A friend directed Gina Bushey to her first pole dancing class because the friend knew Bushey had a flair for performance. She was a cheerleader in high school and performed in theater and dance.
“I didn’t know pole existed as a fitness form or an art form or really anything that was accessible to a regular person like myself,” Bushey said. “So when I started taking classes and saw these great results, it opened a whole new world of alternative fitness opportunities for me.”
Bushey had five years experience in pole fitness when she started Zero Gravity Fitness, an alternative fitness studio in Fargo with co-owner Misty Tomchuk. On April 1, 2019, they celebrated three years in business. They offer pole fitness classes along with aerial silk fitness classes and yoga.
Pole as fitness and entertainment goes back hundreds of years. In modern times, the pole began to be used as a form of sexualized entertainment. One of the earliest known recorded pole dances was at a strip club in Oregon in 1968.
“Pole fitness does have roots in the exotic dance community, which is great,” Bushey said. “Because that’s where it was born and how it came to us. Unfortunately, we do fight stereotypes because a lot of times people think that’s only what pole fitness is.”
Fawnia Dietrich is considered to be one of the first pole dancing instructors. She was an exotic dancer in Canada. When she inquired where she could learn pole work like the dancers she saw in the club, she was told there wasn’t a school for it. In 1994, she started teaching non-performers and made the first pole dancing instructional video four years later.
“It’s really, really grown,” Bushey said. “The fact that pole fitness has gotten so big so fast is a testament to how effective it is.”
Bushey compares pole fitness to figure skating because a skater needs to strength and endurance train as well as learn tricks. “Then the culmination of that is your performance to music incorporating all of those skills and training into a whole piece,” she said.
While more pole fitness gyms are opening, it is still a niche form of fitness. Having limited access in North Dakota to alternative fitness outlets, Bushey has brought in instructors from bigger cities. One of the instructors trains other pole fitness instructors and bases her strength and conditioning techniques on targeted muscle groups.
“We have to bring people in, to train better,” Bushey said. “The more we know, the more we know what to look for, the better we can shape what we do here to be safe, effective and enjoyable.”
How Bushey became an instructor
I became an instructor through experience. Because pole as a sport does not have a single governing body there are different certifications you can take, but one isn’t maybe recognized by the other, so it’s really about educating yourself on what’s out there and based on my years of experience along with my co-owner and our staff, we determine what are the best steps to take to become an instructor.
Prior to being a pole fitness instructor
I was a full-time blackjack dealer for a charity in Fargo. I dealt blackjack at several different bars so I was working full-time nights. It’s a bar job. It’s a night job and I like the social aspect of it, and I think that translated well into me being able to manage a class in a group fitness setting. I continued to deal blackjack while building the business and teaching three days a week. Hopefully in the future I won’t have to deal blackjack.
Pole dancing and pole fitness
When I say pole dance I usually am thinking of a performance where somebody is using the pole to perform. They have music playing, they have a costume and they have a theme. When I think pole fitness I think more the structured classes using the poles for tricks and for training. So to me, pole dance is the artistic version of pole fitness because you’ve used all the skills you’ve gained through the classes in the fitness form itself to create an artistic expression.
On the type of workout you get
Pole climbing is probably the most complete body workout I’ve ever seen or heard of. You are using your finger muscles, your core, your back and shoulders, you arms, your neck, everything. You develop that strength. Our curriculum is designed for someone who has no experience to come into their first class and learn the basics without hurting themselves and have a good time.
Seeing how far you’ve come
Nobody comes in and fails. We not only want people to build strength in the proper way, but also to experience the feelings of success that come with starting with a skill you can do and conquering that skill and moving on to the next and being able to mark your progress . . . You know the first day when you can’t do something and the day you can do that thing, is the best day.
Still excited to teach classes
I was always so excited to go to my classes. I couldn’t wait. I’m excited to teach my classes (Bushey currently is not teaching classes because she just had a daughter). The most gratifying and fulfilling thing for me is to be there for the moment when somebody does something they never thought they could do. The day they execute a skill that they thought was only a dream and being able to see that thing in their brain happen. 'I’m capable. My body is becoming stronger. It can do amazing things. It makes me feel amazing when I can do them,’ That’s the best part.