Building Body Confidence Through Pole Dancing

By Rebecca Quin
March 8, 2016
Health & Beauty

Looking for a way to get fit, make friends and improve your self esteem? Pole Dance Tokyo offers a range of classes designed to help you build strength and body confidence in a fun, supportive environment.

Rummaging through my bag in the low-lit fitting room before my first ever pole dance class, I had the sudden awful realization that my carefully curated “I-totally-exercise-regularly” outfit was not where it should be.

“I’ve forgotten my shorts,” I confessed to the receptionist, hoping that she would give me a refund and let me scurry back home to carry out my original Sunday plan of Netflix and boxed wine. “Oh, that’s okay,” she smiled, waving a perfectly manicured hand, “you can do it in your underwear.”

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So that’s what I did. Happily I wasn’t the only one; we were a diverse bunch gathered in the spacious and modern studio of Pole Dance Tokyo, there for the basic group class. There are four levels of classes from absolute beginner through to advanced, each lasting around 75 minutes.

Classes are small and each student gets a pole, meaning that you can learn at your own pace. You don’t need to bring anything; the studio recommends shorts and a sleeveless top as you need your bare skin to grip the pole (which explains why I was actually allowed to walk around in my underwear).

You could tell the first-timers from the way we dithered around the pole, looking at it like it was some kind of alien creature that might possibly want to kill us. The veterans were already stretching on their mats, so we followed their example, though it was difficult to manoeuvre my spine into anything lower than a 45 degree angle.

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Then, the music came on and our bilingual instructor Diana breezed into the studio to start the class. We began with an energetic aerobic workout designed to fire up our core, followed by stretching exercises. I was breathless in all of 10 seconds, but Diana walked around making sure each of us was doing everything right and handing out words of encouragement, her ridiculously-toned body proof that if we wanted to get lean we’d come to the right place.

After the warm up, it was time to tackle the pole. The first exercise was practicing holding and walking around in a circle. It seemed simple enough, but actually my body wasn’t used to being this confident—I just wanted to shuffle around the thing as quickly as possible—and I could sense the other newbies struggling to dredge up some sex appeal from a lifetime of self-consciousness. But with a couple of goes and Diana’s exclamations to “Be sexy!” I started to get the hang of it.

Learning body confidence seems to be a key part of pole dancing’s appeal, and something that Pole Dance Tokyo wants to encourage among its students. By focusing on combined strength-building and dance techniques, students are able to approach pole dancing for what it is: a sport, requiring practice and determination. The confidence comes from learning a new skill in an environment where bodies are celebrated rather than criticized.

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“I signed up because I wanted to find a way to enjoy my body,” says Megumi Tanaka on the studio’s website. “It has helped me peel away years of awkwardness and insecurity about my body which now brings me joy and truly makes me happy!”

There was definitely a sense of sisterhood in the class, with experienced students sharing tips as we learnt more challenging moves, working up to a pole climb (terrifying, but not fatal). At the end of the class, the group was split into two, and each half performed the moves we had practiced. Although I spent most of the time turning in the wrong direction, it was cool to be able to perform an actual routine and be given a supportive round of applause for it. A warm down and stretching session followed, and I swear I was just that little bit closer to touching my toes.

When the class was over, I was already fantasizing about how I was going to one day star in my own critically acclaimed solo performance. Pole Dance Tokyo organizes regular showcases so that students can show off their skills, and many of the students who learn there go on to become professional performers, specializing in pole dancing or another aerial performance arts. All of the instructors are former competition winners or championship finalists who have trained for years to gain recognition for their craft.

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Watching Diana demonstrate the moves, I realized how beautiful and graceful the body could be. It was clear that the women who came were there not just to improve their image but to take back control of it. Pole dancing isn’t just about losing weight, or getting Jennifer Aniston arms, or learning how to be sexy for your partner, it’s a way of appreciating your body as a source of strength and skill, a living thing that’s able to do some pretty insane tricks and look awesome while doing it.

I’m signed up to the next class and planning not to forget my clothes this time—but the good thing is, it doesn’t really matter.

The Deets

Address: Tokai Annex Building B1 3-16-8 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Tel: 03-5941-8998

More info: Pole Dance Tokyo offers a variety of classes, including pole dance, aerial tissue and hoop, burlesque, and strength and flexibility. Private and group classes are available, as well as workshops. A trial class is ¥2,500, after which visitor drop-in or membership fees apply. Book a class online and pay on arrival. See the studio’s website for directions.

Rebecca is a Tokyo-based travel writer and digital marketing consultant. Originally from the UK, she first came to Japan on the JET program for what was supposed to be a short stint adventuring in Asia. Four years on and she’s still living the dream—which mostly involves telling people about all the great things there are to do in Japan. A big fan of eating, she’s determined to try every restaurant in Tokyo at least once.

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