Two poles that look like structural supports stand in the center of the second-floor room, and when the lesson starts, Cheri draws the shades, blocking her view of the Bay Bridge to turn her attention to demonstrating pole tricks.
"The important part of pole dancing is making it look good; the workout is secondary," says Cheri. "It's sort of a hidden workout. I don't realize it until I wake up sore the next day and wonder what I did to myself. Then I say, 'Oh, yeah, I was dancing yesterday.'<0x2009>" Light lifting and yoga are helpful supplemental activities to pole dancing, since strength is needed to support your body weight on the pole, and flexibility and mindfulness are essential to proper moves and flow.
Hard-pressed for cash during college, Cheri responded to an ad in the school's paper for exotic dancers at a local club. "At that time, there was no such thing as pole dancing classes, or any sort of instruction," says Cheri. "You just had to watch yourself in the mirror, and watch other dancers and just sort of learn as you go." She used dancing to support travels through Australia and Europe, but dropped it once she settled down in San Francisco and started her career.
One day, Cheri mentioned to her boyfriend that she would dance for him if he bought her a pole. One was obtained quite quickly, of course. The pole began to be used at parties and Cheri's friends stared asking her to teach them moves. She realized she had caught on to something, so she started her own studio, called Heels on the Ceiling (www.heelsontheceiling.com). Once she found another pole, a few floor mats, and stilettos in every size for her students, Cheri was in business.
Bachelorette groups flocked to her studio for Cheri's energetic instruction on floor moves and simple spins. And private students, including mother-daughter pairs, started signing up as well. "I'm a much better educator than a dancer, I think," confesses Cheri. "But at the same time it's harder to dance in front of women than in front of men. Men are simple creatures with simple minds, but women are constantly judging you and sizing you up."
Although she worries about being judged herself, helping women shift their mindsets about their bodies and sexual selves is the primary reason she continues her lessons. "Pole dancing is teaching women how to harness their sexuality through certain tricks and moves," says Cheri. "It helps women shed their sexual and image insecurities."
Advanced dancing seems like quite the workout: Cheri can suspend herself upside-down on the pole, balancing at a graceful diagonal, like a spoon resting inside of a bowl. Then, before you can blink, she'll turn around the pole faster than a record spins, and climb to the top with agility of a cat on a fence.
The physical fitness aspect has made lessons at Heels on the Ceiling more legitimate for women. "Pole-dancing has become less politically incorrect recently, because of the workout angle," says Cheri. "I'm glad that society has finally accepted and embraced it."
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