Caprice Burrell is the owner of Alter Ego Pole Fitness in Newark, NJ. She took her first pole class in January 2008 and says she was hooked at first twirl. She’s also an actress, wife and mother who seems to juggle all of her titles fiercely. I caught up with the savvy businesswoman to chat about how tragedy encouraged her to launch her business, and how she makes her respective passions for family, pole dancing and business work.
Tell me about Alter Ego Pole Fitness, and explain when you had the epiphany that you should create that space.
Alter Ego Pole Fitness opened it’s doors in 2011 and has catered to thousands of women seeking pole training and pole parties in a comfortable setting while discovering their “Alter Ego’s.” Ninety-five percent of our students have no background in dance or gymnastics but yet we have turned them into beautiful pole dancers.
As a former pole instructor, the push to open the studio happened in 2010 after the sudden death of my former employer of the studio I was teaching in. I had established a relationship with my students and when the studio we poled at shut down, no one had anywhere else to go that was close by. It took us one year to set up Alter Ego and continue where we left off.
What steps did you have to take in order to see it through from business plan to reality?
The biggest steps taken was staying focused. I gave up my entire social life for a period of time while we were setting up. It was a lot of hard work. I owe a lot of thanks to my husband who is also my business partner for keeping me on task. I think every owner needs that one person who is going to be that voice of wisdom and keep them focused.
What sets Alter Ego apart from other pole dancing schools?
What sets Alter Ego apart is that aside from giving great pole classes (beg, int and adv) and being a very nurturing environment for our students, we converted our studio into a pole lounge that hosts a free after work pole party for anyone to attend on 1st Thursdays of every month and we give the best pole parties in NJ. We hosted over 400 since we’ve opened.
Describe your personal pole dancing style.
I consider my pole style sexy, sassy and artistic all at the same time. I like body rolls and sexy spins as well as tricks that accentuate my strengths. Not every trick is for everybody. Spinning pole is my favorite.
How do you balance your personal fitness life with being a mom, wife and business woman?
I don’t have a formula on how I do it, but teaching pole classes often does help because it’s helps me to stay active while I’m at the business. I also attend a gym with babysitting so that helps as well. As long as I’m staying active overall I’m able to do a lil’ each day to maintain.
What are some important lessons you’ve learned about yourself as a business women in the years since launching Alter Ego?
I’ve learned that I have a lot more patience than I thought, I’ve learned that you cant make everyone happy all of the time, and I’ve learned, that as long as you continue to be professional and reliable your business will thrive.
What advice do you have for women who are considering pole dancing but may be apprehensive?
I would tell them to give it a try but make sure they go to a studio that makes them feel comfortable.
Do pole instructors ever stop learning?
No they don’t….the real ones are always trying to learn new ways of teaching as well as new tricks. That’s why workshops are very important to take and I try to have as many as I can at my studio. If I can’t get out to train, then I will bring the instructors to me lol. Right now, I still consider myself a student even tho I’ve accomplished so much. (Editor’s Note: Caprice gets really fun people in for workshops. I haven’t been yet but it’s on my to do list!)
Caprice plans to enter her first pole competition this year. She is currently training.
A second Alter Ego Pole Fitness location is in the works for the near future.
Caprice appeared in The Best Man (first movie) as a bridesmaid.
I stumbled upon Juliette’s page on YouTube and got taken with her pole dancing videos. We’ve never been in contact, I just admired from a distance. What I do know about her is that she’s based in France and she’s kinda amazing. Most of her videos are pole practice videos and contortion progress but she’s so strong and graceful, and motivates me to keep practicing so I’m sharing.
I have fallen off the fitness wagon but that doesn’t stop me from keeping up with some of my favorite resources–primarily on Instagam–for motivation, tips and tricks. I plan to get back on at some point soon but in the meantime, check out some of my favorite Fitstagram accounts for fitness inspiration.
Warning: This account will make you hungry. But it’s cool, he posts healthy food. Fitness is probably 80% what you eat, so this account is a good guide for recipe ideas. You can find Spanish and English tutorials detailing how to make delicious, quick but whole foods in 15 second videos.
Koya Webb is a holistic health and nutrition coach who eats primarily raw vegan. She also appears to be the happiest person on Instagram, seriously. Most of her flicks involve yoga movements, happy frolicking, enticing pics of vegan food from her travels and inspirational quotes.
Follow the Lita really does follow Lita’s fitness journey. She’s big on building muscle and strength, and provides demos and tips along the way. She is also big on being a #thickfitchick as you will find the hashtag all up and through her feed.
A lot of my curious girlfriends ask me what pole dancing is like, and I also have some who have tried it but stopped because it made them feel awkward. I often feel like a pole mother hen in these situations, as the one in our circle who has continually kept up a pole practice, often explaining to them that going to your first pole dancing class will most likely be intimidating, especially if it’s a mixed level class. I also encourage them to try again, if they weren’t completely mortified, because it can also be rewarding as long as you go in with an open mind, prepared for a real work out and understanding that it can be an amazing adventure. There are other good break downs about what to expect during your first pole dancing class floating around the web but here’s my take.
