Finding a studio and signing up for a class
Unless you found a studio by driving by one in your town or joining a Groupon deal, you probably started by googling for pole dancing classes in your area. You probably came across a studio's website (or maybe many studios), maybe read some Yelp reviews or even a review on this site. Some areas are glutted with pole studios and some have no options for miles around. It makes sense if you think about it: pole is a hobby that becomes obsessive quickly, so pole studios tend to multiply as students take class, get hooked, train to become instructors, and open their own studios nearby.
Most pole, aerial, and yoga studio websites use an online class sign-up site called MindBody. So the look-and-feel of the signup pages may be familiar from site to site, but unfortunately a lot of administrators have a really hard time configuring MindBody in a way that makes sense. You might have problems such as not knowing which tab to click on to get the class you want, not being able to find out how much a class costs until you create a login, and differing schedules on the studio's web pages vs. the studio's signup site. Hopefully you end up on a site that is well-organized and can sign up for class without too much of a headache.
What to bring and wear
The first question most newbies have is, "what should I wear?" It's actually pretty tricky to dress for pole. You need enough skin exposed so your skin can grip the pole, but you need to be covered enough that you don't have any wardrobe malfunctions. Even something that seems reasonable on the ground, like shorts, can look very different when you're upside-down (and everyone can see up your shorts legs).
The standard uniform for experienced polers is: tight-fitting "booty" or "boy" shorts, a sports bra, and a tank top layered over the sports bra (you might want to take the tank to off to have more skin to grip with, so don't plan on wearing one of those that are a tank top with a sports bra built-in). However, at your first class you probably won't do moves that require as much skin grip, so you're probably fine in long pants. Think "yoga wear."
Some studios allow/encourage students to dance in "stripper heels," but barefoot is the norm.
You also want to bring a water bottle. Some studios make you bring your own yoga mat, but that's rare, so if it's not specified on the website don't worry about it. I like to bring a little snack (power bar or something) for classes that are over an hour so I don't get "hangry." Finally, experienced polers will bring some kind of grip aid, but if it's your first class you probably don't have any grip aid yet. They will probably sell some at the reception desk and/or have some you can use in the studio.
Arriving at the studio
Plan to arrive at the studio plenty early on your first day, to leave time for finding it (some of them can be really hard to find), signing waivers, getting dressed, and just having time to look around and chat. Parking might also be an issue in some areas.
Size, layout, and amenities vary drastically from studio to studio. You may be in a cushy lounge area, or you may be in a single pole room. This largely depends on how much money the studio has. But don't be put off if you end up in a single, unimpressive room--it often means that the owners are more interested in the art of pole than in making money, so you might get better training in the end.
Most studios have a reception desk that may or may not be manned. If it's not, someone will wander out and see you waiting to be helped eventually. The first thing they will do after meeting you is give you a waiver to sign. It's a pretty typical legal form that says they're not responsible if you injure yourself. Don't be alarmed, every studio has this. (But yes, pole dancing is dangerous and you can hurt yourself. Be careful!)
Of course, not all pole classes are in a pole studio per se. Some may be in a gym or a dance studio. Oh, and keep in mind that policies on men taking class vary from studio to studio as well. If it's going to be too creepy for you to train alongside dudes, check on the studio's policy first.
Bigger pole studios will have locker rooms and even showers. Smaller ones might just have a bathroom that has to be shared among the students. That means you need to arrive early enough to get dressed and wait in line for the bathroom. Alternatively you could just show up dressed already, depending on where you're coming from.
Waiting for class
Depending on the layout of the studio, there might be a lounge area to wait in. Or maybe you are in the pole room, trying to stay out of the way of the class before you.
It's possible that some friendly student will introduce themselves to you, but don't feel bad if they don't. Pole studios can be a little cliquish. However, we polers are REALLY excited to introduce new people to our art, so if you tell people it's your first time they'll probably be really happy to talk to you about it and tell you how much you're going to love it.
If it's a "teaser" or "taster" class, you'll be there with a lot of other newcomers. Some of them will be pretty nervous and chatty, so it's easy to make friends. :)
On the other hand, maybe you're there with a bachelorette party. There could be a regular class before yours, or there could be another bachelorette party. Either way it's nice if you can get a peek at what's going on so you know what to expect (and see all the smiling sweaty people having fun).
Start and warmup
Once it's time to start, everyone will pick a pole. It's up to you whether you want to be in front where you can see the teacher best or in back where you don't feel like everybody's watching you. Also, in some studios the poles aren't all the same--they might be different diameters, and some might be set to spin mode and some to static. But it doesn't matter much on your first day.
The norm is one student per pole, but some crowded classes will have 2 or 3 students sharing a pole. Many studios have an across-the-board "one student per pole" policy, though, and won't let the class get overbooked.
You'll probably find a place against the wall to stash your stuff and the teacher will warm you up. A warmup often includes stretching and/or conditioning (usually a lot of situp-like exercises). If it's a more "sexy" style pole class, there may be some "booty popping" in there as well.
Then you get to the meat of class. The teacher will demonstrate and explain something, and then you'll try it a few times.
And the first thing that will happen is you'll bang your shin on the pole and yell "OW!!" Congratulations, you've earned your first merit badge: your first pole bruise! Expect your legs to look "like moldy bread" the next day, as one aerialist colorfully put it to me after her first lesson. Yes, the bruising subsides over time. Most of us only get bruises when we're learning a new move. Right now, all the moves are new for you, so you have a lot of merit badges to collect.
The next thing you'll notice is the pole burn. Yes, pole burn is a thing. It's like rope burn, but caused by the pole rubbing against your skin. Expect any body part that's not bruised to be red and raw.
I know this sounds really awful and horrible, but keep in mind that everyone in the room went through this and came back because poling is amazing. Trust me, it's worth it.
So you'll try some moves and you'll probably get some and not get some. But what you will definitely get is a workout. And the best part is, you will be concentrating so hard on getting the moves that you won't even notice that you're exercising.
Some classes teach little routines, especially bachelorette party and teaser classes. In my experience, the majority of regular pole classes are not based on routines. On the other hand, some classes have a short "improv" session at the end, where the teacher puts on a song and you can dance or trick out or just practiced what you've learned. I've noticed that by the time it's "improv" time, most people are too tired to dance anyways.
Make sure you eat something after your workout. A soak in the tub with epsom salts can help with the muscle soreness you'll feel. Most importantly, do it again! You might book some classes at the same studio, or maybe you want to try out every different studio you can before you decide which to make your home. Either way, I can almost guarantee you that you're going to get on your computer that night and figure out how much it would cost to get a pole for your house.
Welcome to the club.
Image of Intrigue Fitness from polenation.com.