I spent two full days stressing out about what to wear. I emailed a publicist, texted three friends who had taken pole dancing classes before, and posed the question to my entire office. "Don't stress!" the publicist assured me, but even so, I strongly considered sipping a pre-workout glass of wine to take the edge off. When I walked in wearing my usual black sports-top-and-leggings combo and saw a woman in leopard booty shorts and a lacy tank top, I immediately felt like I'd made a mistake, both in showing up and in deciding to skip the wine.
Mental strength meets physical toughness
The class, which was taught by Johanna Sapakie, was meant to put a group of editors through the exact training regimen that Jennifer Lopez went through as she prepped to play a stripper in Hustlers. Take one look at the movie's trailer—in which J. Lo, her no-bullshit attitude, and every well-defined muscle in her body can be seen hanging every which way on a pole—and it's clear that whatever she did to prep was no damn joke. On the day of the event, my sexless black outfit and I had no delusions that we were anything like Jennifer Lopez, and we felt hella out of place standing next to a pole under purple neon mood lighting. Frankly, I felt completely ridiculous, especially when someone handed me a pair of six-inch clear platform stilettos that were a far cry from the Asics sneakers I normally wear to work out.
Before we dove into the workout, Sapakie explained that there were both physical and mental elements to Lopez's routine meant to help her build confidence and get into character as a dominant stripper. This intrigued me, mostly because I'd always seen J. Lo as one of the most confident people on the planet, and couldn't fathom the idea that she'd need training to become even more sure of herself. Since I'm not exactly what you would call a "dominant" (or particularly confident) woman, I wondered if a pole dancing class could teach me to be a little bit more of both.
In addition to potentially making you as confident as J. Lo, it's worth nothing pole dancing also happens to be a legit way to get stronger. "It is a form of strength training using your own body weight to build muscle," says Irmingard Mayer, manager at Body & Pole, where the class was hosted. "As you progress and can dance for longer periods of time, it becomes a cardio workout and eventually your flexibility improves as well. Plus, pole dancing improves coordination and body awareness, which translates into your every day functional movement."
What the class is like
We started out on our mats—sans stilettos—moving through some stretches plus glutes and abs exercises to get our bodies prepped for what was to come, the same way J. Lo did at the start of her daily training. Then, it was time to strap on our shoes and master the art of the stripper walk. Sapakie explained that this part of the class was meant to help us build confidence, and feel out "who we are" in relation to the pole. "Let the shoes inform you, let the lighting inform you, and embody the Hustlers attitude," she advised, telling us to touch the pole as we passed it to become better acquainted with what was about to become our exercise equipment. I walked slowly (and not at all "surely"), pausing at each pole for a quick hello, and I have to admit, I felt kinddddd of like a saucy little minx in my new stripper shoes—until I tripped and almost hit the floor in front of everyone. This happened no less than four separate times, and it's nothing short of a miracle that my ankles and I made it out alive.
Then, it was time to do some actual pole dancing. Sapakie coached the group through a series of different moves, all of which required wrapping our legs around the pole and twirling. Each one was harder than the next, and I was shockingly bad at it. I was slipping and sliding all over the place, tripping over my own six-inch heels, and unable to hold up my body weight. Every muscle in my body was screaming, and I was so embarrassed and frustrated at myself that I wanted to cry. To make things worse, everyone else in the room seemed to have gone to some sort of secret beauty editor stripper school that I wasn't invited to, because they all looked like straight-up professionals. In that moment, every insecurity I've ever had about myself seemed to come rushing back, and I did not feel at all like the dominant, empowered, Lopez-ian female that I had hoped to. I felt like shit.
This went on for a good 20 minutes, all of which I spent holding back tears. I thought I had reached the peak of my personal hell, until I found out that for the last part of the class, we'd be doing a full dance on the pole. I looked around to see if there was any possibility of making a quick escape, but there was no way out. Before starting the music that I was sure would be the soundtrack to me dying of embarrassment, Sapakie delivered her final pep talk of the afternoon. "Perfection is a unicorn—it isn't real," she told us, adding that even J. Lo struggled through the workout when she first started. "But when you're doing a solo performance, it doesn't matter. No one knows what you're doing besides you. Just be confident and crush it."
In that moment, something clicked. I realized that it didn't matter how I looked on the pole—all that mattered was how I felt. And for my final performance of the afternoon, I let myself feel sexy. I strutted my stuff, whipped my hair around, and had borderline eye sex with myself in the mirror. Did I look ridiculous? Yes, 100 percent, and there are videos to prove it. But thanks to Sapakie's pick-me-up, I didn't really care.
I walked—nay, strutted—out of the studio with my stilettos still on, blasting Cardi B's "Money" in my headphones and feeling like a new and improved version of myself. I winked at no less than three different people as I made my way down Sixth Avenue, and didn't even care that none of them winked back. Am I ready to give a full strip tease on-stage, or even at home alone in front of a guy I'm dating? Hell no (sorry, potential suitors). Forgive me for sounding like an excerpt from Chicken Soup for the Stripper's Soul, but the experience made me realize that confidence and dominance comes from within, which is something I've carried with me since leaving that studio. I might not have looked like J. Lo on the pole, but in the end, I felt like her—and really, that's all that matters.
Pole dancing isn't the only J. Lo workout we've put to the test of late—find out what happened when one fitness editor and her boyfriend recreated her and A. Rod's gym routine. Plus, the J. Lo words of wisdom we are officially living by every day.
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