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Saturday, February 9, 2013 - Page updated at 10:30 a.m.

Fit For Life
Pole dancing is slow dancing for fitness

By Nicole Tsong
Special to The Seattle Times

AS WE SLITHERED around the floor on our hands and knees, I was tempted to let out a soft, panther-like "rawr." This temptation was progress.

It had taken me time to let loose. I was in a pole-dancing class at Divine Movement in Kirkland. Two of us had shown up for the Monday drop-in class, so we had the small studio and its four poles to ourselves.

The studio, including the lobby and the dancing rooms, are dimly lit, I presume for mood and for full self-expression in the dance.

With a backdrop of slow, rhythmic music including R&B and Prince, we started out on the floor, stretching first, then doing some leg work on our backs, including fan kicks up and over from side to side. The slow pace made the moves intense in my hips and legs, and deepened the bridge and core work we did.

Teacher Annie Rockwood kept telling us to slow down and appreciate the movement and our bodies. She told us to point our toes, to notice the length of our legs, the glow of our skin in the low light and to run our hands through our hair. Closing my eyes seemed like the best strategy at this point.

Then we started our slow crawl around the floor; I was glad I'd brought leg warmers to help my slither. But by the time we got back to our mats, I was excited to learn the serpent wave and the stripper stand up. This was fun. And we hadn't even gotten to the pole yet.

First, we had to learn to walk. Rockwood taught us to sashay as slowly as possible, swinging our hips from side to side and even stumbling on purpose to get us to loosen up.

We took our walk to the pole, holding on with one hand, still moving more slowly than I ever walk. I could feel myself dropping into my low back a bit as we walked, but there also was something fabulous about the slow pace and tuning into my hips and balance.

And we still had the fireman spin to learn. Imagine holding onto a pole with one hand, then swinging one foot around and grabbing on with both feet and hands to spin. Yes, it's super fun. Once I figured out the momentum, I wanted to do it again and again and again.

And what if you land your spin awkwardly? Rockwood gave us her favorite piece of advice for finishing the move: "When in doubt, ass out."

She taught us an entire pole-dance routine that took us from the pole to the wall and back for our fireman spin. We followed with a slide down toward the floor and a sensual serpent wave to stand up.

She told us to listen to the deeper rhythm in the music and move to that, calling out "gorgeous!" and "beautiful!" as we did the routine on our own.

How does one practice pole dancing outside of a pole-dancing studio? A lot of students install a pole at home. I'm not on track for that, but I'd love to practice the spins.

The studio is women only, which offers freedom for students new to this style of dance. You will work your body, but you also may unleash your inner feline.

Nicole Tsong teaches yoga at studios around Seattle. Read her blog at Email: Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific NW magazine staff photographer.

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