MANKATO — Pole dancing fitness? Count me among the skeptics.
Or so I thought.
When Mankato native Brittin Wagner called me on the telephone to see if I might be interested in covering the opening of her new pole dancing fitness studio on West Dukes Street, I said I’d look into it and get back to her.
Of course, I had every intention of giving her enterprise a fair judgment on its merits. But whenever the words “pole dancing” precede any phrase, the mind is led to many places — least of them, fodder for a newspaper article.
But Wagner’s version of pole dance fitness isn’t salacious or scandalous. It’s more Cirque de Soleil than high-heeled risqué.
In fact, Wagner began pursuing pole dance fitness as a student at the University of Washington. While finishing her doctorates in sociology and statistics, the 2002 Mankato West graduate was spending long, sedentary hours hunched over a computer.
That’s when her mother purchased her pole dancing fitness lessons at a nearby studio as a Christmas gift.
“It pretty much saved my sanity,” she said.
Fast forward a few years and Wagner is back in Minnesota working in research and development in the health care industry. She teaches at a few studios in the Twin Cities and admits she’s among a small minority of instructors who haven’t worked in strip clubs.
Still, Wagner encourages the non-sexual aspects of the sport. Combining dancing and gymnastics, one session can burn upward of 300 calories — as much as a 35-minute swim or cross-country hike. Even basic moves, she said, require a certain degree of mental focus and physical exertion.
“It’s one of the most calming, relaxing holistic exercises I know,” Wagner said. “I’ve compared it to how it might feel to breathe underwater. I’m definitely in my own space physically and mentally.”
The activity has gained a measure of popularity around the world. Regional, national and international competitions are now commonplace, and the International Pole Sport Federation even petitioned to make it an Olympic sport in 2012.
But Wagner also understands the endeavor is bound to raise some eyebrows. She emphasizes that her classes include no choreography and no stripping. Frestyl’s Facebook announces from the outset that it “discourages use of our bodies to gain power or as a means for financial gain.”
While Wagner said she’s a bit more relaxed than her first studio in Seattle — which prohibited male participants, mirrors and fluorescent lights — she admitted she’s struggled with how to steward the activity she enjoys so much.
“What the students do with (the classes) is up to them,” Wagner said, “but I want to introduce them to the idea that this is like yoga or meditation. ... I always tell my students that no one looks exactly like anyone else. I think I have to assume that the reasons for pursuing this art are just as diverse.”
Wagner opened her 1,100-square-foot Mankato studio little more than a month ago in the same building that houses Physique Boutique. Paying for the poles and equipment out of pocket, she began conducting classes on Thursday nights. Demand has now prompted her to add Sundays to the calendar.
Classes are $15 on a drop-in basis, and $12 when four or more classes are purchased. For more information, search “Frestyl Fitness” on Facebook or email frestylfitness@_gmail.com.