Everything you need to know before your first pole dance class
(An updated version of this post is available here)
I went to my first pole dance class in November 2017 and being the socially anxious quivering wreck that I was back then, I spent a whole week scouring the internet for blog posts and articles on what I could expect in my first class. I felt I needed to mentally prepare myself for throwing myself into a new activity, particularly something that seemed so extroverted, and with a new group of people.
Pole dance called to me because I needed something new and interesting to break me out of my routine of coming home from work to do nothing in particular until I went to sleep. The strength training I was doing was becoming monotonous and I was losing all motivation (thanks, depression). At the very least, I figured the class would help me to avoid rush hour, as well as make for an interesting story — that is, if I ever plucked up the courage to actually talk to people.
At the class, something surprising happened. It clicked in my brain that this is something I wanted to keep doing. A few classes later, I’d figured out that this is what I wanted to forever and always, please let me live in the studio.
Me, a super shy introvert who couldn’t speak to anyone, wanting to do something so…extroverted. It felt bizarre — but I loved it.
I’ve been going to classes at my home studio for 9 months now, and as a beginner, I’d like to pass on some words of vague wisdom for those of you who are thinking of trying a pole class, based not only on my experience of being very unfit and not particularly keen on exercise, but as a plus size pole dancer.
The practical stuff
What to wear:
There’s thousands of different studios out there, and so many variations in how they teach and what kind of classes they put on, so take my advice with a pinch of salt here. If in doubt, contact your studio to find out the specifics.
For my first class, I wore knee length shorts and a tank top. You don’t need any fancy gear, just standard exercise wear will do. For the first few weeks I was working on the beginner spins, pirouettes, slides and fan/scissor kicks, so I didn’t need much skin exposed past my ankles, wrists, armpit and sides.
Unless you’re specifically going to a heels class, don’t worry about footwear, as you’ll be dancing barefoot.
It’s worth taking knee pads if your class includes floorwork to prevent any damage to your knees.
What to bring:
The essentials are a bottle of water/squash and a badass attitude.
I typically carry with me a change of clothes, depending on the weather, as well as deodorant, a hairbrush, and something I can dry my hands on that isn’t the pole cloth . I also have a couple bottles of Dry Hands (a grip aid) on me at all times, but that’s not something you’ll need for a while.
If you’re like me and get shaky with a lot of exertion, or if it’s particularly hot (like it is in the UK at the minute) it’s worth having a small snack in your bag to keep your blood sugar up until you can get something bigger to eat. I also have little concentrated bottles of squash in my bag for a quick flavour boost if I need it, because let’s face it, plain water is boring.
What to eat:
Get a hearty snack at least an hour before class — you’re going to need the energy! My go-to is a protein bar as it keeps me full through the class from the protein, has a good amount of slow-release carbs to keep my energy levels up, as well as a bit of sugar to make it tasty. Anything with slow release carbs is a great pre-workout snack though.
What not to do:
For the love of all things good and pure, don’t moisturise on the day of your class.
I can’t stress this enough. Over winter my hands were so dry, and without thinking I put on hand cream the morning before my pole class. I spent ages scrubbing my hands trying to get it out, but I was still a slippy, sweaty mess in the class. As you sweat the moisturiser will leech out and prevent you from gripping. Not only will this suck, as you won’t be able to get the most out of your class, it increases your chance of injury from falling, as well as other people’s if you’re sharing the pole.
Obviously this all depends on how quickly you absorb moisturiser, as well as what kind you use — my best friend can’t use any kind of moisturiser the day before our pole class, even with the lightweight stuff the pole community swears by — but to be safe, I’d avoid any non-essential moisturisers and lotions for at least 24 hours before your first class.
Don’t wear jewellery either, as you could potentially get injured from dangling things getting caught, or you could damage the coating of the pole. Poles aren’t cheap, either, so please take care of them.
During the class
You won’t be graceful, and that’s okay!
Don’t expect that on your first lesson you’ll nail everything straight away and you’ll be completely elegant and graceful. That comes with time, practice and dedication. What is important is that you listen to your instructor, as they’re there to help you through the moves and keep you safe. Don’t rush through anything, take your time, and breathe.
If you’ve watched any pole dance videos before coming to your class, you’ll have seen how effortless pole dancers make their performances look. Trust me, that’s an art form in of itself. Don’t worry about what expression you’re pulling or what noises you’re making (unless they’re very excessive, don’t be that person). There’s time to perfect your dancing technique later down the line if you want to.
This is your time. Own it.
There are many reasons why you might have chosen to take a pole dance class. Maybe you were like me and needed to get out of a rut. Maybe you want to lose some excess fat. Maybe you want a really fun strength workout. Maybe you want to dance in a new and interesting way that you’ve never tried before. Whatever the reason, enjoy your time at the studio. Take this time to connect with your body and engage with it. Find what movement feels good, enjoy it and work with it. Making the decision to come to a pole dance class is a radical act of self-love and self-care, so take this time to treat your body well, listen to it and respond to its needs.
More importantly, have fun with it! Life’s too short for boring classes.
Don’t take yourself too seriously…
I fall on my butt A LOT. I’m a clumsy person at the best of times and coming to a pole class will teach you movements that your body isn’t used to, particularly if, like me, you’re coming into it without a great deal of fitness.
Everyone falls on their butt. Everyone has landed a move then slooooowwwly slid to the floor as their hands get sweaty. Everyone has to bail on a move from time to time. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and have a laugh with it. The best thing I learned early on is that if you feel self conscious about messing something up, just do jazz hands. No-one will be laughing at you failing; they’ll be laughing at the fact that you’re doing jazz hands. Trust me.
