Choose the Best Pole Studio For You

Choosing a pole studio used to be a simple process: Google "the best pole studio near me," see if they have a Groupon, and go. Now, the rising number of pole studios means you’re more likely to have a choice to make.

I recently heard that there are 700 active pole studios in the United States. I’m not sure if that’s true, but in an article for the LA Times in 2013, Anne Marie Davies said there were over 500, so I’d imagine there are close to 1,000 now based on absolutely nothing but an educated guess.

You can choose a pole studio based on a few factors: pricing, distance, timing, availability, and the like. But there’s more to finding the best studio for you than just those things.

It’s kind of like dating. You can search by the vital stats like gender, age, location, and basic interests, but how do you truly know it’s a love connection? Well, you meet up for coffee in a public place and chat to see if you can spot the flags, both red and green.

First, a couple of disclaimers:

There is no one set of objective criteria that makes a pole studio good or bad. In fact, I don’t want to set up a good and bad paradigm at all. It's about what's best for you.

It’s also important to distinguish between how a studio makes you feel and how you make yourself feel. If you leave a studio feeling kind of down, was that because of the noise inside your own head, or was there something really off about that place?

Hopefully, by the end of this blog post, you’ll feel empowered to trust your instincts because chances are, you know when something isn’t right, but maybe you shushed your gut for one reason or another.

Gatekeeping versus Stewardship

Just like it sounds, gatekeeping seeks to control who has access to something. Despite how the term is used nowadays, gatekeeping can be a good thing, for example, if a studio has prerequisites for certain classes or levels for the safety of its students, or if a studio has a set of criteria for determining an instructor’s qualifications for teaching a given class or workshop.

However, gatekeeping can be a red flag when it’s done purposefully to exclude people based on race, gender, background, or other factors. What that might look like is a pole studio that doesn’t allow strippers to participate in or teach classes or has policies that outline anti-sex worker or whorephobic attitudes. It’s certainly not the only type of gatekeeping that is a red flag, but sadly it’s a common one.

On the flip side, a pole studio that practices stewardship is flying green flags. Stewardship, in the context of community building, is about creating an inclusive and welcoming environment where everyone feels like they belong. The pole studio isn’t focused on controlling who is allowed in or out, but instead creating a space where everyone can thrive. 

Because each pole studio community is different, it’s hard to nail down a complete list of what to look for, but you shouldn’t have to look hard to find evidence of stewardship. For example, if a pole studio is committed to fighting ableism, you might see folks using crash mats, grip aids, training bands, grippy socks, sticky pants, and yes, knee pads, rather than condemning their use as “cheating.”

Gatekeeping and stewardship are two very different approaches to community building, but the key difference is that, rather than enforcing the status quo, stewardship embraces change in order to create a community that is welcoming and inclusive for everyone.

Right and Wrong versus Safe and Unsafe

It’s so hard to get away from the words “right” and “wrong,” even in the world of pole dance. A quick scroll through Instagram is proof enough; you’ll see plenty of videos with red Xs and green checks indoctrinating audiences with black and white thinking about “the right and wrong way to do body waves.”

Right and wrong are terms with moral implications, whereas safe and unsafe are more concerned with risk assessment and therefore tend to be more objective terms. Right and wrong often overlap with safe and unsafe, which is why people causally use the terms interchangeably, which isn’t necessarily a red flag.

A pole studio with a right and wrong emphasis might teach that doing body waves on flat feet is wrong, and to do it the "right" way, a dancer wearing heels should be up on the toe box at all times. On the other hand, a pole studio with a safe and unsafe emphasis will teach ankle strengthening exercises while encouraging students to stay on flat feet if that gives them more control. (If you think I’m making this example up, I’m sorry to disappoint you—it is very real!)

A studio that emphasizes right and wrong will tell students that twisted grip is universally bad, rather than emphasizing safety by teaching students exercises to measure and strengthen their shoulder’s load bearing capability or expand their shoulder’s range of motion.

A studio that emphasizes right and wrong will tell students that using momentum to invert is bad, rather than teaching them how to use momentum safely and build strength while doing so.

