Kari Shaver isnt a stripper but youd be hard-pressed to tell. Tall, slender and copper toned, her belly button jewel winks from taut abs, twinkling under the dim lights as Shaver whips around a giant brass pole with agility and grace.
And her audience isnt bleary-eyed men clutching sweaty handfuls of dollar bills. Rather, its a small group of women, in their early 20s to late 30s, wearing sweats and yoga pants, raptly watching Shaver, concentrating with furrowed brows, taking mental notes on her every twist, turn and gyration.
This is Pole Addiction, Shavers brand-new pole-dancing instructional class. Note its not a stripping class, but specifically a tutorial on the fine art of stripper pole acrobatics.
And if youve ever been to an establishment featuring nimble pole experts, you know the pole is a formidable beast to tame. The more skilled of the pole dancers, swinging in a seductive downward clockwise spiral, dangling only by an ankle sheathed in a seven-inch spike-heeled leather boot, make it look oh-so-easy. But its much, much harder than it looks.
In Port Huron one Monday night, a small group of women gather for the second installment of Shavers six-week introductory class. She teaches in the upper level of a bar called the Huron Athletic Club, where a towering brass pole has been permanently installed in a darkened corner of the club. The venue is dead on a Monday night, and no ones allowed upstairs other than members of the class.
Its only their second meeting, but the women chatter on as though theyre longtime gal pals. Shaver, in bubble-gum pink hip-huggers and a black baby-T that says, Have pole, will travel, walks her students through the basic moves they learned last week. A sexy tip-toe walk, a slide, a hip shake, a basic spin, yada yada. After Shaver demonstrates, each student takes her turn at the pole, some looking obviously shy and embarrassed, others giggling profusely, each taking her turn at invoking her inner Bambi.
Shaver, a 34-year-old stay-at-home mom from Port Huron, was inspired after she caught Desperate Housewives Teri Hatcher on Oprah, demonstrating the slick tricks shes learned in the pole class she takes to stay in shape. Shaver, intrigued, began researching online, and found a company that offers a pole-dancing franchise, A Pole Lot of Fun Enterprises Inc. (apolelotoffun.com). She signed up and received a business plan, a list of introductory moves and, of course, a two-inch diameter metal cylinder. The company was geared toward organizing pole parties in womens homes much like the sex toy parties that have gained so much popularity but Shaver was more interested in teaching an ongoing class in a venue like a bar or dance studio; something accessible that still offered privacy for shy students. And shes just acquired a venue in Ferndale, a boutique named Attitude, at 250 W. Nine Mile. The classes will take place on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 7 to 9 p.m., and begin October 19.
The Port Huron students are Shavers guinea pigs. For six weeks, theyll meet for two hours on a Monday night (total cost for the course is $130, dirt cheap compared to similar classes for yoga and Pilates), grappling the pole and mastering floor work (crawling with your butt in the air and pelvic thrusts). All their work will culminate in the final class, when each student performs a routine to the song of her choice, incorporating all the slithering acrobatics and hip rolls shes mastered.
Tara Lavery, 24, signed up for the class after seeing a Port Huron newspaper ad. Im interested in all kinds of dance and it sounded like it would be different, to say the least, Lavery says. I thought it would be kind of cheesy, but it ended up being really challenging. I actually was sore and bruised.
Administrative assistant Leslie Bailey-Leonard, 38, took the class because she was looking for a fun way to do strength training. I went to New Orleans in April, and that was my first time in a strip club, she says. I was really impressed by a couple of the girls who truly used the pole. I could tell it took a lot of upper body strength. Then I started hearing about actual classes that normal people could take. Hopefully Ill be able to put on a little show for my hubby at the end.
Sandra Ball, 39, a self-described factory rat, also was inspired by Hatchers appearance on Oprah. Ive been married 19 years, and every few years I like to add something new to the marriage, Ball says. I hate exercising, and this just looked like fun. And I was happy to walk in there and see people my age. It wasnt a bunch of 18-year-olds who wanted to be a stripper.
A few of the girls have ordered a round of liquid courage to enhance their studies, as they discuss how sore they were after last weeks class. Shaver pulls down the edge of her waistband and points to a plum-colored bruise blossoming over her hipbone. Apparently the cold metal of the stripper-pole has a harsh and unforgiving learning curve.
As Shaver instructs her pupils, with the soothing voice and gentle encouragement of a first-grade teacher, the air is thick with innuendos:
Im going to wipe this down now, its getting really slick.
This just feels hard already.
Um, do you really think my legs will go up there?
Its kind of a mind fuck.
Dont overthink it; its like a sex thing. Just close your eyes.
My boobs are in the way.
You need to hold your leg up, like how a dog pees.
I just hurt my privates.
Shaver introduces a string of moves that look easy, but prove hard to master. The Sea Horse, the Sun Leaf, the Attitude, the Pole Sit. The latter proves most challenging, as well as visually arresting. The move requires bare legs (your inner thighs have to stick to the pole), so Shaver sheds her pants, revealing extremely abbreviated tight black shorts. Its the only stripping in the entire class. She deftly climbs the pole, wrapping her honey colored gams around it in a death lock, and releases her arms, palms turned upwards in a lotus-like pose. She looks like a seductive Buddha straddling a giant brass pole, a Zen-like stripper.
As her students try to mimic the move, most slide down the pole, the friction of their bare skin against metal emitting a high-pitched squeak like fingernails on a chalkboard, only hotter and shriek in terror or slight pain. The few who manage to stay up for a few seconds girlie-squeal with victorious excitement.
A few joke that they may take a trip to a strip club to do a little field research.
I just told my husband the other day, I think you might have to take me to some of the clubs in Sarnia so I can watch before class, Bailey-Leonard says.
Shaver has done just that, but says her classes will never offer moves as advanced as those executed by full-on pole Olympians.
Most of the girls who really know how to do pole tricks are borderline gymnasts, Shaver says. I dont want to show tricks that most women would never in their lives be able to do. I try to make my class be for real, everyday women who just want to have fun.
To sign up for Shavers class, visit poleaddiction.com.Sarah Klein is culture editor of Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org