Heels Off, But Clothes On

Balance Pole Method teaches climbs and spins in a way that’s athletic, not erotic


Amanda Schmidt, front, shows students how to pole sit: First pull yourself up, then squeeze your legs together to stay there.

Everything is a negotiation in Washington, even the creation of a pole fitness program at Balance Gym. Instructor Amanda Schmidt insisted that the classes be included in the monthly fee so members wouldn’t have to pay more to give pole a spin. Management’s demand: “Make it no more sexy than Zumba.” The talks resulted in a stiletto-free zone called Balance Pole Method (aka BPM) that started up in January.

What It Is: Pole is all about learning how to twirl and hang upside down. Schmidt teaches that while focusing on a tougher trick: getting students hooked on fitness.

“Pole dancing is a great workout, but it shouldn’t be your only workout,” says Schmidt, who’s also a personal trainer. Most of her female clients balk at heavy weights. But when she gets them on the pole and they realize they need to build strength to do the coolest stuff, they’re willing to pick up bigger dumbbells.

By adding more conditioning and dialing down the attitude to just flirty, Schmidt hopes BPM can take that lesson to a broader audience.

Moves: Performing the warm-up around the pole means there’s a helpful prop for moves such as “snake,” a standing spine stretch.

The pole becomes even more important when it’s time for spins. While beginners may struggle with the correct grip and body position, more-advanced students can try perfecting their form (something that’s especially tricky on their non-dominant side). After a strength-building break — such as plank or grabbing one side of the pole with both hands and hoisting your knees up — class ends with a choreographed routine.

Workout: “It’s the bomb,” says Megan Gallagher, 24, who’s been surprised at how much BPM works her upper body.

No matter how in shape you think you are, pole taps into muscles you haven’t used before, Schmidt says. All of that grabbing, gripping and pulling demands a lot from your arms, shoulders and upper back. Squeezing the pole between your thighs keeps your legs working. And holding certain positions requires tensing absolutely everything.

Garb: It’s even tougher if you’re in pants instead of shorts, but students are welcome to wear whatever they want. “When you get to advanced tricks, you need to have skin contact or you won’t stick to the pole,” Schmidt says, but it’s a matter of preference.

BPM is free to members of Balance Gym (1111 14th St. NW; Balancegym.com) or $20 for a drop-in class.

Lunch Ladies

Pole sounds like something to do on a girl’s night out, but Annie Leslie, 24, likes that BPM is also offered at lunchtime. The combo of cardio, strength and silliness is a great midday mood booster: “Like the way yoga zens you out, this makes me happy.”

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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