Climbs, spins, tricks and sweat are can be expected on the average Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings at Iron X Fitness. Founded in 2016 by Nattalie Johnson and Stephanie “Frost” Romanello, Iron X Fitness is a pole studio that encourages people of all backgrounds and levels to challenge themselves to grow, both physically and personally through pole fitness.
There is a rich history to pole dancing and pole athleticism, such as Chinese pole climbing and Mallakhamb, however in the modern Western world it is largely conceptualized as sex work carried out by femme presenting bodies. Due to sexist and classist attitudes towards sex work, pole dancing is often looked down upon in American culture and society. Pole fitness is a recent trend that attempts to move away from the hypersexualized image of pole dancing by reframing it as an exercise or an art form. Pole fitness is distinct due to being conducted in a studio setting where patrons are paying to learn a skill rather than performing pole dance as work. Even the name “Iron X Fitness” establishes the studio as centered on fitness rather than sexuality.
In an interview with the Catalyst, Johnson and Romanello conveyed that they are not seeking to cast judgment upon pole dancing as sex work through their branding, rather they are hoping to create an environment that provides people with the inner strength and confidence to surmount the challenge of pole training.
Q: How did you each get your start with pole fitness?
N: My cousin dragged me to a different studio and I just got hooked.
S: I had a friend in college that had a pole in her apartment, so one night we went over and we played on it for three hours and I was so sore the next day, and it was just so much fun. Then, years later, our old studio [Apple Jelly] was running a Living Social offering ten classes for a month and I thought what the heck? I need a hobby, and I also wanted to get more comfortable with myself and my own body.
Q: Sarasota seems to really be lacking spaces to get into pole fitness, in your experiences, why do you think that is?
N: It is definitely hard to get people hooked. There is not a huge demand. The closest studio is in Fort Lauderdale, south of us and then there are a few north of us in Tampa and Brandon.
S: You are trying to ask people to commit their time, usually in their evenings, and commit their bodies to this challenge. It is a commitment, and you will see growth. It is a matter of not getting discouraged early on… I think that if you are looking for pole fitness then you know what you are looking for, a lot of people who I find call and have been looking for months. There is usually some kind of spark of curiosity that tends to bring in a lot of our clientele
Q: Coming here, I felt encouraged to try this new and strenuous thing, and I see you use the term “sisterhood” a lot, and wanted your input on why you feel these elements are important to pole fitness?
N: We definitely want a close environment; we want people to come in and feel welcomed, comfortable and encouraged. Days are hard and the last thing we want is for people to come in and feel uncomfortable or like they don’t belong.
S: I think as women we are often trained to be really critical of ourselves and other women, what I loved about pole fitness is that when you come in here it’s about feeling like you are enough and being celebrated for that. I have had days when I was having a rough time with something personal, and we sometimes want people to leave things at the door in order to come in with an open mind and heart to this, but if you come in with a heavy weight this becomes like a family, and you have this whole other support system, and people I have met in pole fitness are some of my best friends in the world. I trust them to catch me aerially and I trust them to catch me emotionally.
Q: What are you hoping to convey to people who have never been here about Iron X Fitness?
S: When I first started pole I met a lot of praise, but also some nervousness about doing it… If people came in here, they would experience this transforming kind of experience, it does not just change your levels of strength and flexibility, but it changes you inside in a really positive way and that’s something I love being able to bring to the community. I do not think a lot of things tell you that you are enough, that you are perfect the way you are and badass the way you are and I think that is really special… The beauty of pole fitness is that it can be anything you want it to be it can be sexy, sultry, fit, strong–pole can be anything.
To learn more about Iron X Fitness, visit ironxfitnesspole.com, located at 1990 Main Street Sarasota, FL 34236, each class costs $15.00