Awkward Chick Attempts to Work a Pole

Every Saturday morning, at hours as early as 8:45 a.m., the ladies of Candy Cane begin de-greasing their stripper poles. They aren’t working for dollar bills, but for abs off of which you could bounce quarter after quarter.

The daily classes are basically booked for the next year, but certified personal trainer and pole instructor Tianee Strickland said she sneaks students in every now and then. Rather than seeming surprised at the rising popularity of this sport—which will be featured at the Arnold Sports Festival, if you needed proof that it is indeed considered a sport—Strickland acted like it was just a matter of time.

“People are seeing that you don’t have to take your clothes off for money to like pole [classes],” she said.

When she began, she was called a stripper; prospective customers claimed they couldn’t participate because they were Christian, and fellow women criticized her for being anti-feminist.

“There was a whole lot of animosity that we have to kick away when everyone gets in class,” she said. “There are barriers that sometimes we as women put up when we’re not feeling comfortable.”

In her fourth year of teaching pole classes, Strickland said this is the first year she’s seen a significant increase in demand. She watched her membership grow from 30 to 300 students in the year that Candy Cane has been in business on North High Street.

As a fitness instructor, Strickland’s mission is fulfilled with every student who finds a motivation to be physically active through pole dancing. Exercise is exercise, she says.

But a fair warning to first timers: There will be awkwardness.

For one, there is this idea that we signed up to feel fancy in our underwear when with our significant others while, in reality, we were a bunch of strangers in gym shorts trying to figure out how to twirl around a metal pole without bruising a kneecap.

And then there’s the physical awkwardness of controlling your limbs on these strange devices—which spin, by the way. When you think you’re about to slowly spiral down the pole, you instead contort into a flesh-colored vortex. Rather than coyly outstretching an arm, you might be tempted to smash both forearms into the pole for balance. And you may hear the instruction, “Now, smile!” at the precise moment you begin regretting the breakfast you ate immediately before class.

But letting go of that awkwardness—mental or physical—is integral to the workout, Strickland said.

When you stand on your tippy toes and march around the pole, you’re working your calves more so than any other casual stroll. And when you arch your back as you spin around the pole, rather than imitating a scantily clad firefighter coming down the shoot, you can feel the burn throughout your arms.

By the end of the 45-minute workout, even if you can’t do the super sensual monkey climb to the top of the ceiling, you are getting a total-body workout, Strickland said. The cardio may not be as intense as a P90X session, but students are still likely to break a sweat.

And at Candy Cane there are a few ways to do that. The fitness class uses the pole more as a stability bar than a dancing accessory. Students do learn basic pole-dancing moves, but there’s more focus on strengthening your body than on popping, locking and dropping. Strickland’s dance class offers the latter and is particularly popular for bachelorette parties.

Although classes book quickly, Candy Cane hosts an open bar for ladies from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. For $5, clients and newbies alike can enjoy a cocktail or protein smoothie and try their moves on the poles.

Strickland said she has gone from offering 18 classes per week to 30 and may add more to accommodate the increased interest.

And to those who are focused on the stigma of pole dancing, Strickland presented this idea:

“There’s a certain allure to poles. Women like to feel good about themselves. They’re not necessarily dancing for anyone else.”

Candy Cane Bar & Party House of the Short North
1205 N. High St.