Olivia Storm

THERE ARE LIFE SKILLS important for day-to-day existence, and there are life skills developed solely to impress and amaze those around you. The "booty clap" belongs in the second category.

When I signed up for Ecdysiast's beginner pole dancing fitness class, I figured I'd learn a few of the basic acrobatic skills practiced by the many talented members of Portland's stripper community, but I HAD NO IDEA I'd also be taught the signature move of twerkers everywhere: the booty clap. For the sadly ignorant, a booty clap (actually called "The Dorothy" by those in the know) is where the practitioner sticks her/his bottom out in a seductive manner, and "claps" the cheeks together furiously for erotic effect. (Note: I realize my description sounds somewhat less than erotic.)

Once thought of as a fitness regimen practiced solely by erotic performers, pole dancing is gaining popularity at light speed among urban professionals, performing artists (dancers, aerialists, circus folk), and of course, those looking to add a bit more "sexy" to their lives. As for me, I grow quickly bored with most workout routines, and I'm always on the lookout for a new exercising experience, especially one that tests and challenges new muscle groups. But is pole dancing a good fit for non-strippers? And especially dude non-strippers?

Thanks to public demand (and getting the a-okay from their predominantly female clientele), Ecdysiast has opened up their classes to welcome men—and guys, trust me when I say that pole fitness will test muscles you never knew you had. The "taster" class I attended was extremely challenging, super fun, and surprisingly cerebral, requiring you to really think about the physics of your body's position in relation to the pole.

And of course, it doesn't hurt if you're man enough to try classically feminine erotic dance moves such as hip rolls, "tick tock" legwork, kicks, and the aforementioned booty clap. After stripping down to T-shirt and shorts, I was invited to rub my pole (insert any number of jokes here) with a cleaning solution, and then instructed in some of the basic choreography listed above—and while my booty clap may have been more amusing than arousing, that's actually a terrific byproduct of this class; sexuality really doesn't have to be taken so seriously.

"Pole fitness is really what the student makes of it," says Rain Smith, administrative director and one of Ecdysiast's many instructors. "As an art form it can be sensual, or full of comedy... really, anything the performer desires. It's much like many other forms of dance. It's a very personal experience."

Learning this type of basic choreography put me in the mindset of "body control," something extremely necessary when we progressed to pole work and spins. We started with front hook spins, in which you reach up to hold the pole with your right hand, while your left crosses your body and grabs on. You then hook the right leg around the pole just behind the knee, launch with your left foot, lift, and spin. In my very first attempt, I took off like a shot, producing three very quick revolutions, and three immediate reactions: (1) "Gasp!" (2) "Wheeee!" And (3) "I need to do this again RIGHT NOW."

Our instructor showed us proper hand and leg placement on the pole to ensure maximum safety and fun, before moving on to other tricks, such as the "back hook spin" and "fireman climb," in which you shimmy up the pole using your leg muscles, and very little upper body strength. (High upon the pole, with my legs locked in place, I could even release my hands completely, before sliding down with another "wheeeee!")

Fun is obviously a priority for this class (with fitness a close second), but watching our instructor in action, I really began to appreciate the artistry and athleticism of the form. Gracefulness and strength—the kind exhibited by Chinese acrobats—are in full effect here, and it's easy to see how further training in pole fitness can exponentially increase one's confidence and knowledge of his or her body, while also learning how those movements can affect those watching. (That's where the sexiness comes in.)

Plus, Ecdysiast has a startling array of classes, including one called "Twerkshop," which is very useful when your hands are full, but you still need to clap.

Ecdysiast, 326 SE Madison, ecdysiaststudio.com. And don't miss their Instructor and Pole Dance Company show, Fri Jan 30, 6:30 pm & 9:30 pm, $10 adv, $15 door.