Pole Fitness: The Next Big Thing?

There is a white stucco building off Foothill Blvd. with a sign you can only barely read from the road: “Unleashed Fitness.” It’s just next to the Jiu-Jitsu studio and across the street from that RV dealership, the one that shares a parking lot with Empire Tattoos. A billboard for an Inland Empire real estate company points passersby toward The City of Upland. And, for the time being, there isn’t much in the way of landscaping in front of the complex.

Four times, every day of the week, women in Camrys, 4-Runners, Suburbans, and Land Rovers roll into that parking lot off Dewey Way. Some of them wear yoga pants, while others come in tight khaki capris and aviator sunglasses, leather hobo purses slung over their shoulders. But when the women cross the threshold behind the tinted glass door, all of the accoutrements of the world outside the little white building are stripped away.

Unleashed Fitness is the premier gym in the area for women looking for different ways of keeping fit. The gym offers classes in pole fitness, burlesque cabaret, Zumba, belly dancing, and yoga. Founder Tamara Gross designed her studio with the intention of changing the way women approach fitness and the way they look at their bodies.

“Its about women empowerment,” Gross said. “Just for having women come here to feel good about themselves… as women we’ve lost touch with a lot of our sensuality, and I think this gives women an avenue to bring it back.”

“Every woman, no matter body, shape, size, is beautiful, and we try to bring that out in there so they feel confident and comfortable with themselves. No matter what body they’re carrying.”

Stepping inside the studio, you forget about the world you left outside. The interior has high ceilings, burgundy walls, and low lights, with velvet curtains hiding floor-to-ceiling windows. Chenille pillows are arranged haphazardly on velvet benches lining the room. Eight poles stand in a high circle in the center of the room, warm light dancing off the metal from dainty glass chandeliers.

“I had a vision of what I wanted it to be like when you walked in,” Gross explained as she described the evolution of the project.

“It’s almost like a club atmosphere. I didn’t want a gym feel at all. I wanted it to be comfortable, intimate. There are no mirrors because we don’t want people to focus on what’s moving, or what’s not moving. We want you to really feel. It’s amazing how your body knows what some of these things are supposed to feel like.”

Last weekend I showed up at the door in stretchy pants and a hot-pink workout top, ready for an 11:45 Intro to Pole session. Gross and her co-worker Patti O’Toole Eckert ushered me in to the main studio, where I sat on a comfortable bench next to a woman who was probably in her forties. We introduced ourselves and she explained that it was her first time at the studio.

“I’d always wanted to try it [pole fitness],” she said, “and when I got a divorce, I realized I needed to try something new. This makes me feel good, makes me feel sexy.”

The 90-minute session began with a solid ab workout, including variations of the push-up and a number of strengthening routines for the hips and back, set to a playlist of everything from Adele to the Black Eyed Peas to Maroon 5 to Lykke Li remixes. I like to think I’m in relatively good shape, but some of the ladies in my class were putting me to shame. Turns out, it’s actually pretty tough to hold your toes in point while trying to draw designs in the air. “Graceful” is not the first term to come to my mind when describing my warm-up.

We finished the first part of the class with child’s pose. God knows I could have lain there all day, but it was time for the pole. This was a concern for me, seeing as I have never been much of a dancer, nor was I a big fan of the fireman pole back in my playground days. I could hear the painful squeal of skin-on-metal just thinking about it.

But all was good. Tamara gave each student special attention, introducing us to the basics of dancing with a pole. From the classic Fireman trick, to the refining of our “sexy walks,” I learned very quickly that pole dancing takes quite a bit of strength and skill. My arms and chest were very sore for the next few days, and the bruises on my shins show no sign of retreating.

“Some of the women, it’s amazing, they come in here, and they would just sweat, you know,” Gross nodded in the direction of a heavyset woman pulling on black fishnets and five-inch heels, “but then they become comfortable with themselves. I think a lot of women aren’t comfortable in their own skin and it doesn’t matter if they’re overweight, or their age, or whatever.”

By the end of class, the new students and I had mastered a very simple routine. We then stepped aside to give the floor to Jane, a curvy woman in orange ruffled bikini bottoms.

“‘Secret,’ Maroon 5,” she quipped to Eckert.

The music began to play, and Jane transformed from just another girl you might see at the mall into something amazing. Confidence oozed from every movement, she held complete control over her body. Her dance filled the room, and as the women watching cheered encouragement, Jane told her own story through a beautiful dance of power and vulnerability, completely owning her femininity.

“I just do this as a hobby,” she shrugged, wiping her face. “It makes me feel like a woman.”

Unleashed Fitness, located on Dewey Way in Upland, holds classes seven days a week. They offer a 15 percent discount to students for their wide range of fitness and dance classes. For more information and a full schedule, check them out at http://www.unleashedfitness.com or on Facebook.

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