I mentioned a couple of months ago that there was a movement bubbling called “Black Girls Pole,” and that it was spearheaded by one of my pole crushes, Dalijah Franklin. She is super dope. Do yourself a favor and look her up on YouTube. The idea behind Black Girls Pole is to connect Black women who love to pole dance and the people who them and support the idea, to come together, network, and learn from each other in the name of fitness and badassery. But let’s keep it funky, pole dancing isn’t just any kind of fitness, it’s a game changer. For many, self included, pole dancing can change lives but you wouldn’t understand unless you do it (more on that later).
Dalijah celebrated the launch of #BlackGirlsPole back in June at Body and Pole, with a series of workshops that culminated in some dope performances from fierce ladies like, Nicole “the Pole” Williams, Crystal Belcher, Meritza Chang Heyward, Delijah (of course), Ajia Maximillian, Roz “the Diva,”Sasja Lee, Caprice Burrell, and more. I’m still high from the experience. Not only did I meet some cool women with like interests, but I was also motivated to work on the craft again, and I can’t wait to see what else Dalijah has in store. In the mean time, check out what Dalijah told me about her inspiration for starting the movement, some recap footage of that epic night and general inspiration about pole dancing.
I stumbled upon #BlackGirlsPole due to some Facebook controversy. Long story short, there was a pole dancer who bitched about why it exists and claimed that it didn’t promote unity and that people would be mad if there was a “White Girls Pole” all that typical entitled bullshit. She created a stir but I later found out that this is what she does in general, so BGP just happened to be that day’s target. I digress.
After that drama, I started to explore the movement and it’s simple. It was founded by Dalijah Franklin, and the point is for anyone who so chooses, to celebrate Black women in pole dancing and to encourage other women to consider pole dancing as well.
I get why this exists and I like the idea of it, especially since Black women are pretty much at the highest risk for everything that’s terrible in the world of health, so I wanted to share it.
I took my first pole dancing class at Crunch Gym back in 2011 and hated it. Eventually, I got into a conversation with one of my instructors where I expressed my concerns and she directed me to Shockra Studio. It was a life changing experience. From Shockra I discovered Sacred Brooklyn and bounced back and forth between the two. Then, I moved to Chicago, where there weren’t many options, so I ended up at Flirty Girl Fitness but that was a time warp phase and now I’m back in NYC taking classes at Body and Pole. I’ve also been to New York Pole Dancing and I’m going to start at Fly Fitness NYC.
That’s a lot of bouncing around because I like to explore. Maybe one day I’ll commit but at the moment, my relationship with pole studios is complicated–a fact that comes out when people ask me where I go, and I don’t give a direct answer because of various intricacies.
After giving this much thought, the true answer is that while no pole studio is perfect, where you go depends on what you’re looking for. So, here’s my break down of the six pole studios I’ve been to in NYC and my observations about their respective cultures.
1. Crunch Gym
Overview: I had a membership at Crunch Gym, so pole dancing there was logical.
Atmosphere: The classes had a lot of space but it didn’t feel that way with all the bodies packed into the room. The gyms had different standards of cleanliness based on management and location but I never ran into major problems. The poles were cleaned frequently (they were only put up for class and then taken down afterward), especially in between sharing. The teachers usually had alcohol or some type of cleaning solution handy but I started bringing a small bottle of my own.
Pros: Crunch offers a variety of non cookie cutter classes in general. The instructors are experienced and cordial.
Cons: The pole dance classes at are generic and crowded (this was a problem for me about their classes in general). The instructors I encountered seemed overwhelmed because the classes were so large. Most of the classes are mixed level, but with more experienced dancers than anything else. I felt unsafe and uncomfortable because I couldn’t do anything other than a fireman spin while the people around me were hitting shoulder mounts and Ayeshas. The teachers couldn’t pay much attention to me (or other newbies) because of class size, especially with many people sharing the pole with two, sometimes three other people. It was sensory overload and I am already a very anxious person and often need to see something more than once so that I can dissect it and over think (as always, sigh) but the teachers only had an hour to cater and demonstrate as best they could. They did walk around and check on everyone but there was only so much time they can spend with one student. I believe that every studio/gym that offers pole dancing should have a class specifically for newbies and that mixed level classes should only be for polerinas who have taken a few level one classes.
Price: I was able to go to as many classes as I wanted since I had a membership. A membership here ranges from $40 – $90. I had the $90 monthly membership because it allowed you to visit any Crunch in the city. Ninety bucks a month is a hell of a lot more inexpensive than what most pole studios charge.
Summary: I recommend this place if you’re ok with chaos or if you learn somewhere else first and use Crunch for practice. But still, you really have to prepare your nerves.
2. Shockra Studio
Overview: Shockra offered a variety of classes like pole dancing, belly dancing, yoga and ballet.
Atmosphere: It’s two studios inside of what could have been or probably used to be apartments. That made if feel cozy, which I liked. Maintenance was fine but I recommend you bring your own towels for cleaning. The students I encountered there were nice and supportive. I really enjoyed the sense of camaraderie there.
Pros: I loved it because every student was guaranteed their own pole and a studio rule was that the classes capped at about eight students. It was small and intimate, which is what I desire in a studio, and the atmosphere was warm and supportive. There was a variety of pole dance classes as well like pole-choreography, belly pole and yoga pole. I also met Aerial Amy, one of the best pole dance teachers I’ve ever had. She’s a stickler for technical details and executing moves properly. The proper execution of moves is extremely, important but I will get to that in my next studio review.
