On the surface, Susan Hilferty appeared to be living the American dream—a promising position as a pharmaceutical rep, plus an upcoming marriage. But for a woman who grew up studying at The School of American Ballet and dancing on stages including Lincoln Center, selling pills felt empty at times, and Hilferty found her need for physical expression growing stronger. While visiting a friend in Los Angeles, she took her first pole-dancing class, and almost immediately, her life took a new direction.
Though she faced resistance from friends and family, Hilferty saw in her classes how pole dancing transformed women—giving them new confidence, encouraging them to overcome insecurities, and helping them heal from past traumas. She called off her wedding, continued taking classes, and eventually opened Pole Fitness Miami. Today, she and her team of trained ballerinas lead pole-dancing and dance-based fitness classes at two locations. Ranked on CBS Local Miami's list of Best Places For Unique Workouts, the boutique surrounds saunterers with purple walls, subdued lighting, and gauzy curtains to create a sultry atmosphere. Additionally, Hilferty and her crew help students obtain pole-dance certifications, as well as arrange pole-dance parties so groups of damsels can strengthen their bonds or celebrate becoming volunteer firefighters.
The consortium of professional instructors at Fred Astaire Dance Studios, which was cofounded by the legendary toe tapper himself, shepherds students of all ages and skill levels through lessons that span the style spectrum. Low-pressure private sessions allow enthusiastic teachers to fine-tune individual students' techniques and form, using their expert eyes and mechanical dancing shoes preprogrammed to do the Charleston. Patrons can learn how to cavort through classic waltz and fox-trot romps or swivel through the modern steps of salsa, swing, or samba. For dancers hoping to hoof it up in a social setting, the group practice parties provide a one-night extravaganza of instruction, demonstrations, and amateur firewalking.
Arthur Murray has been a leading name in franchise dance since 1912, when the entrepreneur began selling mail-order dance lessons. Expanding his reach, he enlisted teachers to spread his signature dance lessons on first-class steamships and skyrocketed to fame in the '30s after introducing the public to such dances as the Lambeth Walk and The Big Apple. By the 1950s, Arthur and his wife, Kathryn, were hosting their own highly popular TV show on ABC, The Arthur Murray Dance Party, which ran for 12 years. Today, Arthur Murray's team prepares students for rug cutting at special events and weekend nightclub jaunts. Throughout lessons, instructors teach the foundations of two to four dances from a long list of styles that range from Latin to country-western, helping students to learn basic step patterns, timing, and the ability to lead or follow.
Certified Zumba instructor Sandra Acosta leads students through energetic, Latin-inspired dance movements, tapping into her experience training with Zumba creator Beto Perez. Easier to follow than paint-by-the-numbers, Zumba amalgamates traditional aerobics with simple dance steps for an entertaining, calorie-zapping workout. Participants can burn fat more effectively than a pyromaniac in a butcher shop during their eight different Zumba sessions. Classes are held at various times and locations throughout the week, so dancers can shake their booties on their own schedules.
After losing 135 pounds, Spinderella Fitness owner Elizabeth Rodriguez was determined to inspire other women to seize control of their health and strive for the energy and confidence of the physically fit. She became a certified nutritionist and personal trainer before undertaking the study of a less conventional subject: pole dancing. Rodriguez struggled at first. She recalls that she "use[d] to go home in tears" of frustration. But 17 months later, she opened her own pole-dance fitness studio, and then a second one to meet the demand for her teachings.
Rodriguez's studios host more than two-dozen classes thanks to her collaboration with Melissa Fernandez—a trained dancer with a background in jazz, ballet, and hip hop—who helped broaden the curriculum. This collaboration has resulted in both high-energy, cardio-driven workouts as well as those inspired by salsa, Flashdance, and the sensual rippling of national flags.
Students who are serious about mastering advanced pole maneuvers progress through several levels. After mastering a pole routine at one level, they receive a colored thong to mark their graduation to the next. Pole climbing students repeat the process until they are certified black-thong dancers capable of disarming a kung fu master with the twist of a hip.
The passionate mastermind behind Kitty Kat Pole Dancing instructs small groups in the sensual arts of pole dancing. Within the red-walled studio lined with billowing white curtains, she helps women to chisel profiles in a variety of pole-dancing classes, during which students tone upper arms by hoisting themselves up to the ceiling and activate abs by slowly twirling back to the ground. Groups can also host sexy parties at the studio, strutting to energetic music and dancing with more grace than a swan quoting Shakespeare.