I’ve always been intrigued by dancers, the exotic kind in particular. While others have seen them as purveyors of the salacious, I’ve seen them as models of grace, beauty and strength. I ask you, can you spin yourself like a ballerina while upside down or give the illusion you’re walking on air, a metal rod your only means of support? I can’t but I wish I could.
Besides being sexy as hell, pole dancing is a challenge. The turns and flips demand flexibility and endurance. Each move develops kinesthetic awareness, as well as a sense of accomplishment. Like any other form of dance, poling (as the experts call it) is not only a learned skill but an art form and I want in.
That’s why I’m particularly excited when, through the power of Instagram, I come across an account for Hudson Valley Pole Arts (@hv_polearts). Located in the historic Shirt Factory in Kingston, NY classes are held four days a week under the tutelage of Owner and Certified Pole Instructor Nicole Duquette. She’s been poling for more than five years and teaching for three. Michelle Stanek, the internationally known pole performer, served as one of her master trainers. If anyone can help me achieve my dancer dream, she can.
Nicole can appreciate my admiration for pole artists. We’re sitting on the floor of her studio before one of her classes. She’s a petite balayage ash blond with softly defined muscles and a warm smile. I tell her that I’ve read through her website and admire how she doesn’t disconnect pole dancing from its sexy beginnings. She emphasizes that poling boosts strength and body confidence- something that many women lack. Making a physically challenging move look easy and beautiful is part of what makes it alluring and arguably can be seen as a metaphor for womanhood itself. I ask how she got started.
According to her, she’s “always sort of” been into strip joints. While studying art and writing in college she took a job waitressing in a gentlemen’s club and was surprised to find the comradery that took place behind the stage.
“I became friends with one of the dancers and she would stay after and teach me a few tricks,” she explains. “I became obsessed with it… It was like a community of friends taking the time after hours to show each other these elaborate tricks that require a lot of strength…These girls didn’t have classical training. They were just winging it and still making it so sexy.”
At the time there were few places to learn how to pole dance other than working at an actual club, so Nicole invested in a pole and started teaching herself through YouTube tutorials. Eventually she made her way to practicing at a pole studio’s open hour. Impressed by her skills, the studio instructor encouraged her to become certified.
These girls didn’t have classical training. They were just winging it and still making it so sexy.
This should be easy. All I have to do is lie on my back and allow my left leg to come to my head till I flip over into a mermaid-like pose. This move is called a Shoulder Roll.
If you haven’t guessed it, I’m in my first pole class. We’ve just finished the warm up (something that reminds me of an erotic version of yoga) and are moving on to floor work. Nicole demonstrates while explaining each trick before turning it over to the students. I get into position, feeling somewhat confident. I hoist my hips and lift up, up, – wait a minute, I can’t stay up. I’m wobbling. This didn’t look that hard but now suddenly I’m not sure how to operate myself. I use to do this sort of thing all the time as a kid, laying on my parents bed and twisting myself like a human pretzel but now it all it feels foreign. When did I become disconnected from my body?
Most of my life I’ve been the type of person who gravitates to things I naturally excel at. I wouldn’t classify myself as someone with shaky self-esteem. But as I struggle to contort myself in the desired way, all these weird things are coming up for me. Not exactly as limber you thought, huh? Is your gut hanging out? My inner critique raises her ugly head and I’m starting to second guess my goal of poling. I’m not strong enough. Maybe I’ll just leave.
Before my self-doubt gets the better of me Nicole is at my side. She keeps classes small so each student can get her attention and at that moment, I’m grateful for it. My entire body needs to work together. She shows me that it’s not just my leg I need to focus on but my arms, the right one specifically. It’s the arm that will help to roll my body gently over my left shoulder. She gently guides me and I feel my legs finally touch the floor.
There is a science to pole dancing and learning it has helped Nicole not only become a better dancer but instructor. Much of poling has to do with friction, pushing and other words generally linked to a physics class.
