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Home dance poles gain popularity

You might say this exercise trend is hot.

We're not talking about its popularity, although it is growing fast in areas where it's caught on.

Rather, we're referring to its origin: strip joints.

Pole dancing has emerged from the sultry scene of gentlemen's clubs into fitness studios, where it's become an increasingly popular type of workout for women. And now it's even making its way into the home.

Practitioners are adding dance poles - less delicately known as stripper poles - to rooms from the basement to the boudoir. Some of the users see pole dancing as a way to add a little excitement to a relationship, but for most it's a way to get Madonna arms and Britney Spears abdominals while enhancing their sensuality.

Besides, it's fun, said Kim Brown, who has a dance pole in the basement of her Jackson Township, Ohio, home and teaches pole-dancing classes.

Brown spends about a half-hour every day or two working out with a stationary pole mounted atop a small stage, performing graceful spins and ab-crunching lifts. It's a taxing regimen that works many parts of her body, she said, but she finds it so enjoyable that she hardly realizes she's exercising.

What's more, it allows her to exercise in the privacy of her home.

"I don't want to go to the gym," she said. "I don't want to run around the neighborhood."

That desire for easy access is driving sales of dance poles to home users, said Keith Scheinberg, chief executive officer of Platinum Stages, a company in Newport Beach, Calif., that sells supplies to exotic dance clubs. Scheinberg said his company sells about 200,000 of the poles a year, and sales to home users constitute the majority of his business.

"It used to be so taboo," but the fitness aspect has made dance poles more acceptable, Scheinberg said. People often seem shocked initially to see a dance pole in someone's house, he said, "but the second thing you see is someone trying to use it."

Even Oprah Winfrey has one, said Randy Blacker, CEO of Pacific International Marketing and Promotions (note the acronym). His company in Fresno, Calif., sells the Lil' Mynx dance poles that have been used on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and are promoted by actress and pole-dancing entrepreneur Sheila Kelley.

In reality, pole-dancing fitness routines are closer to gymnastics than bump and grind. Advanced pole dancers perform such acrobatic feats as spinning upside down and holding themselves aloft in gravity-defying poses, relying solely on their strength. Some of the moves are suggestive, but on the whole, the dances are more athletic than erotic.

Many of the people buying dance poles for their homes were introduced to pole dancing in a class and want the chance to practice what they've learned, said Anita Ammon, owner of Xpose Fitness, a Baltimore company that offers classes that blend Pilates, yoga and exotic dancing and also sells dance poles for the home.

Owning a pole is a great way to work fitness into daily life, she said. "You drop in a load of laundry, you take a spin. You cook dinner, you take another spin. ... It's just like a little playground for women."

Most dance poles sold for home use are removable, because after all, who wants to explain it to the neighbors?

Platinum Stages' portable poles use a torque mount similar to a car jack, which relies on tension and a 10-inch-wide ceiling plate to keep the pole in place. Some poles use ceiling brackets attached to joists; when the pole is removed, the bracket can be disguised as a smoke detector or, in the case of Lil' Mynx's poles, a plant hook.

"When I first came up with it (the idea for the hook), I thought, well, the last thing I want to do is explain to my parents what that mount is," Blacker said with a laugh.

Pole dancing requires enough friction between skin and metal for a good grip, but not so much that hands and legs can't slide. The pole can be stationary or spinning, but Blacker said the repertoire of maneuvers is more limited on spinning poles.

Poles come in various metals, including brass, stainless steel and chrome. You also can buy light-up poles, custom-painted poles (flames are a favorite motif, Blacker said) and even poles designed for use on ski boats - for the exercise, of course.

If you're buying a pole, Platinum Stages' Scheinberg recommended looking at durability, materials, the quality of workmanship and the thickness of the metal used to make the tube. Brass is generally considered the best for traction; Ammon said painted poles tend to be a little stickier and stainless-steel poles, a bit more slippery.

Prices range from around $150 to $1,500 or more, although most standard poles sell in the $200-$300 range.

Brown didn't even need a dance pole to get started with her home workouts. She first used the support posts in her basement.

A former exotic dancer, Brown learned pole dancing by watching the other performers at the club where she worked and getting pointers from them. She still incorporates some sexy moves into her routine, but it looks pretty innocent given her workout look - ponytail, tank top and capri-length sweat pants.

She's given her basement a bit of a burlesque atmosphere with feather boas, mirrors, light strings and silver stars suspended from the ceiling. A red light bulb glows in a utilitarian ceramic socket, and her old costumes hang on the walls.

But men aren't allowed to attend her pole-dancing sessions, not even at her students' request.

Brown wants her clients to feel comfortable, she explained. Sometimes they're intimidated at first, she said, but they often lose their inhibitions when the music starts and they see the dancing isn't overtly sexual.

She loves sharing her skills and seeing the self-confidence that pole dancing builds in her students, she said. "I think it gives women a whole new sense of themselves."

Dance poles and instructional DVDs: Lil' Mynx, http://www.lilmynx.com or 877-700-7467; Platinum Stages, http://www.platinumstages.com or 866-857-6537; Xpose Fitness, http://www.xposefitness.com.

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