Unique RSOs offer alternative workout option

By Lillian Barkley

Among the performances on Quad Day, two athletic RSOs tend to garner more whispers and sideways glances. Illini Pole Fitness and Bellydance UIUC members will take the stage on Aug. 23 in an effort to draw attention and increase membership.

“The pole definitely drags people in and piques their curiosity,” said Katie Chiang, master’s student in Professional Science.

While members may come for the novelty of the sport, they stay for the intense workout and personal improvement.

“When I started two years ago, I couldn’t curl 15 pounds, I couldn’t touch my toes and I had zero dance experience,” Chiang said, noting that even her neck was sore after a workout.

Sarah West, former president of Illini Pole Fitness, added that the sport is very approachable. Defy Gravity, the pole fitness and aerial arts studio at 24 E. Green St., Suite 11 in Champaign, hosts a variety of 46 classes and open gyms each week.

The studio is a new, larger space with equipment for pole fitness, trapeze, silks, circus and lyra, which is an aerial hoop. Defy Gravity will be open after Quad Day for an open house, catered by Maize.

“We try to hit all the different things that pole fitness can be,” West said.

Classes range in price, with the cheapest option being $10, though West said there is a sliding scale for University students. Those who attend the open house will be able to get one week of unlimited classes for $10.

One challenge that comes with the sport goes beyond physical strain.

“It’s hard to tell your family about this stuff, especially if your family is more traditional,” said Kelly Tang, former University student. After her father saw pictures of her working out and became concerned that she had become a prostitute, Tang tended to avoid mentioning pole fitness to her relatives.

“We try to open up how people think about this particular apparatus; it does carry quite a bit of stigma,” West said. “We’re all about inclusive environments, body-positive spaces and community.”

Bellydance UIUC has a similar motto of inclusivity.

“You don’t have to be small and thin like a ballerina. You can be any size, any age, any gender. It doesn’t matter,” said Kaitlin Tyler, graduate student in Engineering.

Tyler, secretary of Bellydance UIUC, has been involved with the RSO since it began in fall 2012. She has a background in more traditional dance styles but had no prior experience with bellydance.

“I’ve always found bellydance to be very interesting. It’s a beautiful form of dance to watch,” she said.

Kathleen Hawkins, senior in Engineering and club president, said that the effectiveness of the workout depends on how much effort is put in.

“It’s good exercise, and it’s a good break from all the schoolwork you have to do,” she said.

There isn’t much strength training involved, but drills and muscle isolations add muscle tone to the cardio of dancing, Hawkins said.

Like pole fitness, bellydance does not come without some amount of stigma.

“In Western culture, it has been seen as a sexualized sort of dance,” Tyler said.

Hawkins said that body positivity is more important than adhering to typical costumes which expose the midriff. When she began performing, she wore close-fitted t-shirts until she was comfortable.

“We understand that people have different levels of modesty,” she said. “It’s more about just appreciating yourself.”

Classes are free and held at Campus Recreation Center East. Beginner classes are held on Monday and intermediate classes are on Wednesday. Club membership is $25 for the year and includes a traditional coin belt and access to extra workshops.

“Come out and give it a shot,” Tyler said. “The classes are free, you might as well.”

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