Kick Up Your Heels!

In the minds of many, exercise isn’t necessarily an enjoyable part of one’s day, but rather a necessary component in the quest for good health. They visit the gym, take a brisk walk, a long run or hit the home treadmill.

Photo credit: OnnoKok@Onno.kok

Put those same people on a dance floor with great music and they forget that they’re exercising altogether! Now, take that concept and add a touch of glamour and a bit of sweat, and you’ve found an activity that is taking the Okanagan by storm. Dance is no longer just a traditional activity, people are gravitating towards unique dance studios such as; burlesque, pole, belly dancing and much more. Dance is sexy, super active and the interest just keeps growing!

These forms of dance have been around for a long time and women of all shapes, sizes and fitness levels are finding confidence and a higher degree of athleticism, all the while dancing their way to loving their bodies just a little bit more.

The world of Pole Dancing is rapidly becoming more inclusive and pre-conceived notions are flying out the window. Erin Smith, proprietor of Okanagan Pole Dance and Aerial Fitness, says that athleticism is important, although you don’t have to be strong to start.

“I had absolutely no experience and had just given birth to twins when I started,” she recalls. “Pole dance is a lot of fun and very different from going to the gym.”

Pole dancing appeals to women – and men – for many reasons other than just physical benefits. Jill, a recently certified instructor, explains what has attracted her to this activity.

“Pole teaches us how power and beauty can coexist, and that we don’t have to sacrifice our femininity to be strong and athletic.”

Jill also believes that pole teaches women, in a society focused on outward appearance, to love their bodies for what they can do rather than how they look.

A question pole dancers are asked is “what is the appropriate attire for pole dancing”. People see the booty shorts and sports bras and often wonder why dancers don’t dress more modestly! Well the answer is simple says Jill… “It’s for practicality and safety. The majority of poles are chrome, brass or stainless steel finished and fabrics won’t cling to these shiny, polished surfaces, making many pole dance moves almost impossible to do in longer shorts or pants. The more exposed skin we have, the easier it is to wrap around and hang on! We joke a lot in the pole community about our shorts. The more advanced you get, the shorter the shorts get” Jill laughs.

Classes and workshops are offered for every level from beginner to advanced. The popular Introduction to Pole workshop is designed for newcomers, where they can quickly learn basic spins.

“There is tons of laughter, great energy and a little bit of trepidation at our beginner classes. But people pick it up easily and they’re proud of themselves,” said Erin.

A surprising number of men are joining the pole dance movement, and Erin says they’re usually a little more nervous than women. “Canada’s male Pole Dance champion trains with us. And lots of couples have met dancing!”

Undoubtedly, Pole Dance is an amazing workout. “You’re working against your body weight, gravity and working around centrifugal force, all the while winding around a post. You will see results very fast. And it’s addictive…once you’ve reached a certain level, you’re not adding more weight or reps, but learning new tricks, which creates easy motivation,” Erin said.

Tina Joslin, proprietor of Femme Fatale Burlesque, offers a form of dance she calls ‘burlesque fusion.’

“In our style of Burlesque, you don’t strip and it is done as a group, whereas Burlesque is usually individual dance,” she explained.

The group slogan is ‘empowerment through movement’ and it encourages women to enjoy a little ‘me time’ to connect with themselves and give them permission to be sexy.

Who are these up and coming burlesque dancers? They’re anyone from age 20 to 55 or older. The seven instructors offer two drop-in classes a week, plus sixteen-week sessions during which they work on the big event…a live show that is open to the public.

“It’s a big event,” says Tina. “We sell about six hundred tickets!”

The other benefit of a group of women working together in this way, comes from the comradery that develops as they dance toward their live performance. The woman are very kind and encouraging with each other, and they connect tightly with women from all walks of life. While they are encouraged to participate in the live show, it isn’t mandatory.

“There is a big core element involved. The dancers do a great deal of stretching… and they’re wearing heels. Athleticism helps, but it’s not absolutely necessary, nor is any previous experience. We teach the movements and go super slow. Our beginners are Level One and Two and at the other end of the scale, Level Five and Six, are for women who have been dancing their entire lives,” Tina said.

The average sixteen-week session involves sixty to seventy women working together on their bodies, it’s a real confidence builder.

The music crosses many genres and participants dance to themes like Vegas, Divas, Tributes and Canadian talent. The next show, scheduled for May 11 and 12, is based on one-hit-wonders!

For those who want to try a little shimmying in a different way, check out Boundless Belly Dance in Penticton, owned by Keisha McLean. At age seven, Keisha had a family member teaching belly dancing. It resonated with her immediately, and as of April she will have been dancing for 15 years.

Boundless has a professional troupe, a beginner troupe and solo dancers. The pros dance throughout BC and from April until December, they do about 50 performances, mostly in the Okanagan.

Here are a few surprising stats about belly dancing. It is ageless, with participants ranging from age 17 to 93. While Boundless Belly Dancing works primarily with adults, Keisha has worked with a child as young as three.

“We also have influential men in the belly dance industry. The progression we’re experiencing has meant more fluidity in terms of gender.” Keisha explains that they utilize the basics of belly dance, which originated in the Middle East, and as its popularity grew in the west, different forms of the dance popped up and the result is the creation of the Belly Dance Fusion.

“The only thing you need to bring is an open mind. We have had lots of people say they can’t dance and they’re shocked at how well they do. We have many different classes, from Beginner to Belly Dance Cardio which is specifically for exercise and believe me, it’s a workout! We also hold monthly workshops, and individuals or groups can request their own custom workshops too. Boundless workshops average 1.5 hours and also offer a package where we can perform for you and your group, followed by a workshop.”

Weekly drop-in classes concentrate on strength, core and flexibility building, with core and arm strength amongst the biggest benefits. You don’t have to invest in a costume…they have a huge variety of colourful, gorgeous costumes on site.

You can’t talk about dance without mentioning the fact that it’s fun, lively and just a little sassy. Feeling good on so many levels is a sensual experience that is hard to emulate. Whether you spin, twirl, swoop, kick up your heels or shimmy and shine, dance is a great way of connecting with your inner athlete in a personal, sensory and highly creative way – so why not give it a whirl!

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