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Taking dance to another level

Editor's note: A number of passages in the original version of this article presented as direct quotations language that differed from the wording used by the individuals quoted. A misquotation attributed to Julianne Fenn that characterized a Poler Bears performance has been removed at the request of the source.

Corrections to the other misquotations have been made below. Changes are made in italics, with parentheses indicating words that were erroneously included in the quotations in the original version of the article.

The Herald is committed to accuracy in its reporting and regrets the misquotations.

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For three years, the Brown Poler Bears — the Ivy League's first pole dancing club — have been practicing moves like "The Fireman" and "The Martini" on two poles in the Art House lounge in Harkness House.

But this weekend, the club gave other students a chance to participate for the first time, offering hour-long workshops on Saturday afternoon. The Poler Bears charged $5 for the workshops, hoping to raise money to cover the costs of their new pole.

Members of the group, which meets twice a week, teach themselves from pole dancing videos posted on YouTube. They're not afraid to showcase their skills, either — they perform regularly at Art House parties and two or three times a year at venues like Production Workshop.

"It's a great conversation starter," said Julianne Fenn '11, the club's president.

Last year, the Poler Bears were in danger of extinction — there were only six members. But this year, 30 people arrived to audition, and now the club boasts 16 performers, including two men. The club's members, few of whom had previous experience in pole dancing, all learn together, Fenn said.

"(I've) never met an actual pole dancer," she said. "We thought about a strip club road trip last year, but no one has a car."

While the Poler Bears have survived without experience, poles are an indispensable element of the their routine.

"You can't really practice without a pole," said Brittany Katz '12, a Poler Bear.

Purchasing and maintaining the poles has been a constant struggle. The first was purchased by club founder Alexandra Hellquist '08, who installed a pole in her off-campus house after learning how to pole dance from online videos. Soon after, she got permission from the president of Art House to move the pole to the program house's lounge and the Poler Bears were born.

"We'd (just) play around on it," said Fenn, who has been a Poler Bear since the group's founding.

Hellquist wrote a proposal for a $500 grant to purchase a second pole, Fenn said. But when she graduated, she took one of the poles with her, and the remaining dancers had to pool their funds to buy another.

But that pole broke earlier this year. "The pole doesn't always hold you — it's supposed to," Katz said.

The Poler Bears ordered another online and hope to have raised enough this weekend to cover their costs.

At the workshops, Fenn, Katz and other Poler Bears taught basic moves like "backspin" to popular songs, including Taylor Swift's "Love Story." Participants also practiced dancing with ladders, chairs, platforms and even a Swiffer.

The name "Poler Bears" helped to draw in participants.

"I thought it was really witty and clever," said Ebony Enabulele '13, who attended one of the Saturday workshops.

Fenn said the name had been Hellquist's from the start. "(She was) really into puns," Fenn said.

The group's members said it was sometimes hard to explain exactly what the Poler Bears entailed — especially to their parents.

"My mom is minimally aware" of what the group does, Katz said, adding that her dad had no idea she was in the group.

Fenn said her parents were fine with the idea of her pole dancing, but she added she would never invite them to a show.

"(My parents) think it's just another quirky thing I'm doing at college," said Kat Reardon '12, another Poler Bear.

Many Poler Bears said their friends, on the other hand, don't pass up the chance to tease them.

"Friends ask me, ‘Do you give lap dances?'" Katz said.

Katz and Reardon both said paying with dollar bills takes on a whole new significance for members of the club. "People say, ‘Did you get that from Poler Bears?'" Reardon said.

But lewd comments and unwanted advances from men are rare, Fenn said. Even dancing at off-campus parties, she said, was "much less sketchy than we anticipated."

Fenn said the audience at performances usually consists of the dancers' friends and people with an interest in dance.

The group's dances aren't always overtly sexual. "It depends on the person," Katz said. "Mine are silly."

Emily Winterrowd '12 said hers were "graceful."

"(It's) not just grinding," Fenn said, adding that each dancer tries to incorporate athletic, acrobatic moves into their routines, like spinning around the pole with one leg hooked over it or sliding down the pole upside down before finishing in a handstand.

"You don't realize how difficult it really is," Reardon said.

But the Poler Bears do more than perform at parties. Last year, they did a carefully choreographed show in Salomon with theme music and a plot.

"It was set in fairyland," Fenn said. Katz played Cinderella, she said, and Reardon said she was Little Red Riding Hood, dressed in a gingham costume made of vinyl.

Of course, pole dancing is never entirely innocent. Fenn sometimes dances in lingerie from Victoria's Secret.

Because of the demands of different dances moves, performers in costume must have bare shoulders and almost entirely bare thighs.

"(You have to grip) with your inner thigh," Katz explained.

"It's fun to be sexy," Reardon pointed out. "Everyone wants that avenue."

But the Poler Bears said they pole danced for other reasons, too.

"(I do it because it's) an amazing workout," Katz said.




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