“It’s all about centrifugal force and making your own momentum,” she explains. “It’s all about the push pull. Almost every move you do on a pole requires you to pull with one part of your body and push with another part. That’s where you’re getting your strength.”
All of her students come to understand this concept. One shows me the Inverted Crucifix a move that results in you hanging upside down with your chest between the pole. The student hovers angelically above, explaining that finding the flat space between both knees creates the stability you need to stay put. Once you find that sweet spot, you’re golden.
Nicole never envisioned herself a business owner but when she moved from Brooklyn to the Hudson Valley there wasn’t a place to teach pole dancing. “I just missed it so much,” she says. “I needed to bring it here and make people fall in love with it.”
And people who come to her studio do love it. Hudson Valley Pole Arts is spacious with cathedral ceilings, lowly lit and tricked out with white and purple fairy lights. Located on the third floor of the factory so no one can gawk through the window, the space feels safe, as well as sensual. The classes attract people of all different backgrounds, sizes and age. They use words like fun and addictive to describe their experience. Everyone is encouraged to discard inhibitions and own their sexiness.
Nicole uses both static and spinning poles in her classes but starts beginners off on a static to help them engage their muscles and learn how to maneuver themselves. She offers several classes weekly, as well as private sessions and pole parties. The Newbie class is her most popular and encompasses a core based move, a lower body move, an upper body move, a spin and then a combo of all four. “And there’s lots of booty popping,” she adds. “Lots of sexy floor work.”
Level 2 is more trick based and students work on skills like hanging upside down and rolling with a spinning pole. Pole Play is open studio time for those who want to practice their moves with the comfort of knowing that Nicole will be there to spot them if needed. Open Level is for intermediate to advance dancers. Nicole creates routines that they can perform high or low on the pole and also includes Chinese poling techniques, as well as heel wearing. The Conditioning and Flex builds dancers strength and revolves around functional exercises. For every class, she accesses a dancer’s skill and adjusts moves accordingly.
“I try to teach towards every person’s level,” she says. “If something looks really easy for them I’ll give them something more difficult. I don’t want them to get bored and I want them to keep building their strength.”
For all the hard work that goes into each session there is ample fun to be had. Nicole has given some moves quirky and irreverent names such as the Vagina Monster, a surprisingly elegant way to move across the ground while fanning out each leg. Some students wear heels or costumes. A lot of laughter takes place on the floor and students are quick to help those who are struggling or need encouragement. Yes, it’s a dance class but it’s also a sisterhood. There’s no judgement but a feeling of inclusiveness and that’s how Nicole wants it to be.
“A lot of people…especially after a certain age, are told that you’re supposed to tone it down- whatever that means,” she says. “This is the safe place where you can be as sexy as you want to be and embrace your sexuality. And if you don’t want to do that, you can still get the muscles.”
Nearing the end of the class my muscles are pulsating. In the hour and fifteen minutes that I’ve been there I’ve learned to spin forward and backward, roll my body, pop my rear and I’ve already told you about shoulder rolling. My movements are not as smooth as I would like but I must admit, I feel sort of hot spinning around with the rest of the women. And who knew I was capable of doing any of the moves that I had just learned? Not me.
I’m exhausted but not done. Nicole wants me to climb the pole. This has been the one thing I’ve been worried about. My arms shake just lifting five pound weights. There’s no way you can lift yourself. I have no upper body strength, I tell her. She reassures me that I’ll build it.
I make contact with the steel, focusing on her instructions. Crunch legs toward my abs, pull with arms, repeat. I don’t think I’ll go anywhere. I literally think I’ll just stick to the pole like a slug to a sidewalk and I’ll look ridiculous. But I’m wrong. I feel my body contract and then spring up as I move. I climb and climb until I’m at the top, exhilarated. I hear Nicole cheer below. I’ve never been so high.
For more information about Hudson Valley Pole Arts or to reserve your spot in Nicole’s next class, please visit hudsonvalleypole.com.