel more comfortable in my own skin and a little more confident and less self conscious,” said Mandap. “It is very humbling because the classes are so mixed with just different kinds of women from all walks of life. There’s a lot of bravery that comes with it. Even after doing it for so long it is still fun because you keep working towards something. I definitely recommend it to other students.”
Hellman said the confidence can help a woman no matter where she goes in life.
“It is not even about the world knowing that you can do it. It is about you yourself knowing you can do it and carrying that confidence with you knowing you’re really good at something, even if no one never sees it.”
Alex Hernandez can be reached [email protected]
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