Finding a Studio
Finding pole dance classes can sometimes be a trial and error experience but most likely your first class will be a referral from a friend or through a Groupon type service. Go with the flow and see what happens. If you like it, don’t be afraid to continue to explore different places. I’ve found that various pole dancing studios can be good for different things depending on your personal goals. Some have a culture that fosters students to compete while others are more about empowerment, wellness and camaraderie, so it depends.
The basic beginner pole dancing uniform is short shorts and a tank top. Your teacher, however, will probably be wearing the community standard along the lines of a sports bra and boy shorts. If it’s a mixed level class, the more advanced students will also be wearing some variant of a bra and panties.
Ease Into it
You may feel awkward and uncomfortable at first but that is natural. Pole dancing isn’t natural. You’re asking your body to accomplish extremely hard feats of strength while also challenging gravity. It’s not going to happen overnight. People advance at different speeds and some moves may be easier than others based on strength level, body type and flexibility. Keep working at it until you figure out your style and what works for you.
What to Bring
Pole dancing can be an intense strength training and cardio workout (as a beginner you’ll probably do more spins and dancing on the ground) so bring water, shakes (if that’s your thing) and snacks like fruit and nut bars (I love bananas and Kind Bars). You’ll also potentially need grip. Finding the right grip is also a trial and error experience that depends on a variety of things from how much you sweat to the room temperature. My favorite grips are iTac 4, Dry Hands and Tite Grip (I use the latter two the most). All of the above can be found at Amazon.com.
On top of feeling silly because you may not be able to execute moves fluidly, you may also find yourself uncomfortable with your body or seeing other people’s flesh. Keep in mind that various parts of your skin will serve as points of contact for the pole, which is why polerinas tend to wear skimpy clothing. There are also lots of moves involving flashes of crotch (like the vagina monster, for example). I felt awkward at first but the feeling faded after about a month of classes and after about six months of classes, I too felt completely ok with frolicking in a sports bra and boy shorts (initially I’d just wear cut off t-shirts and soccer shorts). If you are squeamish and can’t get over yourself or the ample bodies on display around you then pole dancing may not be for you.
The Warm Up
Pre-pole warm ups are hard core. They are my least favorite part of the class but a necessary evil. Typically you can expect to do a combination of Pilates and yoga-inspired stretches and core conditioning. We also use the pole as a conditioning apparatus (pull ups, invert drills, aerial crunches etc).
Expectations Vs. Reality
The most common lament I hear from women is that they’re not strong enough.
Newsflash: Everyone starts with a blank slate. You have to crawl before you can walk. You have to jog before you can sprint. You have to spin before you can climb, and you have to build strength and confidence before you can truly become bad ass. Everything in pole is trial, error and gradual. You may have moments where you think you’re doing one thing but discover that what played out in your mind was not actually what you did and that’s why we practice–to get better, to be healthy and most importantly, to have fun. Be patient, don’t beat yourself up and understand that you are awesome simply for being brave enough to take the class.
In my experience pole dancing hasn’t been any more or less dangerous than when I did more traditional dancing and sometimes tumbling (where I have sprained ankles, fingers and wrists several times). It’s important that you warm up properly and request a spotter when you are feeling insecure. Never attempt a trick, even if it’s a spin on the ground, if you don’t feel stable. Always ask for the proper points of contact and make sure you stretch and nourish yourself properly after class.
Prepare to be Amazed
Your body can do some awesome things. This is something you will learn with experience.
I stumbled across an awesome hopefully soon to be major movement started by United Pole Artists in response to a problem that the Marine Corps is having with female recruits. They delayed a physical fitness mandate, which was supposed to start on January 1, for lady marines after realizing that 55% of the women didn’t meet the required ability to do three pull ups minimum.
There’s a debate raging about what to do about this problem because women naturally have 20% less upper body strength than men (because, you know, testosterone and stuff). However, with the proper training in place women can bust a few moves when it comes to upper body strength. It seems like there’s no solution in place for the military just yet but United Pole Artists has a good idea of what to do because guess what? Pole dancers got this, son!
UPA also called on female polers to post video of themselves busting out pull ups to prove that this could actually work.
This is me getting a few in after about three weeks of NO fitness activity whatsoever.
I am naturally strong but pole dancing has introduced me to a new level of strength that I had previously never imagined possible. My body continues to amaze me with what it can do as I progress in my training.
The UPA’s solution is brilliant. If this becomes a reality, not only will female recruits get the proper training they need and have fun in the process, but the message about the athleticism in pole dancing could hopefully shift people’s negative perceptions about the sport.
Pole dancing is amazing and diverse and it’s about time that people start seeing what we see and experience.
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.
I love it when I hear people’s general misconceptions (mainly them not being able to disassociate the art of pole from the act of stripping) about so-called sleazyness of pole dancing and then I come across performances like Aggie Ng’s winning number at Polesque October 2013 (presented by Aera).
She chose Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead” as her audio back drop and transformed into a voodoo doll. Killer concept, dope ass execution!