Monday, June 17, 2013

Studio Review: Boston Pole Fitness, Allston MA

There are only a few studios in the Boston area I can get to without a car, but I've been chipping away at them.

I had wanted to go to Boston Pole Fitness for awhile, but it's not really in Boston. It's in Allston, which is in Boston like Queens is in NY. Technically yes. Technically. But nowhere near my commuter rail terminus. Fortunately they have a pretty generous schedule, so booking a weekend afternoon class wasn't a problem.

What I really would have liked would have been to take an open pole. I'd heard they had the highest ceilings in town, and I hadn't been on a good tall pole since teaching at CircEsteem last summer. But they didn't have open pole--they list something called "polegression' which sounds like the right idea, but the class wasn't running over the weekend. Otherwise what looked like the most advanced class was "Pole Combos," which was listed for intermediate and advanced with the prerequisite of being able to invert. The instructor was Shelly Ann, who was not someone I knew, and I like meeting new people, so I'm in!

Boston Pole Fitness is on an industrial-looking side street in Allston, and if you didn't know the address you'd miss it. There's just a piece of paper taped to a door with their name and logo on it.

There wasn't a dedicated door person, but a helpful student who didn't work there but knew where they kept the waivers took my form and pointed me towards the changing room.

The changing room is on the second floor and true story: there's a bedroom up there. Like, a room with a bed and an end table. There was no bedding and it was clear that no one was living there, but maybe someone intends to live there, or they'll keep visiting instructors there, or...? That one was a first for me, though. (Unless you count Torrent in Philly where the studio is basically run out of the first floor of this building where the owners all live.)

The pole room was darkened, even while the class before mine was taking place. The lights were largely off, which I'm not sure is for atmosphere or to beat the heat. It was a warm enough day that you'd have to worry about sweat more than cold poles. The instructor came out to reception afterwards to see who would be in class and recognized me from Facebook.

The room was layed out strangely, and you couldn't really tell where the front was and where the back was, so I chose a pole near the bathroom because I always have to refill my water bottle. The ceilings were around 15 feet--I feel like I had been told 20 at some point, but 15 is plenty. :) I believe all the poles were 45mm. I'm hesitant about thin poles on such a tall ceiling, but they were permanently attached and seemed reasonably sturdy. I'm not sure if the poles were homemade (probably?), but they didn't have a spin function.

Students trickled in slowly and stretched on yoga mats. I think some people brought them from home, although they had a big stack of them against the wall, along with spray bottles of rubbing alcohol and rags for cleaning the pole and a grab bag of grip aids. (Oh yeah, fun story--the reception desk not only sells merch and Dry Hands, but Cramer's! I wonder how much they were selling them for. Cramer's is too grippy for most pole work but I like to have it for "emergencies," like "if my knee slips I will fall to my death" types of situations.)

My pole wasn't super grippy to begin with, but after a wipe down with rubbing alcohol it was happy. I started out with Corn Huskers on, which was good enough, but added Dry Hands when I got sweaty.

We started out with a warm-up that was conditioning-heavy, including plenty of ab work and even some booty cheek isolations, which is not really something I do (I'm not against sexy pole but we all draw the line somewhere), but I played along.

We warmed up the pole with spins, specifically reverse grab (which is also not really something I do, but I'm happy to report that all the students I saw were using both hands--no shoulder danger here!) and corkscrew (which is one of my favorites). Shelly Ann had us do different leg variations on corkscrew, and I got carried away and maybe left half my armpit skin on a pole in Allston, but I looked pretty doing it!

Then Shelly Ann started giving us a pole sequence, and it was lloooonnnnngg! I never got all the way through it because about 10 moves in was an aerial shoulder inversion and by the time I got to that point I was too sweaty to shoulder invert (it was a humid day). There were some moves that I know but never really use, like flatline Scorpio and Allegra, so it's good that I was forced to practice those as part of the sequence.

We weren't run through the sequence in sync like a routine, but rather just given the list of moves and left to work at our own pace. The first few moves were mostly towards the ground and beginners were told to stick to those. Shelly Ann didn't demonstrate a ton, but that was because she was about to have a photo shoot and was trying in vain to keep her hair and make-up intact. She did demo things when asked, and there was one combo we tried later (Jamilla/Apprentice to Extended Butterfly to Box Splits) that she had me demo.

By far my favorite thing about the class was the other students. I had more than one person come up to me and ask me for help with a move. That the students are eager to learn from each other says a lot about the culture of a studio. When you have a competitive environment, students don't want to ask each other for help because it feels hierarchical--like you're admitting that person is better than you. When you have a cooperative environment, students are happy not only to help each other, but to ask for help without feeling threatened. So when I see this kind of openness I take it as a sign of a healthy environment.

At the end of class we were giving a song to freestyle too. A few people were too tired, but I think most people attempted to dance or at least practice a few tricks. I did my best to dance and trick out but I was a sweaty mess by then.

Before we left, Shelly Ann announced the studio challenge of the week, which is this really cute thing they do where they have a move of the week and everyone's supposed to take a picture of themselves doing it and post it to Facebook or Instagram. The move of the week was the Marley (an innocent-looking enough move on which I once hurt myself pretty good several years ago). I knew the move so I threw one off and a nice student in a cute dress offered to take a picture of me, resulting in the above. Pippi's Tips: If you don't have a nice back arch, smile and wear pigtails and hope nobody notices!!

Oh, the instructor also encouraged students to attend or compete in the SuperShag competition/showcase (see Event Review: SuperShag's Pole Fitness Invitational Championships and Showcase). Another good sign of a healthy community, as this competition is run by another local studio who could be considered direct business competition with this one (see Studio Review: SuperShag, Charlestown MA).

As people started trickling out, some didn't. A few people stayed behind to chat or practice. Some students were even staying for the next class, and they and the instructor encouraged me to do the same. I guess if there are enough open spots, students are welcome to stick around for another class. I said no no no, I was tired and sweaty and needed to get back to Salem, but it was nice of them to invite me. :) I did take time to linger and practice some stuff I'd been working on once my sweat dried. The pole was so nice and grippy (between the heat/humidity, grip aids, and me climbing all over it for 75 minutes) I just had to take advantage!

One drawback about the studio: no mirrors. Not that you should rely on them (you don't get mirrors in performance or competition) but I like to check my position on things like flagpoles and iron Xs to make sure I'm straight.

Anyways, I'm a self-teacher by nature and will continue to spend most of my training time at home, but I would like to go back to Boston Pole Fitness some time, especially for an open workout or something.

Boston Pole Fitness
Equipment: 13 15' 45mm static poles, chrome I think? Brand unknown.
Amenities: Pole room, dressing room, bedroom (?), lounge, reception with merch
Drop-in price: $25

Image of Pippi doing a Marley taken by a nice student, image of BPF reception by Pippi

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