I'm in Philly on music business for a few weeks. Since I finally have immediate access to urban public transportation for a bit (no commuter rail for me!) I thought I'd take the opportunity to get out and pole a bit.
Philly Premier Pole Studio was the place I really wanted to check out, partly because they were on my trolley line, and also because they accept male students (not into all classes, but the non-sexy ones). I like to support equal-opportunity studios when I have the chance, and anyways I like training with guys. Plus they had an interesting line-up of classes. There was one called "Modern Pole Dance." the blurb on their website reads:
This class is designed to in corporate the modern styles of Horton & Graham to the aerial performance of Pole. In this class we will learn to think of pole as a tool to take dance to the next level.
I don't know who Horton & Graham are, but "aerial performance" and "the next level" lead me to believe that it would be the most advanced class, so I signed up for it. If nothing else, whoever was leading the class/wrote the description had a vision for what they wanted it to be, so it would be different.
Tuesday night I made my way into Philly Premier Pole Studio, and the first thing to hit me was the smell. There was a conditioning class finishing up, and the stuffy room reeked of sweat. You might be saying to yourself, "ewwwww, sweat!" or "oh good, sweat!" and which of those rolls off our tongue probably says a lot about what kind of pole studio you belong in. For me, it's not ambrosia but I know I have to adapt to it if I want a good workout.
I arrived early, and nobody was all jumping up to talk to me, so I butted my way into a few conversations and met some nice people. Since I am self-trained, I mostly go "out" to pole for social purposes.
One of the first things I noticed about the equipment was that they had a handful of brass poles. Most studios economize by going for chrome or stainless steel, so brass is a rare luxury. You could tell from looking, though, that the poles weren't brass due to any splurge, but because they were old school. The studio has been around since before mass-produced dance poles were a big business, so they had homemade, stripper-style (50mm, brass, static) poles. The rest of the poles were chrome X-Poles.
The class itself was SO not what I expected. It was more like a ballet class for polers. We did all the ballet positions, and pliés, and across-the-floor spins both with and without the pole.
Now, you may not know (or believe) this about me, but I have ballet experience. I took musical theatre-major ballet, tap, & jazz in college, then tried to keep up ballet & jazz after graduation. I gave up on ballet within a year, realizing that my body was better suited to jazz, and eventually let my half-hearted attempts at intermediate jazz trickle off after a few years, admitting to myself that I just wasn't a good dancer. (I have good rhythm & energy, but lack basic skills like staying upright and touching my toes.) So even though I suck at ballet, I know how ballet class works.
The thing about taking ballet as an adult who didn't grow up with it is that there's not really room for true remedial dancers. Even "beginner" classes are mostly populated with ladies who did ballet as children and now want to get back into it just for fun. I mean, during my couple years of ballet I managed to remain more or less the worst student in the class. Dance is sort of an old boys' club, and if you're not "born" into it by being inducted by the age of 3, there's never really a place for you.
This is a drawn-out way of saying that taking an ACTUAL remedial ballet class can be really helpful, and it was nice to do my pliés and feel like one of the more experienced students for a change, instead of the class dunce like I always was.
After we were done playing ballet, we worked on the beginning of a routine. It (and the class in general) was meant as a study in transitions. We didn't do any moves more complicated than a fan kick or a--what do you call a reverse grab spin when you don't throw/grab, but start with both hands on the pole? Well, that sort of thing. (btw, I appreciated that the teacher, Katherine, didn't freak out when I told her I have shoulder problems. Anyone with an injury or physical problems knows what I mean.)
I think the whole chunk we did was only 4 bars, and we learned it slowly. It was like a normal dance class, where you learn what move goes on which beat, and the teacher goes back and shows you the tricky parts again, and you run it in chunks and at the end you run it all the way through a million times.
There must have been 6 students, because when we did Across The Floor we were in lines of 3 and 3. 2 of the students were men, which is a good ratio for pole.
Considering what a short & easy routine it was, we got a hard workout in (or at least I did). The teacher filmed the last round of the routine. (Students could opt out.) I think the idea was to give outsiders an idea of what the class was about, which is s good idea, since I obviously hadn't known. I don't think I got caught in any of the video, since I was in the corner, so don't keep an eye peeled for me on the website or anything.
My one complaint is that we only did the routine on one side. We did it a million times and it was driving me crazy not to be able to "even myself out" by switching sides for a few rounds.
Even though the class had me winded, my inner pole trixter felt neglected, and when they didn't kick us out at the end I played a bit. Nothing show-offy, just to scratch the pole itch. (I was too sweaty to do most stuff anyways!) Some other students pole played, and some stretched. I got to chat with Katherine and some of the other students a bit. They were really cool and respectful of me as an outsider, which means a lot to me. At the end of the day, whether or not I have fun at your studio has more to do with how nice you are to me than what I learned. That might not sound like a good policy, but tell me it's not true in your book, too.
Generally I don't love group routines in pole, because pole is an individual (or potentially team) art and not an ensemble. But I do think it's good for polers to have a safe place to learn classical technique. There are so few places where you can really do that, and it's so beneficial.
Philly Premier has 16 poles, but some of them are in tight spaces. They apparently have another space with 16 foot poles (!!), but there are only 4 so it doesn't get used for classes regularly. The main pole studio location a few blocks from city hall (and next to Nodding Head brewery where I enjoyed some frosty pints with friends afterwards) is über-convenient. Overall, I'll stick with my nose's initial impression. If you want to sweat, come here. If you want frills & pampering, go somewhere else.
Equipment: 4 homemade brass 50mm poles, 12 X-Pole chrome 50mm poles
Amenities: some chairs?
Drop-in price: $15