And, if they are laughing because you’re failing, that’s not an environment conducive towards self-improvement and support, and probably isn’t a group of people you want to be around.
…but do take your instructor seriously and know your limitations.
Your instructor is there to keep you safe and help guide you through the crazy world of pole dance. Listen to them when they tell you how to do a move, and if they suggest improvements, listen. Check your ego at the door. They’ve been training for a lot longer than you and are trained and insured to teach you, so they know how to keep you safe and prevent you from getting injured during the class.
There’s a reason your instructor will be teaching you certain moves. Once they’ve got a better idea of your general fitness levels they can start working with you towards more advanced moves, but for now you’ll be playing around with beginners moves. Don’t expect to learn anything advanced for a while until your instructor knows what you can safely manage.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
Your instructor is there to guide you through the moves, so if something isn’t working for you, ask! They’ll have been doing pole for years and will be able to guide you towards nailing whatever it is you’re working on. Sometimes all it takes is a simple adjustment of where your leg or arm is or engaging a different group of muscles. Your grip strength, the style of grip you’re using, the side you’re practicing on and even the temperature and humidity of the studio can make all the difference. Trust me, some moves are just easier on one side than the other. It’s weird, but you’ll get to know which is your ‘good’ side, and which is your ‘bad’ side when you get more practice in. Just make sure you train both of them!
If you have a plus-sized body like I do, then some moves will be trickier for you — that’s perfectly normal! It takes me a lot longer to nail certain moves compared to the smaller people in my class. A good instructor will listen to you and help modify things to make them easier for you, and will be patient with you as you spend your time practicing things other people might have moved on from. Trust me, you’ll build your strength up quickly, and you will nail that tricky spin, lift or hold. It comes in time as you learn where your limitations lie — and as you learn to smash through them!
I know it sounds a bit cliché, but at the end of the day, paying for a class that you don’t enjoy is the WORST. I’ve put myself through too many cardio classes that I didn’t enjoy before I came to pole, and there’s nothing less motivating than dragging yourself to a class you’re not looking forward to. Give the class everything you’ve got, have a laugh with what you’re doing and with the other students, and dip your toe into the world of pole dance. Who knows, you might get addicted like the rest of us!
After your class
Eat a hearty meal, and enjoy a nice soak or shower.
Make sure you eat a healthy meal with plenty of protein to rebuild your muscles. I’ve found consuming a good amount of protein after a particularly heavy class helps to reduce how bad and how long your DOMS lasts the next few days. It’s also a good idea to soak your muscles in a nice warm bubble or epsom salts bath, or take a nice warm shower, particularly if this is your first class, because…
DOMS, glorious DOMS!
DOMS stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, which as you can imagine, means your muscles are going to ache for a while following your workout. What’s actually happening in your body is that it’s repairing the microtears in the muscle fibres caused by your workout — don’t worry, this is a good thing, and this is why you need plenty of protein as it helps to build your muscles back up.
After a few classes you might adjust to the level of strain on your body and you might find you get DOMS a lot less than you did when you started. It’s different for everybody. It doesn’t mean your muscles aren’t growing and you’re not getting stronger, but rather that your body’s adjusting and can handle the strain.
Get plenty of lean protein, do some gentle stretches to get the blood pumping into your sore muscles — I know you won’t feel like doing anything, but this will actually help the DOMS fade quicker — and you could even treat yourself to a cheeky sports massage to soothe the aches away.
Of course, more time relaxing in a bubble or epsom salt bath helps!
Or as we like to call them, pole kisses.
Depending on what you did, you might have some funky bruises the day after your class. These might be a bit sensitive the first few times you get them, particularly if you get them somewhere like on the tops of your feet (trust me, it happens), but eventually your skin will toughen up and adapt to the pressure you’re putting on it. After a while you might find that the bruises you get don’t hurt any more, and if you’re like me, you might be super proud of getting them.
Wear them like a badge of honour. You earned them!
If they hurt a lot and you want to get rid, get some Arnica gel — I don’t use it myself, but the people in my class swear by it.
Your first lesson should have helped you decide whether this is something you want to continue doing, or whether you need to give it a trial run of a few more lessons before you fully commit. It’ll have helped you get a feel for the studio, your instructor and their teaching style, the other students, and whether pole dance is the kind of movement and exercise that suits you.
As time goes by you’ll either decide this is something you want to carry on with, or you’ll decide pole dance isn’t for you. If you decide you don’t want to carry on with it, that’s your decision — you still gave it a try, which is pretty damn amazing, and you should be proud of that!
A lot of the articles I read before I started pole dancing talked about how addictive it is, which is something I didn’t really believe until I started going myself. It can definitely sound unrealistic, particularly to someone like me who’s unfit and has the grace of a baby elephant trying to figure out what this long thing is on her face and what she’s supposed to do with it, but over time it’s become something I NEED to do every week.
It’s great for my physical health, as you’ll find your strength builds really, really quickly, and my mental health as I get to spend time with an amazing group of people who all support each other, cheer each other on, and are proud of each other’s achievements both in the studio and outside.
Pole dance also takes lots of different forms these days, so just because you tried one style of dance and didn’t enjoy it doesn’t mean something else won’t be more your style. Pole dance can be anything you want it to be, so go ahead and try out different classes, different styles and different studios until you find the one for you — that is, if you don’t luck out the first time like I did!
Have fun in your pole dance adventure, and I hope to welcome you among our wonderful community one day!