Rikki Little isn’t sure what got pole dancing out of the clubs and into the world of exercise. She imagines that there’s a growing population of people like her that are fascinated by the activity and excited to pursue it in a new environment.
“Pretty much the first time I saw pole tricks, I went, ‘That’s awesome! I have to learn how to do that,’ Little said. “And then I did whatever I had to do to learn.”
For the last decade, through a combination of self-teaching, seminars and conventions, Little has advanced her skills. She’s been to Los Angeles to study with pole dancers working in Cirque du Soleil. She’s learned from Alethea Austin, a pioneer in the art, and Stephen Retchless, who was featured on America’s Got Talent a few years ago.
Now she’s got her own place, Defiance Studios, in Lexington’s Woodhill Circle Plaza. Defiance offers hula-hoop dancing as well as yoga, but the main activity is centered around the floor-to-ceiling poles that glint across the studio.
“Pole fitness is our biggest thing,” Little said. “[We have] seven different skill levels starting at what we call ‘Curious.’”
The Curious level is basic: participants never have both feet off the floor at once, and they learn fundamentals like moving gracefully around the pole and transitioning between tricks. Also, they are instructed on how to work from standing to the floor and back up again seamlessly.
From there, students progress through spins, holds and climbing until they reach the final level, “Show Off,” which Little said involves “ridiculous feats of strength and flexibility.” That’s where the fitness comes in.
Certainly there are choreography classes to help students put together the moves they’re learning, but there are also dedicated training classes. The conditioning curriculum is built specifically around the muscles used for pole dancing. Cardio and strength training are carried out on the floor, using the pole as the only equipment.
Little said one of the most important things about pole fitness at Defiance is that it can mean so many things to so many students.
“It can really meet a lot of different goals for people,” Little said. “If you want it to help you get fit, that’s what it’s going to be. If you want it to be something to empower you, that’s what it’s going to do. If you want it to be stripper school, that’s what it’s going to be.”
Little said she realizes that many people think “stripper” when they hear about this kind of fitness.