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Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

Fitness as Fun, Expressive Self-Empowerment

May 06, 2014 02:46AM ● By Kristen Rzasa

Pole dancing may conjure visions of a smoky bar, the likes of the Bada Bing in Tony Soprano’s neighborhood, rather than a mainstream form of exercise. Yet women across the nation are ditching their treadmills and eschewing their elliptical machines to capture the benefits of this sexy workout regimen and others like it.

Today, pole dancing has become a part of a growing fitness trend, alongside new class formats such as burlesque, aerial arts and belly dancing.  Even the usually buttoned-up Martha Stewart took a spin around the pole on her daytime television show.

Rather than track the incline on the treadmill, women from all walks of life long to embrace their bodies, curves and all, and actually enjoy their workouts.  The results?  Not only a strong core and buff biceps, but a renewed sense of their sexuality and increased confidence. Whether in boutique studios or a typical gym’s existing schedule, these unique formats continue to gain popularity. Prevention indicated that the concept of making fitness fun with the addition of classes like aerial arts, belly dancing and the like has staying power and is changing the way women view their workouts.

This is evidenced by the International Pole Dancing Fitness Association (IPDFA) and their growing network of over 14,000 members, as well as Ex-Pole’s claim that every 12 hours a pole dancing studio is opened or a pole is added to an existing business. The IPDFA is even seeking to gain the International Olympic Committee’s recognition of pole dance as a sport.

Sydney Seymour, owner of Bombshell Movement Studio in Chicago, explains what has sparked this trend, “Most women who walk into our studio are far from empowered as it relates to embracing their own femininity and sensuality... they desperately want to feel connected and sexy... the workout is a bonus.”
This is the message supermodel Emme has been preaching for years. Her tribe, EmmeNation, encourages women to re-evaluate their fitness goals by being mindful of not only what their bodies need but what their minds desire. “Bring on the fun and the engagement of the soul to a work out and we’ll be excited and happy to maintain a consistent commitment to our health,” Emme says. “No need for boring repetitive classes or movements to get in shape; try your turn at swinging around a pole and own your sexy self!” This combination of making exercise fun while instilling mental and emotional well-being seems to be a main driver bringing women to the classes.

Former Rockette Christine Oberec, owner of New Milford Jazzercise in New Milford, prides herself on creating a welcoming, non-intimidating and enjoyable environment. This is consistent with other studios offering new styles of workout.

The best workout is usually the one you stick with. Fitness blogs provide endless tips on staying motivated and committed to an exercise program. It seems the fun factor is as essential as the fitness factor in achieving results and making exercise a lifetime habit.

New Canaan-based massage therapist Alissa Arakelian was invited to her first belly dancing class by a plus-sized friend who was very comfortable in her own skin and anxious to try a class. “It’s a chance to go inward and dance for yourself,” Arakelian says, lighting up as she shares her love affair with belly dancing.  “It’s a safe place for women to be comfortable with themselves, no judgment, only respect.”

The stories of transformation extend far beyond the physical.  At FormFitting Fitness in Brookfield, owner Kaysa Cruse witnessed a quiet 52-year-old schoolteacher blossom in her pole dancing classes and even perform in a recent showcase. Cruse cites the higher level quality of instructors and performances that has helped to reduce the stigma around pole dancing as well as the appearance of world and U.S. championship competitions. “These events make it not only accessible, but more acceptable,” explains Cruse, three-time organizer of CT Pole Soiree, a popular showcase and competition.

But does fun equate to real results or is it just a mirage of boas and stilettos? Elizabeth Reed, owner of the BodySmart private studio in Monroe, added pole sculpting to the services she offers after experiencing the results herself.  The former body builder saw a return to her 30-year-old abs after only a few weeks of training with her friend and fellow instructor, Lisa Ellor.

“Many women are burnt out from their regular exercise routine. Clients leave our classes feeling like a sexy woman. They walk taller and carry this confidence with them for the rest of the day,” Reed says. Ellor explains that these alternative fitness classes offer the standard benefits of exercise such as cardio, strength conditioning and flexibility, but with the added appeal of a sensuality, fun and self-esteem boost all rolled up in one.

“If we can take a step back and let go of the body-bashing workouts and no-pain-no-gain mentality, we could quite possibly see a real change in the health of America.  With such unrealistic expectations in mass media and advertising, we are sure to fail.  Fitness must be made interesting, fun and inspiring for all to attain,” Emme says.

At Work It Dance and Fitness in Norwalk, owner Michelle Abbruzzese says the biggest concern she hears from potential clients is that “people are afraid to try these different types of classes.  They tell me first they’ll get in shape, then they’ll come to class.” That logic is backward, Abruzzzese says, because the classes at her studio are for every age, body type or dance background.  “You don’t need to be strong to do it,” Abbruzzese says, “you become strong when you do it.”

Kristen Hallett Rzasa is the owner of InterPlay Health, a whole-life wellness company in Norwalk focused on fitness, nutrition and fun for women. She is a Jazzercise instructor, Health Coach and MELT Method instructor. Find her at

Photos used by permission of Lisa Ellor, Certified Pole Sculpting Instructor at BodySmart studio.

Local Resources

FormFitting Fitness 
483 Federal Rd, Brookfield

115 Main St, Unit 11
(P.O. Box 622), Monroe

Work It Dance and Fitness
19 North Main St
(P.O. Box 452) Norwalk

Jazzercise New Milford
32 Still River Dr, New Milford

Vertical Addiction
100 High Ridge Rd, Stamford

Sound Center Arts
(belly dance classes)
31 Hawleyville Rd, Newtown

Other Resources:
• International Pole Dance Fitness Association (
• EmmeNation (
• U.S. Pole Dance Federation (