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Polecats in Carbondale

Jeanne McGovern
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

CARBONDALE – Walking through the doors of the Body Barn in Carbondale, it looks like any other gym – a man is jogging on the treadmill, a few others are pumping iron, you can hear the showers running in the locker room.

Soon, red-faced, sweat-covered women begin streaming out of the yoga/aerobics studio. They’re all ages and sizes, and they’ve clearly just finished a hard workout.

A few minutes later, a new group of women begin filing into the studio. They, too, are in for a hard workout.

Wearing puffy coats, yoga pants and Nikes, they get ready for class. But this is no ordinary yoga class or kick-boxing session. This is one of Holly Miely’s Stripper Fit classes.

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So … the puffy coats come off, the yoga pants come off, the Nikes come off. In their place is the only equipment you need for this Advanced Pole Workshop: bootie shorts, bra, high-heeled stripper shoes and a whole lot of skin. And perhaps a bit of courage.

After just a few minutes of watching the students warm up, it’s clear this class is more about fit than it is about stripper. In fact, the women are as stripped down as they’re going to get. It is a point Miely feels strongly about.

“This isn’t about stripping,” Miely says, pointing to the women in the room, who include a school teacher, a hotel executive, a student and a mother of two. “This is about a great workout, camaraderie, embracing being a woman.”

Since Miely and Body Barn owner Beth Maun began offering these classes in 2001, they’ve stayed focused on women’s fitness – both physical and mental. For Miely, it’s a perfect fit.

A dancer and gymnast as a child, Miely began teaching dance by the age of 12. She minored in dance in college, and has taught fitness classes for as long as she can remember. So when pole dancing and stripper fitness classes hit the national radar – news outlets from USA Today to The New York Times began running articles like “Pole dancing shows up in health clubs” in the early 1990s; a Google search for “pole dancing for fitness” results in more than 450,000 hits – she took notice.

“I’ve never been a stripper, or anything like that. Nor have I ever wanted to be,” says Miely. “But this – with its combination of gymnastics, dance and sexy – really appealed to me. I felt like it was my calling.

“And I really felt like I could help women learn something important about themselves with this.”

To that end, the Body Barn offers a variety of classes in its Stripper Fit Studio – a typical dimly lit yoga room, but with a twist; five poles are strategically installed at the front of the room, while hand-crafted chairs designed for exotic dancing line the other side.

The class roster includes the Advanced Pole Workshop, Main Stage Dance Moves, Cardio Burlesque and a Progressive Pole Series. They are taught by Miely (aka Honey), Maun (aka Minx), and Rebecca (aka Barbie). Each week, some 40-75 women spend an hour or two in the studio, whether they are beginners or pros. The content and difficulty of the classes varies, but they all have one thing in common: empowerment.

“There is such a misconception about what we are doing, what pole dancing is,” says Miely. “It’s not about sleaze, or sex. Or at least that’s not what we do.

“Pole dancing is a beautiful display of the female body, yes,” she continues. “But we help women get fit – I guarantee this is the best workout you’ll ever find – and we help women expand their boundaries. It is very empowering.”

Of course what a woman does with that bit of empowerment is up to her. According to Miely, it typically goes something like this:

On the first class, it’s yoga pants, T-shirts and bare feet; often, it’s a group of giggling girls who’ve had a cocktail or two before they show up. By the end of the six-week Progressive Pole Series, it’s sports bras, shorts and some type of heeled shoe; it’s become a singular sport between the woman and the pole. After a few more classes, it’s no holds-barred.

In fact, Miely says she’s had only one student decide that she just couldn’t do it.

“You wouldn’t think it could happen, but it always does,” says Miely. “Everyone begins to feel sexy, to feel comfortable with their body no matter what it looks like. The women begin to let it all out – and it comes out of everyone.”

And for the boldest women, the Body Barn’s Stripper Fit classes have become more than just a workout. Honey’s Polecat Revue is a full-scale show that Miely takes to area restaurants and bars, complete with pole dancers, belly dancers, fire twirlers and more. Recent shows have wowed customers at Phat Thai in Carbondale and Loyal Brothers lounge in Glenwood Springs.

But still, no stripping.

“I describe Honey’s Polecat Revue as Cirque du Soleil meets Pussycat Dolls,” says Miely, who has held about eight Revue shows, most downvalley, and hopes to expand the concept to Aspen and beyond.

“It’s sexy, no doubt. But it’s classy and it’s all about fun. I think when people come to a show, it shatters their preconceived notion of what pole dancing is all about.”

You go, girl!

If seeing Honey’s Polecat Revue first-hand or trying one of Miely’s classes at the Body Barn doesn’t change your way of thinking about pole dancing, then talking to the women who are part of this local movement certainly will.

They are young and old, mothers and daughters, teachers and real estate agents. They are tall and skinny, short and bulky, coordinated and not-so-coordinated. They are experienced dancers and first-timers. But they all say the same thing.

“It’s the best workout – ever,” says Becky Gremillion, who started taking Miely’s Progressive Pole Dance Series earlier this year. “But it’s also not what I thought it was going to be. It’s not just about dancing. I’ve become more confident in myself. I carry myself more gracefully. It has really boosted my self-esteem.”

And it’s helped Gremillion get in touch with her “girly” side. A structural steel inspector, Gremillion spends her days working with construction crews and wearing Carhartts and hard hats. She just ordered a pair of 5-inch stilettos.

“It’s a whole different me. It’s a side of me I kind of forgot about. But I love it,” she says. “I feel glamorous. I feel sexy. I feel strong.”

For second-grade teacher Kristina Weller, who is one Miely’s most advanced students and a hit with Revue crowds as Wonder Woman, being strong is what pole dancing is all about.

“This has been so great for me … it has taken me so far outside the boundaries of what I thought I could do, what I thought I would ever do,” says Weller, who has a dance background but never considered adding pole dancing to her repertoire. “But I’ve learned so much about myself through this, and that is the best part.

“And, of course, it’s the best workout I’ve ever done. I ski hard, I rock climb, but this is really amazing. It’s about strength and balance and so much more.”

Like Gremillion, Weller has found the fun in switching from clogs at school or rock climbing shoes on the weekend to a pair of sky-high stripper shoes.

“I now own multiple pairs of high heels,” she says, laughing. “I feel like we’re always trying to prove how tough we are, how we can keep up with the boys. But it’s fun to be girly, to be sexy …”

Sexy, indeed. With Justin Timberlake signing “Get your sexy on …,” and the lights dimmed low, Weller rocks the pole during Miely’s Advanced Pole Workshop. But don’t get too excited, boys.

“Oh my god, I don’t think of myself as a sexy dancer,” she explains. “I’m just me. I have never done this with anyone else in mind. This is something I do for me.”

And that is what Miely hopes every woman will do – at least every woman who tries a Stripper Fit Studio class.

“This is for you,” she says. “If you want to share it, go for it. But pole dancing and these classes are about empowering women.”

jmcgovern@aspentimes.com


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