Cons: No upper level classes. When I started, they went up to level three but not anymore, and that’s why I stopped going. These days, they only cater to beginners. I also heard some things about their business practices that irk me. That part is more personal, so I won’t blog about it but I’m willing to verbalize it if we ever meet in person.
Price: It’s about $180 for a six week session.
Summary: Shockra is a great place for beginners. I haven’t tried anything other than the pole classes.
3.Body and Pole
Overview: Body and Pole is one of the more popular studios in NYC and it can be an intimidating place. They offer a variety of aerial, pole, yoga, stretch and conditioning classes. A lot of the teachers there are international competitors and champions and you’ll see a lot of people walking around with 6-packs and muscles. I’m warning you so you’ll be prepared because I know that sort of thing can be off-putting to people. However, it’s a cool place. The people I have met there have been nice so don’t let the surface fool you.
Atmosphere: The studio is well maintained, spacious with various rooms, the teachers are excellent and the personnel in general is pleasant. It’s a supportive environment.
Pros: There’s a major emphasis on technique. They have a diverse selection of classes and various levels up to five and beyond (there’s even a Cirque du Soleil style class). They bring in experts from around the world to conduct workshops and they have parties and events that foster a productive community.
Cons: The only thing I really don’t like is that while classes don’t get ridiculously crowded, you might have to share your pole. I haven’t yet but I’ve only been three times.
Price: Prices vary from about $45 for a single up to $500 plus for packages, depending on how many classes you want. Memberships are expensive and depend on availability.
Summary: This is a great place to go at any level, just for fun, to build vocabulary, and especially if you have major competition goals. Keep in mind that a lot more men come here than I’ve seen anywhere else. If that’s something that bothers you then you might want to find a place that focuses more on women, like S-Factor (but I’ve never taken a class there).
4. New York Pole Dancing (NYPD)
Overview: They have two locations, one in White Plains and one in Hell’s Kitchen. I’ve been to the latter a couple of times. They also offer yoga, stretch classes, chair dance classes and conditioning classes.
Atmosphere: It’s a small studio located. in one of those office buildings where you have to go down the hall to go to the bathroom.
Pros: The teachers know their stuff and there’s a nice sense of camaraderie and support here amongst the students. They have a student showcase focused on growth and progress, not necessarily tricks, bells and whistles, and they have parties. They also have pole certification programs that focus on climbing, spinning and inverting.
Cons: The front desk staff is rude. Upon my very first arrival, I wasn’t greeted. In fact, she was on the phone and didn’t acknowledge me until her conversation was over. After she hung up, she then began chatting with people in the studio that I guess she already knew, about something that had nothing to do with the studio. It made me not want to go back but I happen to really like Micaela Mamede, one of their awesome teachers. I experienced similar rudeness the second time I visited. Again, had it not been for my fondness of Mica, I would have been done after that first time. We all have bad days but when you work in customer service, it’s your responsibility to be cordial.
There’s no real changing area. You can go to the small bathroom where upkeep is just ok, bordering on suspect but that could be a building issue and not the studio. There is one changing stall inside the studio suite and it’s really just a coffin-sized area covered by curtains. Unless you get there early, or come dressed already, the situation is a nuisance.
Price: Similar to Body and Pole.
Summary: I see this as a place for people who already have some pole experience as they don’t have a pole 101 class. There’s open pole, and then specific “climb and spin” and “climb and invert” classes. C&S and C&I classes do incorporate dance, FYI.
5. Sacred Brooklyn (UPDATED: Sacred no longer offers pole dancing).
Overview: While Sacred does have pole dancing, hot yoga is more their specialty (they also have pilates, burlesque and capoeria).
Atmosphere: Sacred is a small well-maintained studio that also has a cozy feel and they are involved with the community.
Pros: They provide a free yoga class on Sundays and they also bring in guest teachers for occasional workshops. I went for a five week workshop called “Melt.” It was a pole dancing class created by Roz the Diva, that focused on being sensual and fluid in movement. Our class performed at a Scared showcase at the end of the series.
Here’s a shadowy snapshot of that performance (my first pole performance ever) that we did to Rihanna’s “Skin.” There is video available but it’s private, so view this murky picture and love it. In case you’re wondering, I’m climbing on the right.
Oh and, the staff is down as fuck!
Cons: Pole isn’t their specialty. They have mostly beginner classes with one or two level twos (or an open pole) but there’s not much variety and there aren’t many poles. I’ve never experienced an overcrowded class but you do often have to share poles. I’d love it if they added more pole classes.
Price: Single classes are $20, you can by packages and they do offer monthly memberships.
Summary: Come here if you’re a beginner of if you just want to pole without pretense. It’s a fun place.
6. Fly Fitness NYC (7/8/14 EDIT : FLY FITNESS IS NOW CLOSED)
Overview: It’s a new space that opened mid-December. They offer a variety of aerial, conditioning, yoga and pole dance classes.
Atmosphere: It’s a small space with 18ft poles, Good googa mooga! The staff was very pleasant. I even met the owner, who was informative and congenial.
Pros: I took a free pole conditioning class with Irmingard Mayer. The class was hardcore and she was a good instructor (and after Googling her, I discovered how talented she really is). I liked the class and the space enough to purchase a class package, which I will start redeeming in January. Amy will be teaching there, even more incentive.
Cons: None yet.
Price: On par with Body & Pole and NY Pole Dancing but slightly less.
Summary: I haven’t been enough to have a good grasp but so far so good.