‘Destiny’ of Lake Forest: How One Woman Got Her Groove Back with Pole Dancing Lessons

illustration by Faye Rogers

It began innocently enough: a dinner out with friends. How about Italian? Sure. Wow, they really redid this shopping center, didn’t they? Yeah, but the original Peppino’s is still there. And then: Hey, didn’t there used to be a strip club around here? Indeed, Captain’s Cabaret had been Orange County’s claim to risqué fame once upon a time, discreetly tucked onto the otherwise tame corner of Rockfield Boulevard and Lake Forest

Drive, just a few miles from our home. When my husband and I first moved to Lake Forest, I thought “Captain Cream’s,” as locals called it, was an ice cream parlor.

“I hear it’s a great workout,” my gal pal said as we settled into an empty booth. “Pole dancing,” she clarified. “I know a woman at work who does it. Says there’s nothing like it for upper body.”
I reached for the breadsticks. “I think I’ll stick to Jazzercise.”

“Good plan,” her husband said, tossing me a friendly grin. “Somehow I just can’t see you twirling around a pole.”

Ouch. Admittedly, my self-esteem had been running hot and cold lately, thank you very much menopause. But still—was I not born and bred in Las Vegas? Do I not introduce myself as “Destiny” on those occasions when Barbara seems too blasé?

“I could do it,” I said, chin up.

More snickers. More hurt feelings.

That night I did a determined search online and discovered that pole aerobics was big in O.C. I chose Lake Forest’s Rok Your Assetz Fitness Center and signed up for the beginners class. For the great workout. To regain a positive body image. But mostly to prove everyone wrong, including me.

First hurdle: You want me to wear what? Shorts—or more clearly, short shorts. Better to grip the pole with, the Assetz website says. Legs have to be bare for best friction results; no lotions, tanners, or other slippery coverups allowed.

Ack. Despite my Vegas upbringing, I’ve always been shy about exposing my body, especially my perennially pale gams. Thank goodness for the wise saleswoman at Nordstrom who produced a pair of yoga shorts that, while a far cry from being mom-capris, were long enough to cover my modesty. I bravely paired them with a snug tank top and thus attired, drove to the facility, marveling at the rare sight of my bare knees behind the steering wheel.

Rok Your Assetz was an easy find, the only place in the industrial park sporting a large imprint of lips on its front window. I dashed inside and looked around at the interior’s rose-pink walls, low-slung black leather furniture, and the crystal chandelier bedazzling it all. Closest to me was a receptionist’s counter with a ponytailed brunette busy at a computer. She looked up and smiled. “You must be new.” So much for my disguise.

Soon I was sitting cross-legged in a dance studio as pink as the lobby. But here was a mirrored wall and a sparse forest of gleaming brass poles. The receptionist-turned-instructor came in, dimmed the lights, and cranked up the sultry, bass-heavy music. In the sudden nightclub atmosphere, we followed her cue as she swayed side to side, lay on her back to do pelvic thrusts, and then motioned for us to turn onto our bellies and crawl across the ground like she-panthers on the prowl. Until my shaking arms gave out, that is. The lights came back on, signaling my younger, more limber classmates to spring into standing position while I worked my way up, trying not to grunt.

Next we practiced a sexy sashay around the pole, and then the time was nigh to learn our first combination. My already-fatigued body tensed as I watched the instructor pull herself up on a pole, hook her leg around, then spiral to the floor. She looked at us and smiled. Our turn.

I clasped my pole with both hands and tried to gain liftoff, but my body had become a leaden weight refusing to defy gravity. After several failed attempts, I leaned my forehead against the cool metal and thought, “I can’t do this.” But the instructor was watching, God was watching, and both seemed hopeful. I tried one last-ditch effort and—I did it! Barely, and it wasn’t pretty, but hey, I did it.
“Great!” the instructor said. “Now do it again.”

And miraculously, I did. Turned out the biggest doubter in the room had been me.

The instructor showed us a few more tricks, then decreed the last 10 minutes of class free-form practice time. She turned up the music and dimmed the lights, leaving only a few soft halos to set the stage. A second instructor came in and joined her on the bench in back, our spontaneous audience of two.
I hoped I had enough battery life left in me to get through it. Just then—glory be!—the heartbeat-like opening to Melissa Etheridge’s “I’m the Only One” came on. Emboldened, I clasped the pole with one hand and did my best Vegas showgirl walk around it, deeply grateful to see that the velvet lighting made my reflection look younger, thinner, tanner even. I managed to do the spiral-down trick again, then leaned back on my elbows to windmill my legs toward heaven. I clasped the pole again to pull myself up slowly into standing position, ending with the classic hair flip. Bam.

Our two-person audience clapped and cheered. So did I. It was all I had the strength left to do.
I staggered out of the studio, my pink top splotched with sweat, my hair a wreck from all the flinging. I must’ve been quite a sight to the cowboy type leaning against a wall across the way, watching me—wait, what’s this?—with interest.

I smiled. Bet he didn’t have any trouble imagining me swinging around a pole.

Just call me Destiny of Lake Forest.

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