The perception of pole dancing is changing. When Maureen Metzger and her business partner DJ Hamilton started Blush Pole Fitness & Dance six years ago, Maureen says, "people thought [the instructors] were strippers." Since then, she's seen attitudes adjust as pole dancing went from taboo to a possible Olympic sport. Maureen equates pole dancing with aerial arts, on par with performances seen in shows such as Cirque du Soleil. She leads a series of classes and workshops that focus on upper-body and core strength or hone in sensual spins and dances. "You can be sexy and sensual," Maureen says, "and it doesn’t have to be tasteless . . . I watch Dancing with the Stars, and I think that is way more sexual than anything we do."
Occasionally, she still has to spend some time fighting inaccurate stereotypes, including an episode in early 2012 that involved inviting Jim Stingl of the Journal Sentinel to studio for a fact-finding mission. But mostly, Maureen and DJ concern themselves with empowering women to be "strong physically and emotionally." There comes a time, she says, when "you stop feeling sexy, you age, you gain weight, you get so busy with other parts of your life. . . I think we lose [that] and [pole dancing] reminds us to be women." She credits pole dancing as a vital ally in boosting her self-esteem during a double mastectomy in her battle against breast cancer.
And though Maureen is the first to tout the power of pole dancing, she is also one of the first to undercut some of its weightier connotations, much like a doctor who uses a stethoscope that squeaks. "[We're] totally willing to laugh at ourselves," she says. "Nobody is taking this too seriously." The lighter mood, in particular, helps welcome shy students, who Maureen and DJ witness transform into "strong, confident, sexy, and feminine [women]."
The instructors at Kaivalya Yoga believe that, like yoga practitioners themselves, the rules of yoga should be highly flexible. They pioneer fresh approaches to Vinyasa techniques inside their University Square studio with the aim of inducing kaivalya—a state of freeing personal enlightenment. Heated and nonheated classes cover fluid posture transitions that synchronize breath with stretching rather than having students take one long breathing break halfway through class. Each session aims to eradicate the body's toxins and boost mental clarity, whether students are attending a free beginners workshop or hefting small weights during Power Sculpt.
Many of the teaching staff joined the yoga movement to combat physical ailments, such as slipped disks or chronic migraines, and now they deepen their practice through Kaivalya's inventive curriculum. They inject posing sequences with pieces of individual flair—Hally Marlino's classes embrace freestyle Vinyasa set to music, and director of teacher training Alex Pfeiffer leads groups through spiritually focused, dance-like routines. Certified massage therapists are also on hand to work muscles into an even noodlier state with Swedish, deep-tissue, and sports modalities.
Kaivalya Yoga's central location is no accident. Owners Dave and Tim met at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1998 and maintain ties with the school as an employee and a graduate student, respectively. They've engineered their venue and schedule to suit the student population: classes provide a meditative escape close to home, scheduling never interferes with Wisconsin Badgers games, and the boutique carries chic headbands, T-shirts, and hoodies from their exclusive Mad Yogi clothing line, ideal for moving from dorm to dining hall to yoga studio in comfort.
In 1976, educator, musician, and kinesiologist Robin Wes opened The Little Gym based on his new take on physical education. His curriculum emphasized motivating children to achieve instead of pressuring them to win. As a result, The Little Gym became a noncompetitive, positive, nurturing environment where young ones could develop physically, socially, emotionally, and intellectually. Since then, The Little Gyms have sprouted up across the country. The programs and classes aim to help kids develop skills such as rhythm and coordination, and kids camps during winter, spring, and summer breaks prevent children from creating finger paintings that express the existential ennui they feel when school is out of session.
At CrossFit Kenosha, workouts transform exercisers of all levels into fit and confident champions. Encouraging coaches rally groups during functional fitness drills that build speed, power, and stamina with tools such as jump ropes, kettlebells, and gymnastics rings. A team-like bond forms as exercisers cheers one another through challenging routines that can be scaled to different levels of strength and endurance.
Weightlifting moves and body-weight exercises cultivate lean muscle mass, which helps the body to burn calories as efficiently as possible. Filled with cardiovascular challenges such as sprinting and rowing, the workouts can also shrink waistlines and bolster heart health. Like a snowman's fingerprints, no two workouts are alike, which helps to keep exercisers engaged and motivated.
In 1969, Judi Sheppard Missett combined her passion for jazz with an eye for cardio exercise to create an entertaining, easy-to-follow dance fitness routine—Jazzercise—to help patrons of all ages and abilities to get in shape while having fun. Four decades and more than 7,800 instructors later, the muscle-toning, heart-thumping classes have helped students to shape up all throughout the world, with 32 countries offering a total of more than 32,000 classes per week. To accommodate wee ones, some locations feature a childcare facility where youngsters keep busy as their caretakers learn to mimic Bob Fosse–inspired slinking, raking, and craning.
Natural light spills through a large window in Inspire Yoga's practice space to warm and illuminate students as they balance on bare feet and gracefully sweep poses. These students work their way through the studio's four signature classes, which offer challenges for newcomers and experienced practitioners alike. Beginners often start with Spark, mastering the foundations of vinyasa flow with poses that can even challenge those already familiar with yoga. Renew's slow-flow hatha postures also lay the groundwork for further practice, letting students stretch away tension and boost flexibility.
Inspire Yoga's schedule also includes Empower and Inspire, two classes that showcase the movement-based vinyasa tradition. Empower builds upon the foundations learned in lower-level classes, equipping students to transition between intermediate and advanced poses. The studio's most advanced class, Inspire challenges even seasoned students, integrating breathing exercises, physically challenging poses, and mind-centering meditations into a single practice.
In addition to hosting classes seven days a week, Inspire Yoga also brings workshops and advanced training events to the community, hosts private small-group sessions, and offers life coaching.