By Daniel Axelrod
The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) “Embody by Michelle” is a new pole dancing studio in Warwick, New York. Pole dancing’s popularity has exploded over the last 15 years, with competitions and even lobbying for Olympic inclusion.
Call it reverential, not raunchy. Long-time local yoga studio owner Michelle Dawson has brought her version of pole dancing to Warwick.
Dawson’s goals: Teach eloquent, evocative movement, hardening students’ bodies and resolve.
Dawson got her start in business by opening a Chester yoga studio in 2011. It became the Body Art Barn five years ago, after she moved to a big renovated Blooming Grove barn, where she added pole dancing, lyra and aerial yoga with silks.
Now, the 42-year-old Blooming Grove native is keeping the Barn, while moving her popular pole dancing classes to the Village of Warwick.
Her new top-floor 7 West St. studio, Embody by Michelle, is one of just a handful purely for pole dancing in the mid-Hudson.
Dawson chose Warwick “because it’s such a thriving, creative and supportive place.”
“It’s a really special town,” Dawson added. “It’s a destination where someone can walk out of my building and get a smoothie, or a cocktail, or dinner.”
Town of Warwick Supervisor Michael Sweeton said Dawson’s business joins “an eclectic village with lots of different things to do.”
“It’s not surprising she would want to be here,” Sweeton said. “Warwick is a very diverse community with a lot of artistic people. It’s built on entrepreneurs making investments.”
As for pole dancing’s popularity, participants say it’s exploded over the last 15 years, with competitions and lobbying for Olympic inclusion.
From dedicated studios to gyms, 800 to 1,000 places offer pole dancing classes in America, with most classes appearing since 2009, said Summer Vyne, the U.S. Pole Sports Federation’s president.
Dawson opened her studio on June 7 with a shout of “Pole dancing takes Warwick!”
Bathed in light from big bay windows, eight students spent an hour-plus class spinning, grinning, gripping, and flipping up, down and around five poles as pop hits thumped.
Pole dancing “has helped me to feel more comfortable in my own skin,” said Anna Blon, 24, of Middletown. “It’s helped a lot of women love themselves. Men, too. Compared to a gym, it’s a much more supportive environment.”
Tanya Rae Smith, 31, of Wurtsboro, agreed.
“People want to feel free and empowered at the same time,” Smith said. “The studio here offers you a safe space to find your freedom.”
Nothing beats seeing students’ strength and confidence grow, said Vyne, whose pole dancing federation drew 513 competitors at its last national competition.
“I’ve had girls jump off the pole, run over and scream, ‘I never thought I could do that,'” said Vyne, who runs a Jacksonville, Fla., pole dancing studio. “In a short time, you’re amazed at your own ability.”
Pole dancing is no fad, said Fawnia Mondey of Las Vegas, organizer of the large national Pole Expo conference.
“It’s not going anywhere,” said Mondey, who pioneered pole dancing instructional videos on the Internet in the 1990s.
“Even though it happens to be a vertical bar, and it resembles what’s in a strip club, the types of moves taught in a class are things you’ll never see in a club,” Mondey added. “It’s more like gymnastics.”
To Dawson, pole dancing is a creative outlet.
“It’s more like a form of poetry,” Dawson said. “It’s great for fitness. It’s really addictive. And where else do you get that much clapping and cheering?”
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