Pole dancing and belly dancing offer unique ways to work out


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America is growing. More than 35 percent of adult Americans are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to some local fitness experts, one of the main causes may be that people are too daunted by the idea of running on a treadmill, too embarrassed to lift weights surrounded by others at the gym, or too self-conscious to jump in the lap pool.

So two of these fitness experts — pole-dancing instructor Megan Reck and belly-dancing guru Shira — decided to share their penchant for fitness in an alternative form, turning their art forms into exercise that's less intimidating.

And it's working.

Pole dancing with Megan Reck

It's a new way of working out. It's spins and turns, it's artistic and graceful.

It's pole dancing. But it's not what you think.

Pole dancing for fitness has been a popular way to exercise on the West Coast for years, and it is now finally making waves in the Midwest.

"Pole dancing tones the whole body. Your core and arms get so strong from supporting your own body weight," said Megan Reck, the owner of Wicked Enchantment in Cedar Rapids. "It's unique because a lot of people don't take the time to learn how to do it, and it's awesome to be able to do something other people don't know how to do."

She took a pole-dancing class in Las Vegas while she was on vacation and was hooked. She came back to Cedar Rapids and opened up her own studio for women ages 18 years and up.

It's a form of exercise geared directly toward women.

"It makes you feel absolutely amazing about yourself. It's fantastic for a women's self-esteem because she's doing something she never thought she could do," Reck said. "It really embraces a women's sexy side, which is a huge benefit. A lot of women don't want to bring it out or don't know how. The classes help them loosen up in a really comfortable, nonjudgmental, and fun atmosphere."

Many people may view pole dancing as taboo, an activity not to be spoken of in public. Pole dancing for fitness is a new way to burn calories, build muscle, and lose weight. Reck's studio, and others similar to it, are introducing a take on getting in shape in an engaging and unconventional way.

There are studios opening up all over the country. The popularity of pole dancing for fitness is steadily increasing and is becoming as mainstream as aerobics classes in some cities.

"I originally went because there was a deal on Living Social," Kate Alfieri said. "It sounded really interesting and fun, so my friends and I wanted to try it. I used to dance a lot — ballet — so I'm up for trying just about any type of dance. I have really horrible upper body strength, so I think the best benefit was having a great arm workout without having to lift any weights."

Going to actual classes are not the only way to learn this new trending work out. There are DVDs and videos online that instruct the viewer how to do the moves at home. Poles are also available for home instillation for those who would rather learn in private.

Pole dancing is a form of art — more so than running on a treadmill — but it's an art form that expresses strength and muscle in addition to grace and finesse.

Jordan Cole attended a two-week pole-dancing class in San Francisco, but for the first week rarely went near a pole. First, the 24-year-old was put through a strengthening week of squats, lunges, pushups, and flexibility exercises.

Then she got to the pole.

"My motivation was just the thought about how strong these dancers have to be to lift themselves off the ground just by using a pole," Cole said. "I was only in the class for two weeks, but by the end, I had felt I had actually learned something and saw definition in my abs and arms. I always felt exhilarated afterwards. I would always come out of class feeling great about myself and had a really great time. Pole dancing for fitness is a party."

Belly dancing with Shira

Think "belly dancing." Most people wouldn't necessarily associate the exotic dance with a set of crunches or a round of sit-ups.

But to students in Iowa City, belly dancing is an alternative for those who dread those traditional ab workouts.

"Belly dancing is very beneficial to your core toning and is a lot more fun than doing crunches," belly-dancing instructor Shira said. "It gets people off of the couch and a gives them a chance to feel less clumsy by learning to move to music."

Shira passes along her knowledge and practice of the 7,000-year-old activity on Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons at the Robert A. Lee Recreational Center, 220 S. Gilbert St. The teacher has been dancing for 31 years, the last 15 of them as a mentor to people from all walks of life.

"I had loved it for 16 years, and I thought a lot of people would love to learn what I know," Shira said. "I saw other people with less experience than me teaching, so I decided to get out there and instruct people."

Jim Skopinski, a "middle-age" University of Iowa student who has been belly dancing for more than 10 years, said the ability to improve his balance and movement in his body were the main selling points for the exercise.

"For a male, it's really good because we tend to hold out upper bodies kind of stiffly," he said. "It forces you to move your torso in different places and begin to loosen up all over."

The most notable advantage belly dancing has over traditional forms of exercise is that anyone can actively engage in the hobby. It isn't out of the ordinary to see older people participate in a class.

"I was in a belly-dancing class once with a woman at least in her 70s," Skopinski said. "The great thing about this type of workout is that people of all shapes and sizes can do it."

Most dancers actually view the practice as more of an art form rather than a means of getting in shape. Belly dancing has deep East Asian roots, and it continues to be a large part of Middle East society.

"It is a performing art from another culture," Shira said. "In the Middle East, this is a dance people do for social purposes at weddings and other parties."

The music aspect is focal point for many of the people involved. Belly-dancing student Bata Kasiarz said that it was a mix of the culture and the physical benefits that attracted her to the program.

"I work out normally once in a while, but I'm really interested in Arabic culture," she said. "It's very enticing with beautiful costumes and the music."

Belly dancing introduces its students to a new way of life and an alternative style built upon extraordinary outfits and wild motions.

It's learning about the body and its movements, the grace and coordination, the music and abdominal muscles.

"[Belly dancing] is a combination of music and moving in ways you've never moved before," Kasiarz said. "You find new body parts while you do it."

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