You’ve probably noticed Pink Ambition Dance & Fitness on East Market Street — with its bright pink sign, blacked-out windows decorated with colorful class schedules, and door sign boasting “Women Only,” it’s hard to miss. But what you can’t see from the street is the heart and soul inside — a community full of women from all kinds of backgrounds, coming together to support, uplift, and love each other as they embark on their dance journey together. I recently sat down with Pink Ambition owner Karen McIntyre and instructor Anna Williford to talk pole fitness, overcoming fear and preconceived notions, what to expect from classes, and the power of the pole community.
The blacked-out, mysterious exterior quickly gives way to a glittering pink wonderland as you enter the front doors. Folding screens block the classroom/studio area from view, but the bright pink walls, feather boas adorning the lobby, and glittering fairy lights immediately make you realize that no matter what happens on the other side of those screens, you’re about to have a ton of fun.
Karen, Anna, and I sat down in the lobby, and they gave me the cliff notes: Pink Ambition opened their doors in January 2015 and is a female-run, female-only fitness studio specializing in pole dancing. Their focus is on empowering women (they welcome anyone who is identifies as female to join their classes) and getting their students to a healthy fitness level in a comfortable, welcoming, and encouraging environment.
However, getting students in for their first class is the biggest challenge. Karen explained to me that a lot of potential students are scared — they’re intimidated, both by their preconceived notions of pole dancing and the perceived athleticism needed to be successful in the artform. Students worry that they aren’t in good enough shape to even start pole dancing, or that their weight or body type is wrong somehow. First and foremost, Karen stressed that there is no weight limit, no particular body type needed, and no experience necessary to begin your pole journey. Karen and the Pink Ambition team specialize in helping beginners discover a new way to work out, to discover themselves, and learn to love themselves in a healing and empowering environment.
“People are so down on themselves, it’s a society thing… We compare ourselves to others, to social media — often times what we see on the computer is not what we see in reality. The flawless videos are edited, and the 100th take. We’re at a place in society where we compare ourselves to each other and almost always find ourselves lacking. This is a place where we try to combat that with love and encouragement,” Karen said
And, at the end of the day, that’s what’s important at Pink Ambition — creating a healing space where women feel safe and empowered not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. Karen and Anna know first-hand how powerful the pole community can be — Anna shared with me that the pole community helped her in her recovery from a history of a diagnosed eating disorder, depression, and sexual trauma.
“What it did for me is show me what my body can do, and celebrate my own body and strength without thinking of numbers on a scale. I started to build my strength and found this community of women where this is a space for healing and loving yourself. There’s something about the empowerment and the community of women coming together regardless of the color of your skin, your faith, your age…. Coming together and bonding over your pole journey and uplifting each other. Women in society…. We are so cruel to ourselves and to each other, but when you walk in the door, that all stops,” Anna said.
Karen also found strength in the pole community while recovering from a diagnosed eating disorder.
“If I don’t eat, I can’t pole,” she said. “I see what my body can do — my body can catch and lift women. It keeps me accountable and keeps me on track… reminds me of all the reasons why I need to eat and I need to be there. My students, whether they know it or not, are supporting me in my journey. They don’t know how much they do for us as instructors in our personal lives and in the classroom.”
There are two other pole instructors at Pink Ambition in addition to Karen and Anna — Maria and Julianna. The four of them all have varied and impressive credentials: Karen has a background as a vet tech and a pharmacy tech, with deep knowledge of anatomy and physiology. She’s certified in pole fitness and trains all instructors herself. Anna is a certified yoga instructor and just graduated with a doctorate in occupational therapy, with a specialized base of knowledge on how to move safely and use protective techniques. Maria is an OR nurse and a certified Pilates instructor, with an extensive fitness background. Julianna works with the health department doing community health work, and has a background as a cheerleader and a soccer player. As you can tell, you couldn’t be in better or safer hands as you start your pole journey!
