A group of 10 of us, all women, stand two-to-a-pole in a small room lit with blue lights. One entire wall is a mirror, which forces me to stare at my completely sober self. I'm waiting for my first-ever pole dancing class to begin at Santa Fe's RISE Barre (501 Franklin Ave; 690-2605).
My casual idea to take a few pole dancing classes out of curiosity, a lifetime love of dance and a need for more variety in my fitness routine during the winter morphed into an assignment when I made the mistake of mentioning it to my editor.
The first 20 minutes of the class, taught by Jessica Chavez, are a series of dance-inspired warm-up stretches and moves. We pretty quickly move into learning some very basic things—how to "strut" around the pole and the proper way to hold the arm high up on the bar with the shoulder down, so as not to look "scrunched."
Chavez, an energetic woman who grows about a foot taller when she puts on a pair of dangerously high heels to teach the rest of the class, also shows us how to pirouette around the pole. She does it a lot more gracefully than I manage to, but as the time wears on, the more relaxed and fun the laughter and chatter is among the students.
While I do feel a hint of awkwardness throughout the class, it fades as the positive vibes of the instruction make it feel more fun and less of a competition, which is what almost everything turns into for me.
Most of us are dressed in yoga pants, though one of the students already has a pair of heels to dance in. As I look around, I realize something else I didn't take note of when I first walked in—the students range from women in their 50s and 60s down to their early 20s. It's a variety of different people, not just the typical dancer people might think of at a strip club.
Such diversity isn't what Prisma Avery, 27, the owner and founder of RISE Barre, necessarily thought would manifest. But she's thrilled it turned out that way.
She started her business in 2018 in the sunroom attached to her house, spurred by a love of both barre workouts and pole dancing. RISE quickly grew until she moved into the space it occupies now on Franklin Ave. Since then, it has expanded to "a lot" of students, seven instructors and nine front desk employees.
Avery sees pole dancing in particular as something that can be healing for women who have experienced trauma or felt trapped by society's patriarchal standards. (Raises hand!)
"There's a lot of trauma that we experience in life as women," Avery tells me sitting cross-legged on the wooden floors of her studio. "There's this box of what our sexuality is supposed to look like or just what we're supposed to look like as humans. Moving in this way, we're able to free ourselves and connect to ourselves even deeper."
Before taking pole dancing classes, I would have found the idea of it being healing or even spiritual in some way ridiculous since I equated it with being a stripper. But there is something truly empowering about taking something that comes with stigma, judgment and even a measure of danger (with most of the danger coming from predatory men) and instead making it something fun and using it as a way to connect with other women.
Avery, who was born and raised in Santa Fe, had the same experience in 2016 after moving to Las Vegas, Nevada, learning how to pole dance and working as a stripper.
"I felt like being a woman was really dangerous," she says. "I felt like being in touch with my feminine-ness overall was scary. So I started taking pole classes and stripping just as a way to be connected to my sensuality, but call the shots."
Although the poles take up a lot of space at RISE, Avery also offers barre, which is a ballet-inspired workout. Some of the other skills taught go along with pole dancing: Floorplay, which are dance moves best done with knee pads, and twerk classes, which I did not get the chance to try but wanted to as an addition to a pole routine.
Overall, I had a great experience in the pole dancing classes and would love to take more. My one sticking point—the price is steep.
For an unlimited recurring monthly membership of barre, yoga and introduction to pole classes, the cost is $110. A monthly membership that includes all of the classes including the upper level pole classes, it's $170. For just 10 upper level pole classes, it's $180. The monthly membership is clearly incentivized but for many in Santa Fe, it might be too much to spend every month but—Valentine's Day might be a good time to splurge.
Avery hopes to change that in the near future by moving into a bigger space that allows room for more students in each class and potentially a drop in price.
"I've also been playing with the idea of dropping that number significantly so then we can have more people in the studio," Avery says. "If the community wants us, we'll just keep going."