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'Bad pole dancing was easy, I managed that in a matter of seconds'

Video journalist John Robertson made getting in shape his New Year's resolution. That's how he found himself swinging around a vertical pole in a fitness class.

CBC's John Robertson finds, 'The further you get in class, the less clothes you have on'

Everyone, regardless of gender and ability, is welcome to join the pole dancing classes at this studio - but as CBC's John Robertson found out, giving it a try and doing it well are two very different things. 1:34

The new year is barely underway and many people are working their way through their resolutions.

Video journalist John Robertson getting into the swing of things. (John Robertson / CBC News)

Eating healthier and getting in shape are two of the top goals for most everybody.

I decided to tackle the "getting in shape" resolution.

And that was how I found myself swinging around a vertical pole in a fitness class.

Pole dancing is hard. Sorry, good pole dancing is hard.

Bad pole dancing was easy. I managed that in a matter of seconds.

Thankfully I had a good instructor.

Josh.

Josh Van Camp teaches aerial fitness out in St Albert at the Aradia Fitness studio.

Instructor Josh Van Camp demonstrates a move for the class. (John Robertson / CBC News)

And yes, Josh is a man teaching pole dancing, typically seen as a females-only activity.

"I think that they first come in and they see me," he said, "and there is this notion of, 'Oh no, I have a dude teaching me, like what is going to go on?'

"But by the end of class they find that I am just as relatable, if not more relatable. A lot of fun, like all the other instructors."

'You have to step out of your comfort zone'

Pole-dance fitness is a growing activity with a number of classes in the Edmonton area.

Aradia Fitness sees over 700 students each week.

While sexy flourishes are added to the moves here and there, the dominant feeling in the room is one of strength.

Laughter and words of encouragement ring out, accompanied by the sounds of hands and legs sliding up and down the brass poles.

Students work on their aerial moves. (John Robertson / CBC News)

I was nervous at first. Understandably, so were the other students — I was a reporter with a video camera in their midst. All was forgotten once the class started.

"Honestly, everybody is nervous," said Chantelle Beasley, who owns and operates four Aradia Fitness studios in the Edmonton area.

"Everyone feels the same way and is in the same boat but you have to step out of your comfort zone and try something and your entire life is going to unfold from there."

'There is room for everybody' 

Erin Guevarra is one of the students taking part in this advanced pole class.

She has found herself gaining new confidence over her year of pole-dance fitness.

"There is kind of a joke where the further you get in class, the less clothes you have on which just for skills it is easier to hold onto the pole and stuff like that," Guevarra said.

"I used to be really worried about that and I would see all these girls in just shorts and a sports bra, and I would think, 'Oh my God, I would never do that,' and now, I can and it's not a big deal."

Students need to step out of their comfort zones, an instructor says. (John Robertson / CBC News)

There are different styles of pole dancing — hip hop, contemporary and yes, the traditional sensual kind.

Pole dancing originated in circus acts in the 1920s and only slid into burlesque acts much later.

Now a resurgence of the fitness aspect has it moving forward.

There has even been a push to get it into the Olympics.

The fitness movement is still working to overcome one barrier: the idea that pole dancing is only for people in the exotic dance industry. 

For participants, it's more about finding inner beauty and physical fitness.

"Strength really. Not just physical strength, I think that it is so much more than that," said Elyse Quail, a fitness instructor at Aradia Fitness.

"It's emotional strength and seeing a lot of personal change in yourself. I think that is the biggest thing that people get out of it. I mean, you come here to get strong but you leave with so much more."

Free time allows the students to practice their favourite moves and techniques. (John Robertson / CBC News)

Josh and other instructors are breaking down barriers by reminding others it's a fitness movement not just for women.

"It is a part of the exotic dance community and there are a lot of stereotypes and notions that men fear," Van Camp said.

"But when you do look at the men in the community and the people that are a part of it, it is primarily a strength and flexibility-based gymnastics-type sport and there is room for everybody in it."

I'm still wanting to keep my resolution to get in better shape this year. And now I'm more open to thinking outside the box — and maybe even up a pole.

An advanced pole dance class smiling for the CBC camera. (John Robertson / CBC News)

About the Author

John Robertson

Video journalist

John Robertson is a multi-platform journalist based out of Charlottetown. He has been with CBC News for more than a decade, with stints in Nunavut, Edmonton and Prince Edward Island. John.Robertson@cbc.ca Twitter @CBCJRobertson Instagram @johnrobertsoncbc