Pole Dancing Parties
KINNELON, N.J. -- Johnna Cottam was showing a group of her girlfriends how to do a move called the Fireman.
As music by Shakira played, she strode up to grab the portable pole in the living room of her well-appointed lakefront home here, wrapped her right leg around it, swung wide with her left, and spun. When she reached the bottom, Ms. Cottam, in a pink "Got Pole?" tank top and black workout pants, tossed her hair back, mudflap-girl style.
"Kick it right out of the ballpark, just kick it," she encouraged her five friends and neighbors. Making way for the women to try the move, Ms. Cottam backed into a rocking chair draped with pink and purple feather boas that partly covered her twin sons' two teddy bears.
Pole dancing, once exclusively the province of exotic dancers, has flared up as a much-hyped Hollywood exercise craze, and has seeped into the collective unconscious through shows like 'The Sopranos' and 'Desperate Housewives.' A variant called motorized pole dancing, which occurs in stretch limos, has raised eyebrows as far away as Britain, where some female university students pole-danced as a fund-raiser for testicular cancer. And mini-poles have even been spotted as dance props at over-the-top bat mitzvah parties in suburban precincts.
Now the pole -- think ballet barre turned vertical -- is the new star at racier versions of Tupperware parties in well-heeled (if high-heeled) areas like this one in the northwest hills of Morris County, about 33 miles from Manhattan. Billed as "femme empowerment," such at-home pole dancing lessons are taking place in the realm of book clubs, with mothers -- and grandmothers -- learning slinky moves for girls' nights in, bachelorette send-offs, even the occasional 60th birthday celebration.
"I want the women to feel strong within themselves," explained Ms. Cottam, 29, who teaches pole dancing at a local gym as well as at home parties. Noting that some middle-aged suburban women lose themselves and their sense of sexuality as they are consumed by the responsibilities of motherhood, she added: "When you come to my class you are beautiful, you are. I want to show them that strength inside, and unleash that sexual kitten."
At the party here, Karen Schotanus, a 42-year-old dental hygienist who met Ms. Cottam at a neighborhood garage sale, encouraged Carolyn DaCarolis, 52 and also a hygienist, as she practiced a tentative strut around the pole.
"Pull out the hair tie and throw those glasses," said Ms. Schotanus, who had such a good time that she promised to soon plan a pole party of her own.
This intimate Friday-night soiree, where spinach dip and crudités were served and Ms. Cottam sent guests home with homemade banana muffins for their families, was for no particular occasion. She did not charge for the lesson, but had poles -- spring-loaded and adjustable from 8 to 10 feet -- for sale ($450), as well as a variety of feathered or rhinestone platform shoes ($19.99 and up).
Though Ms. Cottam operates independently, more than 350 pole-dance instructors in 34 states and Canada have signed up since August 2006 with an international company, EPM EmpowerNet, to run their own businesses in the model of Tupperware or AVON sales. The company provides DVDs that teach the instructors dance moves, pole safety and party etiquette, and sells them the equipment; they keep the fees they charge each participant -- $25 to $30 in this area -- plus any margin on the poles.
At-home pole parties are also offered by gyms that teach exotic dance, and several local companies run similar operations.