Pole-dancing classes proving popular in downtown Vancouver

By Mary Ann Albright, Columbian Staff Reporter

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photoPole dancing helps build upper-body strength, since people have to support their weight as they perform moves such as spins and climbs.

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Miniskirts and thigh-high platform boots aren’t standard gym gear, but they’re perfectly acceptable — even preferable — workout attire at Linda Lee’s Lingerie Boutique.

The new downtown Vancouver shop sells intimate apparel and saucy costumes, shoes and accessories during the day, but at 6 p.m., the drapes close, the disco light comes on, and songs such as Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack” pump through the speakers.

Pole-Dancing classes

Linda Durrett offers pole-dancing fitness classes out of her new downtown storefront, Linda Lee’s Lingerie Boutique, 817 Washington St., Vancouver.

Classes are for women only. Those younger than 18 need parental permission to participate.

Classes last an hour and meet at 6:10 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and 7:10 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Students also can use the poles to practice during shop hours.

A one-year membership is $85 per month, a six-month membership is $105 per month, and a one-month membership is $125. Drop-in classes are $25. People can sign up for one free trial class. If they join after the trial, the one-time $99 membership fee is waived. Linda Lee’s hosts bachelorette parties and other private events, as well.

To learn more, call 360-977-7655 or go to http://pole4fun.com.

In the evenings, the boutique transforms into a pole-dancing studio, where local women are exploring an alternative to traditional group exercise classes.

Five 14-foot poles take up the back portion of the boutique. Students run the gamut in terms of age, body type and fitness level, as well as apparel choices. Some opt for 6-inch Lucite heels and corset tops, while others wear gym shorts and T-shirts and go barefoot.

The classes are just for women, but most men in their lives are pretty supportive, according to boutique owner Linda Durrett.

“I think most guys like to say, ‘My wife is taking a pole-dance class.’ Or, ‘We have a pole at home,’” she said.

The emphasis at Linda Lee’s is on fitness. Pole dancing is a fun way to get a full-body workout, Durrett said. The discipline especially helps build upper-body strength, as it requires people to use their arms to support their body weight as they perform moves on the pole, she added.

That’s largely what drew Kathleen Crawford to Linda Lee’s Lingerie Boutique and its Pole 4 Fun Fitness Classes (http://www.pole4fun.com).

“I heard it’s a great way to get shoulder and upper-arm definition,” said the 50-year-old Vancouver resident, an office administrator.

Crawford has been taking classes since Durrett opened for business at the beginning of March. At first she had bruises on her legs from hitting the pole, but as her arm strength improved, she needed to rely less on her lower body for grip.

She also graduated from typical gym clothes to boots, fishnet stockings and a little skirt with bike shorts underneath.

Crawford attends classes two or three times per week, and enjoys the challenge of mastering new moves.

“It does boost my self-esteem because it’s a huge accomplishment when I can do something a little bit better, a little bit different on the pole,” she said.

Confidence-building is just one of the benefits of pole dancing, says Durrett, who before moving to Vancouver at the end of last year taught the classes in Grants Pass, Ashland and Klamath Falls, Ore., for three years.

It was about six years ago that Durrett, 50, first discovered pole dancing. She began taking classes in Southern Oregon because she was bored of her home treadmill and stair-stepper machine. She quickly got hooked.

“If you do something you like, it’s not boring, and you’re not going to quit,” she said. “If you find something you like doing, you’re going to stick with it.”

Durrett took most of her classes in Medford, Ore., but made a point of studying at different studios when she traveled. A few years ago she had a private lesson at Sheila Kelley’s San Francisco S Factor outpost.

Kelley, founder of S Factor and an actress known for her work on such shows as “L.A. Law” and “Sisters,” is largely credited with spearheading the pole-dance fitness movement. She started offering classes out of her home in April 2001 and now has seven studios in California, New York City, Chicago and Houston, as well as a line of instructional DVDs and other merchandise.

As the popularity of pole dancing as a workout has increased, more options have sprung up beyond S Factor. There are even Pole Fitness for Jesus classes in Texas that have attracted national media attention recently. They cater to the church-going set and feature contemporary Christian music.

