Pole Dancing for Fitness, Strength and Self Respect

By Stacy Mahoney

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Pole Dancing for Fitness, Strength and Self Respect
As a victim of childhood abuse and a life of addiction, Hilary Herbert chose a new path through theater and, ultimately, pole dancing. Proceeds from class fees are donated to non-profit organizations that are dedicated to the rehabilitation of abused children.
In Topanga at the end of a long driveway, down a hill marked by railroad ties and a view of where the mountains meet the sea, is a cabin nestled in the sagebrush where all are welcome...well, that is, if you want to learn how to pole dance.

Owner/instructor of the Topanga Canyon Pole Dance Club, Hilary Herbert, will meet you with humor and a refreshing directness that will allow you to shed your clothes (to your skivvies) and any preconceptions you may have about dancing on a pole. She’s tall, beautiful and very strong. Her lithe figure spins high on the pole with the grace of a prima ballerina and she descends to the floor and gyrates with sexy splendor.

People of all ages are attracted to the cabin for numerous reasons. MC, 62, and Herbert’s first student, “started classes as a fun way to get back into shape in order to develop my upper body so I could be strong enough to surf,” she says. She never did pursue surfing, is in the cabin one to three times per week, and definitely has her body back!

Whatever lands you on the doorstep, once inside, you will be pushed physically, mentally and emotionally back into your body where you will inhabit new spaces or old ones that just need some dusting off. It’s usual for students to emerge with a new respect for the sheer difficulty, an awareness of their own limits, and often a path to surpass them. Leanne, 57, has been dancing in the cabin for 10 months and describes the process: “As we learn to move with control and strength...and sass...we learn to confront our limitations and observe and shift our habitual ways.”

As a teacher, Herbert is firm when you need a push and fun when you need to laugh. She will play to your strengths, explain why it’s important and how to work through your weaknesses.
MC likes to say, “The big draw is Hilary herself; her choreography is beautiful and inspired and to see her move is pure artistry.” Leanne says, “She is a true mentor, a brilliant teacher, a shining vibrant light, part therapist, part comedienne, part dominatrix, a powerful and beautiful guide.”

As a new dancer, you need that type of guidance because the tips for the tricks can sometimes feel like a physics problem. You will get yourself upside down, gripping the pole with your thighs…then you have to engage your shoulder to support and leverage your weight so you can simultaneously hook your heel, release a leg with a coquettishly bent knee, perfectly pointed toes and all the blood rushing to your head. That’s called “Butterfly” or “Pixie” or “Jasmine.” Don’t let the cute names of the inversions fool you; you will be bruised and possibly missing a layer of skin on your forearms, thighs or feet. The pain is subsumed by the exultation of attempting something new and very difficult. The bruises fade faster than the rewards of pushing and challenging yourself. Leanne likes to refer to her hard-earned contusions as “pole kisses.”

From my own experience, it’s evident that how you relate to the pole is how you relate to challenges in life. Sometimes you hold on too tightly and don’t move, you get stuck. Then you learn to let go and find the balance and the rhythm needed to progress and move forward. The dancers get through it because Herbert knows what it feels like, has been where they are and promises the rewards of one who has persevered.
A performer since childhood, Herbert danced, sang and acted her way to a BFA degree in Theater. She chose to perform in theater and, ultimately, pole dancing as she worked through childhood abuse and lifelong addiction. After the birth of her son, she explored pole dancing as a new form of self-expression and found that setting goals and developing the discipline to achieve them creates a profound confidence, especially the confidence to explore pathways of movement that she had never given herself permission to explore before.
“It wasn’t until I was willing to move my body in a sensual way that I found my true power,” she says.

Herbert’s vision of the pole cabin is a space where people can support, challenge and empower each other while growing, learning and laughing…in their underwear.

“I have made such dear friends and feel free, held in a circle of love on an ongoing journey and adventure,” Leanne says. Carol echoes the sentiment
“On a journey of courage, self-discovery, sexiness and bonding, my life opened up again at 55 to see myself anew,” she says. “There really is nothing more powerful than a bunch of women in delicate lacey separates talking their way through the steps of a new move, each other’s love lives, or the problems plaguing the world.”

Herbert’s mission is building a community that supports its members as well as those who have inspired the art form. Part of her mission is to donate proceeds from the class fees to non-profit organizations such as For the Child, which is dedicated to the rehabilitation of abused children. To date, this number is $40,000.

Regular classes are available in six-week sessions. In addition, drop-in classes are offered for various levels, no previous dance experience required. MC likes to emphasize that “there truly is the perfect class for anyone at every level and for every interest because of the many choices from low-flow, to aerial, to strength-and-conditioning classes and heels.”

In celebration, there is a bi-annual performance party for all those who benefit from the activities proffered in the cabin. It’s the hottest ticket in town and getting your name on the list can be tricky. It’s unlikely to be there, unless you have heard Herbert encouragingly yell, “burn it out ladies” with the insistence of one who knows the pain and what’s on the other side.

“My passion and journey in pole has been so powerful that the joy of being able to share that with others gives me a sense of purpose,” Herbert says.

For more information, the Topanga Canyon Pole Dance Club is on Instagram: @topangapoledanceclub.

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November 11, 2022