A lot of these examples border on dogmatism and ableism, but without turning this post into a complete list of –isms, I’ll just give one last example that will hopefully destroy any last bastion of righteousness. 

Let’s say an instructor corrects a student who puts both legs behind the pole to climb. Pole dancers are quick to call that way of climbing “wrong,” but there are a lot of dancers in the club who do climb with both feet behind the pole, and they’ll tell you it’s right.

If you’re a pole dancer reading this thinking, “No way, NEVER.” Just remember, that’s what everyone said about floppy ankles. Now ”edgework” is all the rage. Just wait until some pole celebrity climbs with both feet behind the pole and gives it a name like #pdcurtseyclimb. Then suddenly, climbing with two feet behind the pole will be considered “right” simply because tastes have changed.

A pole studio that’s flying green flags has instructors who understand that safety, efficiency, and style outlast righteousness.

Body Shaming versus Body Positivity or Neutrality 

You already know that body shaming others is a no no, but a lot of folks think the way they treat themselves is an exception. Making negative comments or judgment about your own body counts as body shaming too, and a pole studio that values body positivity shouldn’t let you get away with it.

A body positive studio believes all bodies are beautiful and valid, and that’s definitely a good thing, but you can see it still emphasizes the body as the source of someone’s valuation.

Sometimes anti-fat attitudes can masquerade as body positivity, while they really only work to validate a certain type of body. A studio that is steeped in diet culture or overly emphasizes weight loss or assumes weight loss is a universal goal isn’t body positive. It’s fatphobic.

A body neutral space seeks to reduce the amount of attention we pay to our bodies and their appearance. If body positivity is like saying, “I have a beautiful body!” then body neutrality is like saying, “I am more than just my body!” or even more plainly, “I have a body!”

Body neutrality is intended to free up our mental energy so we can focus on other things, like our relationships, our careers, and our passions. To be frank, I think it’s difficult for a pole dance studio to truly embed a body neutral policy in its space, though plenty of studios claim to. So much of our practice involves the shapes, patterns, and movements of the body that it might be nearly impossible to separate.

That said, I’m sure a studio somewhere is doing it successfully, and I’m willing to bet they don’t have any mirrors.

Other Things to Consider

If you just imagined a pole studio without mirrors and thought, "Oh, I'd love that!" or "Oh, I wouldn't love that!" now is a perfect time to go over less esoteric elements that go into choosing the right pole studio for you.

Every pole studio is different, so the real question is, “What do you want in a pole studio?” Here are some questions you can ask or specific points you can research on a pole studio’s website that will tell you whether it’s the right studio for you.

Lighting: Some studios are flooded with light, while other studios do the low light thing. What kind of lighting vibe will make you most comfortable?

Levels: Some studios separate students according to level, while others are more of a mixed level or open level. Consider how guided or autonomous you want to be in your pole journey. What you prefer might depend on how experienced you are.

Noise: In some studio environments, it’s normal and expected for students and instructors to cheer for each other. In other studios, folks don’t want people screaming or drawing too much attention to them. Consider how much camaraderie you’re comfortable with.

Privacy: Some studios have strict policies against recording during class, whether it’s to protect their intellectual property or the anonymity of their students and instructors. Other studios highly encourage recording, whether it’s to track progress or create some cool content for socials. Either way, it’s important to know which you want, and whether your studio shares your values on privacy.

Chatter: When you are in class, what do your instructors and classmates talk about? Maybe they get personal and share about what’s going on in their lives. Maybe they gossip about other instructors, studios, or students. Maybe they don’t talk at all. The important thing to ask yourself is: do you like what you hear?

Policy: Read up on the studio. Check out their mission or values. Read their blog if they have one. If you know what the studio says about itself, you can see if they practice what they preach, and whether or not their practice suits you.

Enjoyment: Whether it’s a studio that focuses exclusively on competition preparation or a studio that’s more for the hobbyist, people should generally seem like they want to be there. Do people look like they are enjoying themselves? If so, is it the kind of enjoyment you want to experience?

 

If it’s true that there are nearly 700 active pole studios across the country, then chances are you have more than one in your area. When you consider how many studios offer virtual classes and how many pole celebs have online courses, you have even more choices. It’s not a question of the best pole studio, just the best one for you.

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