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Pole dancing moves from the strip club to the health club

JEWETT CITY--It's pole dancing, but it's not what you think.

Though pole dancing seems indelibly intertwined in the American psyche with strip clubs and bachelor parties, aerial fitness has long been recognized as a great way to gain upper-body strength and flexibility.

In both Indian and Chinese cultures, men have been exercising on poles for generations, but at Aerial Arts Fitness, a nearly 2-year-old business in the old Slater Mill here, it's largely women who enjoy the workout.

“It's a little bit controversial still because people don't really understand what the sport is,” said Angela Chabot, owner of the 1,300-square-foot fitness studio, who fell in love with pole dancing after attending a class in Providence.

“National level competitions drive amateur students and blow away the misconception that pole is only done in strip clubs,” she added. “It definitely is an art form. It is a way to express emotion.”

The art of pole dancing is similar to ballet in that synchronicity, effortlessness and body alignment are supremely important.

“It's dancing on an aerial pole,” Chabot said. “That takes dancing to a whole new level.”

Chabot, a chemist at Pfizer Inc. for the past 13 years who now works there part time, said she decided to open her own pole-dance studio after realizing there was no other similar facility between Providence and Hartford. She is looking into opening another studio in the New London area.

Chabot, a Voluntown resident, said her main clientele revolves around women from 18 to 45. But she has some attendees up to their 60s — others as young as 15 — and men are a growing part of the business.

“An increasing number of men are getting into it once they realize what this sport is vs. what they thought it would be,” Chabot said.

Men, who are integrated into classes, can increase their flexibility using pole-dancing techniques, while women's main benefit is in improving upper-body strength. And strength, for women, equals confidence, Chabot said.

Chabot pointed to one young woman who weighed 232 pounds when she first started taking classes, and a year later had lost more than 50 pounds. She now teaches classes at the studio — one of six part-time instructors — and has become an inspiration to others, she said.

Classes, lasting an hour and a quarter, have mixed levels of ability, and variations of different gymnastic moves — in the air and at ground level — are taught depending on a student's level. The studio's nine poles limit class sizes.

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