Just a few years removed from extensive back surgery and a long, grueling recovery, Ashland resident Shallan McDonald wanted to be active and find a low-impact type of exercise to enjoy — something that might even mitigate some of the chronic pain she had learned to live with.
That's how McDonald discovered pole-dance fitness in April.
While pole dancing generally is associated with strippers, McDonald is quick to point out that pole fitness is a much more intense workout than most dancers could fathom.
"You won't ever see a stripper try to do some of the stuff we do," she says.
Now in the best shape of her entire life, the mother of three tries to squeeze in pole-dancing workouts at least two to three times per week, saying it provides phenomenal core strength and myriad other benefits.
"I was wanting to try something different in a workout, and I also had this feeling I needed to feel sexy and do something that was going to make me feel better about myself," McDonald says.
To her surprise, pole fitness turned out to be a serious workout, consisting of strength-building moves and exercises that require participants to hold difficult poses and lift their own body weight.
Tammy French, owner of Medford's Pole Dance Fitness, says the women who stumble onto pole fitness often are convinced of its benefits after only a workout or two.
"I've been a dancer my whole life. I grew up doing ballet and tap and jazz and modern dance. This is, hands down, the most amazing workout I've ever done," French says.
"I have people take this class ranging in age from 17 to 65. When you're doing pole fitness, you're burning 300 to 500 calories an hour, and you don't even realize how fast it goes by.
"The gym can be monotonous and boring," French adds. "People get hooked on this because it's a great workout and it's a lot of fun."
After two months of classes, Medford resident Heather Thomas has become a regular at French's pole studio behind WinCo in Medford.
"A girlfriend of mine mentioned she was doing it and that I should try it. When it was first brought up to me, I was thinking no way would I ever ride a pole," Thomas says.
"But I was really surprised. It is a serious workout. You have to learn to pick yourself up and build up your upper body. I've only been going for two months, and I noticed a really big difference."
Thomas, an assistant manager at a local restaurant, says her muscle tone is better than ever, and she feels energized after every class.
"I've noticed my arms. I'm actually getting muscles," she says, noting her new "hobby" has come with some teasing, but nothing that would deter her from sticking with it.
"I get a lot of crap for it from my friends. They'll say, 'Oh, you're gonna be a stripper now, huh?'
"I've learned that pole dancing and pole fitness are two very different things," Thomas says. "It takes some strength to pull yourself up on a pole. And my friends are really noticing my muscles.
"Now they tell me, 'Wow, you're getting some guns!' "
For information about French's classes, see www.poledancefitnessmedford.com.