Everyone knows that friends who pole dance together stay together.
At least, that’s according to Alyson Hetzel and Regina Nicosia, who are students, friends and pole dancers.
Hetzel, digital film making senior, first took a pole dancing class for fun on her 18th birthday. A year later, she celebrated turning 19 the same way. After taking a third class for her 20th birthday, Hetzel knew it was time to pursue the hobby.
She started officially pole dancing in the summer of 2019. A few months later, she invited Nicosia, philosophy senior, to join her for a class.
Nicosia said she was in the middle of a major low point when the invitation came.
“I sort of was going through a hard time in terms of my friendships and, like, my life so I was sleeping all day, not being productive, definitely not working out,” Nicosia said.
She decided to join Hetzel and was initially intimidated. She said when she walked into the studio, there were women hanging upside down on a pole using only their legs, and Nicosia immediately felt out of place. Despite her nerves, she started in a level one class, which she said included no handless leg hanging.
“It was amazing,” Nicosia said. “I just felt like this power when I got on the pole. I felt like I was really connected with my body.”
Hetzel said she was also intimidated when she began pole dancing, despite having a lifelong background in dance.
“Pole dancing can be very fitness-based, so it doesn’t have to be super sensual and sexy,” Hetzel said. “Just in the setting, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m a little nervous; my body is kind of showing. This is different: I have never had to move in these types of ways.'”
Because of her experience as a dancer, Hetzel said she quickly picked up choreography, but that her lack of arm strength made tricks difficult in the beginning. Instead of being discouraged, Hetzel decided to work through the areas she struggled.
“I enjoy how it makes me feel really strong,” Hetzel said. “It makes me feel really confident and so much better about my body. It has done a lot of good for my mental health as well.”
Nicosia agreed that pole dancing has been a “saving grace” for her mental health. When she has a bad day, she poles. When she is bored, she poles. When she is “feeling herself,” she poles.
“I am addicted,” Nicosia said.
Both Nicosia and Hetzel said they initially kept their new hobby “on the down low” when they started, worried how others would react.
Pole dancing and stripping are not the same thing, according to Nicosia, and both women are recreational dancers. Despite this, some people are unable to distinguish between their hobby and professional sex work.
“When I first started, I thought it was sort of a shameful thing, not to be a stripper but I didn’t want people to think that like that was what I was doing. And when people would ask me, ‘You pole dance, so do you strip?’ I would say, ‘Oh no, I don’t do that,'” Nicosia said. “But now I realize I have learned so much about stripping and the art of pole dancing and how much goes into sex work, and it is not a shameful thing at all.”
Hetzel said she often receives positive responses from friends and peers when they learn she is a pole dancer, but that her parents, who were caught up on the close relationship between pole dancing and sex work, have been slower to accept the hobby.
“There is definitely that stigma and they kind of approached it like ‘We get it, it’s for fitness, but do you have to be wearing that? Do you have to do that?'” Hetzel said.
For Nicosia, however, her mother has been a huge supporter of her dancing despite being a devout Catholic who was “raised certain ways” when it came to thinking about modesty. Her mother even bought her a “home pole” anchored between the ceiling and floor in her bedroom to practice on during the pandemic.
“She thinks it’s beautiful,” Nicosia said. “She sees me gaining confidence from it and embracing my body, and she now wants me to give her lessons.”
A group of male friends, however, had an opposite reaction to Nicosia’s dancing. Nicosia said many of them unfollowed her on Instagram, stopped inviting her to gatherings and claimed she had “changed.”
“I think they were just very uncomfortable with a woman embracing her body for her own pleasure and her own enjoyment,” Nicosia said.
But for those friends lost, Nicosia said the pole dancing community had brought her many more. She has connected with dancers in Brazil, Germany and Puerto Rico and said they occasionally come together to pole dance together over Zoom.
The pole dancing community is something Hetzel also said she has enjoyed. She said she even has a “pole mom,” an instructor who Hetzel has a close relationship with and looks up to. Relationships with fellow pole dancers, like the one with her pole mom, have been a source of support and encouragement in constantly improving her craft.
She said the community has also helped her overcome insecurities surrounding her body image.
“I struggle with a lot of body issues and with pole dancing, there is such a wide variety of bodies that can do it,” Hetzel said. “The community is so accepting to any type.”
Both Nicosia and Hetzel say that everyone should try pole dancing at least once. For Hetzel, overcoming insecurities is a reason why she recommends it to others.
“At least for women, we have a lot of issues with our bodies and society telling us we have to look this way or do this thing,” Hetzel said. “With pole dancing, I feel like it helps a lot of people get in tune with their sensuality and body.”
Nicosia encourages others to take a class in order to challenge both their perceptions of pole dancing and their physical capabilities.
“It’s a really unique and cool way to work out and connect with your body,” Nicosia said. “It has made me a very confident person in my body image.”