Beyond the pole

Local studio teaches pole dancing for fitness and self-confidence

The Spectrum

Sequined costumes, shiny poles and dancing on stage to a live band isn't just for Vegas show girls.

Eight years ago, Chelsea Kelly quit her job as a kindergarten teacher and opened Pole Play Dance Studio in Buffalo. Some of the classes in the Hertel Avenue studio are fitness-oriented while others teach skills women may only want to use behind closed doors.

Kelly offers classes, workshops and lessons for beginner, intermediate and advanced dancers. Classes include: pole dancing, cardio go-go dancing, chair dance workouts, cardio hula-hoop and lap dancing. Kelly even teaches girls how to 'twerk.' Girls can also book the studio for events like bachelorette or birthday parties.

The classes attract people of various ages from all around the Buffalo area, including UB students. In the past, Kelly has even taught two fitness classes at UB, one of which was a go-go style routine.

"We joke, we laugh, we have fun, all while getting a good workout in," said Kim Shepherd, a business graduate student at UB. "I'm so happy I found Pole Play and would encourage anyone to try it. Just come in with an open mind and willingness to try. But be warned: It's addicting."

Shepherd had taken dance classes for years and was interested in trying different styles. Once she saw an advertisement for Pole Play, she was intrigued.

The graduate student was a bit intimidated and didn't know what to expect.

Shepherd was pleasantly surprised. She started off shy in classes, unsure of herself and self-conscious. But she became more confident as the weeks went on. She said the pole dancing class was a great workout and helped her build self-acceptance. Each week, she looked forward to challenging herself to learn new moves.

"I try to teach these classes as if it were any other dance class," Kelly said. "You will walk out with better posture, more poise and more confidence. You have a one-up on everyone once you see you have these talents."

Seven years ago, after Kelly opened Pole Play, she saw a show at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas and came home inspired. She got her sister, best friend and some of her students together to create Eye Candy Burlesque, a local dance troupe that performs throughout Western New York.

"There were girls hanging from strings, a girl taking a bath on the ceiling, champagne glasses coming from the floor and women singing and dancing all over," Kelly said. "Then I thought about how there isn't anything like that in Buffalo."

The troupe of 10 dancers performs at local venues like the Town Ballroom and Riviera Theatre.

Burlesque Dance Workout is one of the studio's most popular classes. Its dance themes, from the 1930s though the '50s, work as muscle-toning and cardiovascular workouts, according to Pole Play's website.

This December, the burlesque dance troupe is doing a performance called "Eye Candy: On Thin Ice, A Winter Burlesque Show" at Tralf Music Hall. The group will perform alongside a live band, emcee and drag queen show.

For those not yet skilled enough to be in a dance troupe, Kelly's classes are $160 a session and each session is eight weeks long. Those who want to work at their own pace with more attention can choose private lessons for $100 an hour. Each month, Pole Play offers different workshops or a "one-time teaser class" for $25.

Some people focus on the provocative aspects of burlesque, and others take the class to become better dancers and gymnasts.

"People always get the wrong idea of burlesque, but the women love it more than the men because of how fun it is," Kelly said.

Megan Austen, a sophomore nursing major at UB, likes the idea of pole workouts but said that once it's called "dancing," it sounds a bit risqu?(c).

"I think it's a good idea and I wouldn't mind trying it," Austen said. "I just wouldn't become a stripper."

There are no restrictions when it comes to signing up for classes. Kelly has taught college girls, married women, doctors, teachers, cosmetologists and housewives. Girls under the age of 18 can join with parental consent.

"The oldest woman we've ever had was a 75-year-old," Kelly said. "One girl came in for a lap dance workshop and brought her grandmother along as well."

The pole dancing classes also promote camaraderie, and the attendees often become friends with one another.