GET PHYSICAL: Beyond The Pole

Sep 24, 2015 0 comments
GET PHYSICAL: Beyond The Pole

Originally Published in Magazine

By Alison Angelo

It’s hard not to stare in shock as Heather Day Slawek and her students climb and artfully turn around large metal poles in her Manayunk studio. They make it look so easy, but as you watch you can see their muscles clench and the full body strength they have is obvious. What we’re talking about is pole fitness, a growing trend in the workout industry for both women and men alike.

In modern culture the pole is most often associated with exotic dancers, but at Heather’s studio, Awakenings Pole Fitness, she brings it back to the poles long rooted history in various cultures around the world. From the dramatic mix of Chinese or Indian pole to the traveling fair and circus performances, pole fitness is really more about strength and conditioning than anything else.

“Many people associate the exercise with sensual dancers, but more and more women are moving away from that perception and see the workout as a way to build strength, endurance, and especially confidence,” Heather said.

Heather took her first pole dancing class with a friend back in 2006 and she quickly fell in love with this exhilarating workout. Soon after, she sought to combine pole dancing with her own performance-based fitness techniques to create a workout that is both a mix of art and sport.

“I began to see the traditional workout as a chore, dull and boring,” Heather said. “I wanted to remove the shame factor and let women have fun with it while also building strength.”

By 2008, Heather opened her own studio in King of Prussia, the only pole studio in all of Montgomery County. Seeing an opportunity to become a leader in the industry, she proudly expanded by opening a studio on Main Street in Manayunk a few years later.

"There is so much going on in Manayunk. It feels alive, and Awakenings Pole Fitness definitely fits the scene," Heather said. “There are so many young professionals in the area interested in trying an alternative new workout so I knew this would catch on."

A pole fitness class at Heather’s studio provides a high energy cardio workout set to a great soundtrack, similar to Zumba or other aerobic workouts. But it’s not just pole fitness classes that she has, there are acrobatics and aerial fitness classes as well. In both classes, students explore hanging silks, lyra or hanging hoop, as well as single hanging silk hammocks for therapeutic body time. Heather also likes to throw in some battle ropes and resistance bands to change up the workout and make it more enjoyable. 

Whether you have been poling for ten years or ten days, Heather says there are many powerful weight loss testimonials from women who have seen results from taking her classes. “See your progress, feel your progress. That’s all it takes,” Heather said. 

Unlike some workout formats which may take months to see results, by the third week, Heather said students begin to feel noticeably stronger. Because pole fitness requires you to lift your own body weight, you use muscles in parts of your body that you may not have used before. Along with the physical changes your body will make, pole fitness can improve cardio respiratory endurance and flexibility. But for some, the greatest benefit from pole fitness is a confidence boost in their personal lives. 

“I’ve seen how the many benefits of poling can translate to other aspects of life,” Heather said. “Time and time again, people will mention how much more confident they are about themselves after taking a pole fitness class; that they were able to release an inner power or personality they never knew existed.”

In an effort to distinguish her studio from the competition, Heather coordinates recital performances at the end of the fall and spring sessions along with photo shoots for her students. Working with her longtime student and friend Julia of Julia Lehman Photography, Heather cultivates beautiful and artistic photographs of Awakenings’ students. Heather believes these photos and film help her students’ progress and stay motivated.

Many of Heather's students who have progressed in their skill have gone on to become certified trainers coming back to instruct at the Manayunk studio where it all began. “I require my instructors to attend at least two workshops per year, so we can stay knowledgeable and see how the competition has progressed – both in performing standards and styles,” Heather said.

Heather also brings workshops and special guests directly to her Manayunk studio for her trainers and students. One of her more recent guests was the well-known performer and judge David C. Owen, a silver medalist at the American Pole Fitness Championship in 2010 and 2011 and a bronze medalist at the International Pole Dance Master’s Cup in 2012.

If you aren’t looking to become a professional but want to take a try at the pole with some friends, the Manayunk studio is the perfect place to spend a girl’s night or host a bachelorette party. Girls often schedule nail and hair appointments, an empowering workout, and finish the night by going out in Manayunk Heather said.

Seven hard-working years and several shiny poles later, Heather has no plans to stop climbing the ladder (in this case the pole) yet. 


After talking with Heather, I knew I wanted to take a stab at pole fitness myself. Here are a few simple tips I recommend for first timers:

  1. Come mentally and physically prepared. No experience or skill is required, but beginners should come with a good attitude and be dressed in shorts or long tight pants and a tank top.
  2. Break down the moves to learn them quickly, and keep practicing. You may feel discouraged that you won’t be able to do half the moves the instructor can, but if you break it down piece by piece your body will start to get used to each move.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The classes are small so the instructor can give you a lot of personal attention. The other participants were supportive and encouraging and always willing to offer advice.
  4. Safety is key. Follow all of the instructions and advice from Heather, like not moisturizing before class and wiping down your pole for better gripping.  
  5. Bring confidence with you, and above all, have fun. Believe in yourself and stay motivated. Your instructor and classmates will help build your confidence.




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  1. Meghan RyanOct 05, 2015 at 08:34 AM

    so glad to have found Awakenings. Took classes with Heather years ago and after too long away from the studio, feels like I just came home.

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