Pole Dance Tokyo’s reception area
*I’d planned to write this much, much sooner. In fact, I’d planned to write it from my hotel room immediately after doing the drop-in, but Tokyo is way too exciting of a city for me to focus long enough to articulate my thoughts into words!*
Pole Dance Tokyo is a 5-minute walk from Akasaka-Mitsuke station along the Ginza line, just 5 stations from Shibuya. I took the subway by myself, followed the directions on their website, and found it without too much trouble. (I did walk past the sign and had to back track, but apparently that’s pretty common)
The studio is located in the basement of the building and is a long room with 10 poles which if I’m not mistaken, are 45mm x-poles.
I’d signed up for 2 back-to-back classes: Beginner-Intermediate, and Showgirl Dance. Both are 75 minutes long and taught by Diana, who mostly teaches in Japanese but speaks English.
When I showed up at 6.45 for the 7pm Beginner-Intermediate class, I was the first person in the studio besides the Japanese-speaking receptionist. After I got changed in the cozy locker area that as an attached sink and bathroom, the other students started to arrive. One of them spoke fluent English and helpfully advised me on grabbing a yoga mat and where to get pole cleaning rags.
Beginner-Intermediate started promptly at 7pm with a pretty rigorous warm-up of almost 30 minutes. I’m talking push-up drills, squats, full planks and side planks held for 60 seconds each, along with some yoga moves and full series of stretches. By the tail end, I started to worry if I’d have strength for pole tricks.
Luckily, the first trick was just a spin. Spinning on static always feels foreign to me, after spending so much time doing everything spinning. This one was a variation of a chair spin, where the inside hand starts high then drops to head level as you grab the pole with the outside hand, then hug yourself with your inside arm, effectively grabbing the pole with your armpit.
Burn, baby, burn
After a few attempts, my right armpit was on fire and I noticed some angry-looking pole burns. I eventually did better with the less painful version of holding the pole along my forearm instead of in my armpit.
Then we worked on a floor transition: starting from lying on our backs, opening legs into a V and hooking the inside knee on the pole, then reaching up to grab the pole from above and swinging the outside leg all the way around the pole until we landed sitting on the other side.
I fell on my butt a few times as my knee grip slipped while I lifted myself, and decided it was better to slide my booty on the ground to get round the pole instead of lifting myself to avoid hurting my protruding tailbone. It wasn’t as pretty, but it worked.
So far, so good.
Then things quickly got a lot more complex with the next trick! Diana said that if I was familiar with the trick, I could do it on the pole but if I wasn’t, it was better to start from the ground.
I don’t know what it’s called, but it’s basically a backwards kick into Brass Monkey. You start in Flag Pole position, with your body parallel to the ground, then swing the outside leg outwards before looking up to the pole behind you in order to hook your knee around it. (!!!)
Then to complete the combo, grip the pole between your thighs, and let go with both hands before bringing your body around it so you can reach up into a pole sit.
Star spotted: Jessica Michibata!! Above left, with Lu Nagata, the owner of Pole Dance Tokyo
My bruised right armpit wasn’t very happy with having to grip the pole again for the starting Flag Pole position, but I went with it anyway. I noticed that two of the other four students were actually doing it aerially, and the third student got it on her own after a while, leaving just me and the Japanese-speaking girl beside me still kicking unsuccessfully on our own and fanning our right armpits between each attempt.
At that point I started to suspect that perhaps “Beginner-Intermediate” was a slightly misleading name for this class to be called.
Diana came round to spot us into the move (read: flip me up) and as I hooked my knee round the pole, my foot immediately smacked her loudly on her head, leaving me upside down and mortified at once!
Luckily, she was totally chill and said that it happens all the time! Shortly after (and case in point), the girl beside me almost whacked her in the face with her foot while being spotted too, so I felt slightly less guilty after that.
I was able to let go of my hands and hold myself upside down, and even get back up into a very awkward pole sit, but the furthest I progressed with getting into the trick on my own was to tap the pole with my foot. The girl beside me eventually managed to hook her knee into it and I cheered for her while trying not to feel left out as the only one who couldn’t get it.
Then the class ended and she casually did a Handspring up into an Ayesha.
Okayyyyy… Guess that meant the only Beginner-Intermediate in that class was me!
The next class which started 15 minutes later was a lot more manageable and fun! Showgirl Dance reminds me of Pole Grooves, cos its all about getting your sexy showgirl out in a choreographed routine. It had a different batch of students except for the lady who was fluent in English. (I’m so sorry, I forgot your name!)
Mariko in her Bobbi’s shorts!
I chatted with her and her friends who all spoke great English, and found out that: a) one of them had broken her collar-bone in class before a few months ago and was already back to pole dancing again. Now that’s a proper pole dancer for you! Do you know how painful and traumatizing breaking a collar-bone is?!! and, b) two of them had been to Bobbi’s in Singapore before! I think they only did pole practice, as they referred to it as 90 minute ‘Open Pole’, and then they pointed out that one of them was wearing the pink Bobbi’s shorts! What are the odds, right? I guess the pole world really is pretty small!
It’s a good thing I’d brought along my heels for the class, because every week it starts with ‘Catwalking’! After turning up the music, (Yup, RuPaul! Cos.. what else?!) Diana showed us how to do the pole strut, then we all took turns doing our thing.
With the showgirls of Pole Dance Tokyo
I’ve always had trouble balancing in my heels without having the pole to hold on to, and Diana pointed out that I wasn’t swaying my hips enough in the same direction as the foot that’s stepping out.
The ‘Pole strut’ is a different style from the ‘Stripper walk’ we do at Bobbi’s, with our toes dragging on the ground, but that little tip was worth my entire body weight in gold! After that, balancing became a breeze.
Then we moved onto choreography. This term, the song they used was “Feeling Good” by The Pussycat Dolls. It was already the last part of the routine that Diana taught since they’d started on it a few weeks ago.
Doing the One-Hand Genie
I was really glad that this time I was able to catch up with most of the class, (including a floor shoulder roll with straight legs) thanks to the many SLAP classes I’ve done. I also managed a short side climb, (which I’d learned in Manila!) and learned a new trick: the One-Hand Genie.
It’s a trick I’ve never seen done at Bobbi’s and is also a great way to transition into Side Saddle (aka Velcro Butt) which I didn’t try that day. Between the extra width of the pole and its slippery feel, I’d just rather not risk falling right off from a double climb!
Diana performed the entire routine and kindly allowed us to film her. Then it was time to put on our sparkly showgirl hats and do the routine!
With the lovely Diana in her Side Saddle
Since I’d only learned the last part of the routine, Diana said to just join in from the portion that she’d taught that day, but being the Pole Grooves addict that I am, I attempted the whole routine with them anyway. And I don’t think I did too badly for basically mimicking along on a first attempt too!
After the class, I took pictures with everyone and insisted they put their hats on again, which they happily did. Diana gamely put her heels back on too, to do a doubles-pole-pic with me.
I’m really glad I did both classes at Pole Dance Tokyo! It was a wonderfully fun experience, with friendly new people, and a perfect way to spend a Friday night in Tokyo!