Which brings me to what I’m sure you’ve all been waiting for — what can you expect during your first pole dancing class at Pink Ambition? I had such a great time getting to know Karen and Anna that I decided to go down that Friday evening and try a Pole 1 class for myself. Pole fitness is something that I’ve been interested in for a long time, but was always extremely intimidated to start. I thought for sure I’d make a fool of myself with my lack of upper-body strength or that I’d be self-conscious about my body. But after talking to Karen and Anna, all of those negative thoughts flew out the window — Pink Ambition felt like home already.
When you arrive for your first class, you fill out a waiver, stash your things in a cubby, and change if needed. You can wear more or less depending on your comfort level — the only clothing requirement is that your armpits and “kneepits” need to be accessible, with shorts and a tank top as the recommended wardrobe choice. You then claim a space by a pole, and start the class with some simple warmup and strengthening exercises. Each class will cover 3-4 different moves — the instructor demonstrates them, breaks them down, and then everyone practices. With class sizes being so small (there’s only room for six students in each pole class), every student gets plenty of individual support and attention as they work through the day’s moves. At the end of the class, students can “sign off” on the moves that they feel confident in. Once you’ve demonstrated that you can perform all of the Pole 1 moves safely, you’re invited to attend Pole 2 classes — and so on, all the way up to Pole 7.
Pole 1 starts with the basics, so don’t worry about needing to flip yourself upside down and around on your first day! Students don’t learn inversions until Pole 3, and fancy high heels aren’t incorporated until around Pole 4 or 5 (and they’re always optional). I’ve dabbled with being athletic in the past, with some experience in barre, yoga, and jiu jitsu, but I wouldn’t consider myself an exercise buff by any means. I found the Pole 1 class to be just the right amount of challenging — the moves were easy to follow, and I was having so much fun it didn’t even feel like a workout (although my sore muscles the next day reminded me that it definitely was!) I struggled with getting both feet off the ground during a certain move, and Anna and my classmates were nothing but encouraging. I immediately wanted to make a self-deprecating comment about being out of shape with no upper body strength, but some words of wisdom from Karen stopped me before I could.
“No apologies allowed,” she had told me. “Never apologize for messing things up or your lack of ability.”
So, I didn’t, and instead I just kept trying. By the end of class, both feet were off the ground — shakily, and not for too long, but they were up there. I was ecstatic. I went into that class thinking I’d try this once and it’d be a good story, but when I left I was already planning when I’d be back.
If pole fitness doesn’t sound up your alley, or you like to mix it up with a variety of cardio, strength, and dance classes, Pink Ambition still has you covered. In addition to their core curriculum of Pole 1-7, they offer a variety of rotating classes. Currently on the schedule are Built and Beautiful, a beginner-friendly strength and conditioning class; Intro to Exotic, a slow, “slinky” style of dancing which utilizes the walls and floor instead of a pole; Embrace Your Freestyle, for students with some pole experience who want to work on their freestyle skills; and fan-favorite Twerkout, a lower-body cardio dance workout that’s “all about body positivity and feeling yourself,” in the words of instructor Anna. They also host regular workshops, and are always thinking of new classes to put on the menu as their instructors learn more and want to share their knowledge. And of course, Pink Ambition is available for private parties — get in touch with them to host a birthday or bachelorette party that you and your friends will be talking about for years to come.
Whether you’re looking to build strength, take on a new hobby, throw a little something different into your exercise routine, or just join an amazing community full of supportive, encouraging, and empowering new friends, give Pink Ambition a try! They’re located at 31-C East Market Street in downtown Harrisonburg. You can find them online at https://www.pinkambitionfitness.com/, https://www.facebook.com/PinkAmbitionFitness/, and https://www.instagram.com/pinkambitionfitness/. You can get in touch with Karen at 540.214.8917, firstname.lastname@example.org, and Facebook message. Hope to see you in class soon!