Pole dancing and Jesus may have yet to intersect in the Northwest, but there are several pole-dancing studios in Portland. Durrett, however, is currently the only game on this side of the river.

That wasn’t always the case, according to Vancouver resident Summer Morris, founder and co-owner of Diva Den Studio.

After having her third child, Morris was struggling to get her pre-baby body back. So, in 2005 she put up a pole in her house and taught herself to dance.

“I don’t want to go to the gym and walk aimlessly on a treadmill. It’s boring,” she said. “I’d rather strap on a pair of heels, turn the lights down, turn the music up and just dance.”

What began as a personal fitness regimen turned into a business. Morris, 34, started selling poles, then began teaching classes at in-home parties in the summer of 2006.

In early 2007, she and another Vancouver resident, Aimee “Starr” Woodard, collaborated on The Bombshell Ballroom pole-dancing studio in Vancouver.

Morris left after about four months and started Diva Den Studio (http://www.divadenstudio.com) in Portland. Woodard, 31, continued to operate The Bombshell Ballroom until she closed the business in January 2009. She now teaches pole dancing at the Brassy Butterfly in North Portland (http://www.brassybutterfly.com).

Diva Den Studio began in Southeast Portland in a 700-square-foot space and has steadily expanded. Last summer, Morris moved the business into a 9,000-square-foot facility in Southwest Portland. Diva Den offers pole-dancing classes, as well as instruction in other activities including aerial yoga and trapeze.

At about 1,200 square feet, Linda Lee’s Lingerie Boutique is significantly smaller than Diva Den Studio, but it’s having a big impact on students.

During a recent class, Durrett led Crawford and four other pupils through warm-ups and stretches, then put them through their paces on the pole.

Backed by propulsive music, Durrett’s class gripped their poles and lifted their legs off the ground to perform spins with names such as “the fireman” and “the firefly.” Durrett also instructed the class to do the “step-drag,” a sexy walk that allows time to recover between more acrobatic maneuvers.

None of the students were first-timers, so Durrett could skip over the safety instructions, warnings about making sure the pole isn’t too slick and not trying certain tricks until people are strong and experienced enough.

The class also incorporated dance segments for cardio and some mat work to strengthen the core.

Perhaps the most challenging part of the class was the pole climb, as students pushed themselves to get closer to the top.

“This is the highest I’ve ever gone,” said Natalie Semensow, touching the ceiling triumphantly. “I’ve been coming to class and trying each time to get to the top, and this time I did it. It’s empowering.”

Semensow, a 22-year-old Vancouver resident and member of the Air National Guard, said she enjoys pole dancing as a fun, social alternative to more solitary, monotonous types of exercise.

She also likes that she can work out in sky-high heels.

“This class makes me feel sexy while I’m working out,” she said. “It’s almost addicting, as opposed to a drag.”

Semensow stumbled upon Linda Lee’s Lingerie Boutique while walking downtown. She took a free trial class and “fell in love.”

One trial session was all it took to hook Bre Glynn, as well.

Between several classes and taking advantage of the open-pole practice time Durrett offers during the day, Glynn is already seeing results.

“Exercise-wise, it rips you,” said the 18-year-old Vancouver resident, who works in retail.

Like Semensow, Glynn recently climbed to the top of the pole for the first time with her classmates’ encouragement.

“Everybody cheers each other on,” Glynn said. “Everyone who’s in the class is a lot of fun.”

For Jenny Entwistle, climbing the pole is a way of facing her fear of heights.

“I just like the fact that I can defy gravity,” said the 18-year-old Vancouver resident and Clark College student, who is engaged to be married to Durrett’s son.

The classes also are an avenue toward creative, artistic fulfillment, as Tawny Spain has found.

“It’s the most holistic workout I’ve tried,” said the 29-year-old Vancouver resident and Clark College student. “I’m mentally engaged, I’m creatively engaged, I’m physically engaged.”

Spain had been looking into pole-dancing classes in Portland when she learned about Linda Lee’s Lingerie Boutique.

“I like the marriage between sensuality and self-expression,” she said.

Mary Ann Albright: maryann.albright@columbian.com, 360-735-4507.