If you haven't taken a pole dancing class yet, you probably know somebody who has. Pantera Blacksmith is among the pioneers responsible for elevating the art and bringing it to a mass audience, so if there's a pole dance studio in your neighborhood, it's partly because of her efforts. A pole dancer since 1999, she produced the first series of instructional pole dancing DVDs in 2004 and has won national and international awards, including the the Best Pole Tricks award at the World Pole Sport & Fitness Championships in 2009. She'll be in New Orleans through Tuesday, June 7 teaching workshops at Pole Perfect Fitness.


How did you get so good at pole dancing?

I started as an exotic dancer 10 years ago, and on top of that on-the-job training, I've always been into fitness. I've been a bodybuilder since my early teen years, so I'm at the gym six or seven days a week, and I do pole dancing three or four times a week for two or three hours a day.

Can anybody learn to do the crazy inversions and acrobatic stuff you do on the pole?

Each person is different, but the more time they put into it, the more results they will see. Pole fitness is just like yoga on the pole or acrobatics, so in order to excel to a point where you are doing the monkey stuff, it involves a lot of flexibility. Many students have experience in gymnastics or ballet or are previous dancers, so they are able to move on forward. It takes anywhere between six months to a year for people to be able to invert.

Is anybody too old for pole dancing?

Pole dancing is very demanding on the body. Even some of the beginning stuff is really hard for people who aren't physically active. One of my favorite students is 64 years old, and she is a monster. She's unstoppable. Anybody can do it, but it will be harder for people who haven't done a lot of physical activity.

To me, one of the weird things about pole dancing is how on one hand, it's totally mainstream and maw-maws are doing it, but on the other hand, there's still a huge stigma associated with being a stripper.

I find it really offensive when people say rude things about strippers. Me and Fawnia and a lot of the other girls who brought (pole dancing) out have been strippers, but because of the commercial aspect, (pole dancing studios) want to appeal to women who have no interest in relating to that. So if I take a pole dancing class from a woman who has never been a stripper, I get more of the fitness aspect, and being able to separate the two is what allows people to feel comfortable in a pole dancing class. I have been influential in getting pole dancing out to the public, but I think I'm still taboo. I love that taboo aspect and really hope (pole dancing) doesn't lose that. As soon as it loses that taboo, it becomes Zumba. And that taboo aspect is what has made it possible for us to get so many interviews and so much media coverage.


What are you going to cover in the beginner workshops?

I'm going to teach (students) how to move, because some people have difficulty moving their hips or back, so I get them to relax and move around, do a little strength training. We get them familiar with the pole and the grips, because the friction can be intense. We do a lot of basic dance stuff. The three-hour workshop involves exotic dance, stretching and pole tricks, so they get the sexy side, the bendy side and the strong side. We also have private classes which I save for more advanced students.

What are some of the benefits of pole dancing, aside from the obvious physical benefits?

Some people push the fitness and athleticism aspect, but I still like to encourage the dance aspect because that sensuality, that way of moving and the art of it really pulls women out of their shells and allows them to do things they never thought they could. After a certain amount of time, you get comfortable with yourself, and people can start being more of who they really are.

The three-hour, all-level workshop costs $100 per person. Call 985-264-4705 or visit Pole Perfect's website to register.