Sisterhood Blog

Pole Dancing for the Jewish Soul

By Simi Lampert

  • Print
  • Share Share

Stepping into the dimly-lit studio in midtown Manhattan, Elisheva and Sarah shed their skirts and long-sleeve shirts, leaving only shorts and tank tops. They quickly take their places at two poles in the room and begin climbing and spinning as they wait for class to begin. For these two Stern students — both modern Orthodox women in their early twenties — pole dancing classes at Shockra Studios, located a few blocks from their Yeshiva University classrooms, provide an exhilarating, judgment-free way to release the stress of school and all the anxieties that come with it.

“We carry a lot on our shoulders as Orthodox women,” says Elisheva, who, along with Sarah, asked that she be known by her pseudonym. “To take a break from that without simultaneously breaking halacha is a wonderful feeling.”

Elisheva and Sarah are just two of many women joining the pole dancing fitness craze. No longer relegated to strip clubs, pole dancing has attracted a new crop of fans, thanks in part to fitness studios offering specialized striptease workouts as an alternative to regular exercise. (In a seven-block radius in midtown, I found five venues — all advertised as workout studios.) The collision of Orthodoxy and pole dancing is not as peculiar as you may think.

“It’s very freeing, very fun and it puts me in touch with a side of myself that I don’t get to access very often,” explains Elisheva.

This feeling of release is what keeps women like Elisheva coming back to the dance.

“It’s the most fun I’ve had ever, in the world,” says Aliza, a 20-year-old Orthodox woman from Baltimore, who asked to only be identified by her first name, has taken pole dancing classes about five times and plans on continuing this summer. However, she admits to feeling uncomfortable when she mentions it to some of her Orthodox peers.

“My friends are totally fine with it, except for one who responded with ‘Oh my God, that’s awful,’ when she heard I take pole dancing, and I definitely feel weird mentioning it to other people,” Aliza says. “It’s just the Orthodox mindset, where people are afraid of being in touch with their sexuality.”

The all-women’s setting for these classes enables Orthodox women, who normally embrace restraint in their dress and behavior, to free themselves, if only for an hour. Aliza excitedly described her pole outfit as “short shorts, a tank top, and high heels,” while Elisheva points out that pole dancing symbolizes “a break from expectations and responsibility.”

Suzanne Mazal, a Stern alumna, believes that the sexuality of pole dancing creates an aura of the forbidden — even to those outside the religious spectrum.

“Pole dancing is a hyper-sexualized activity, one that carries with it a kind of taboo,” says Mazel. “Taking a class, even a private for-women-only class, feels like breaking that taboo, but in a safe and controlled environment. I’ve noticed this feeling no matter who’s taking the class, whether religious or secular.”

Many women are also attracted to pole dancing for the intense workout it offers. Aside from the obvious cardio fitness that all dance regimes provide, the constant use of the pole increases strength in the arms, legs, and abs.

“It’s a fitness craze,” says Vel Levon, owner of Brooklyn’s Finest Pole Dancing in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. “The sensuality comes with the territory, but we’re more focused on the fitness aspect.”

Despite efforts to attract the ultra-Orthodox members of the community, Levon hasn’t had any Orthodox women attend her classes — yet.

“I went in to a nail salon a lot of Hasidic women frequent, and handed out cards,” she says. “I got a very positive reaction. A lot of women said, ‘Oh I’ve wanted to try this with my friends,’ but so far no one has come in.”

A few miles away, in Flatlands, Brooklyn, Rochel Goldberg’s studio Got Pole? has a thriving Orthodox clientele. Goldberg, an Orthodox Jew herself, recently added pole classes to her wide range of fitness classes, including gymnastics, karate, and ballet. “At first people reacted almost like I was opening a strip club,” she says. “In the beginning, people hear pole and think, ‘oh, it’s dirty,’ but it’s not what you think it is.” Now, young women flock to her classes, and rave about them on Facebook.

Still, Got Pole? received criticism from rabbis in the neighborhood who were afraid the studio would “bring bad things into the community,” Goldberg explains. However, she says she’s felt nothing but support and interest from the community members themselves. And while pole dancing provides a challenging workout and great stress relief, Goldberg believes that it can also teach women to be non-judgmental. Her classes reflect the community mixture of Brooklyn, from Orthodox women to Latinas, (the “craziest mix of people,” as she says) but Goldberg stresses that she doesn’t just mean judgment of others.

“The biggest goal is to learn to love who you are. You realize that you don’t have to be perfect; you don’t have to be a stick. You love yourself.”

Though some women who take pole dancing classes avoid discussing it publicly, many feel nothing inherently “dirty” about the pastime. And rightly so; as one Stern student stated, “Every Stern girl worth her salt has taken pole dancing classes.”

The day may not be far off when pole dancing gains credibility as a sport. The International Pole Sport Federation is spearheading an effort to have pole join the Olympics by 2016, a move that would legitimize what women like Goldberg have been doing for years.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: sisterhood, shockra studios, pole-dancing, pole dancing, jewish women, modern orthodox, brooklyn

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.