By Emily Harrington
Poles. They aren’t just for strippers. And silk isn’t just for your wardrobe. This summer a new exercise player came to town. Defy Gravity Pole Fitness and Aerial Arts Studio is here to stay and making its mark in Champaign-Urbana with a combination of exercise and art that can’t be found anywhere else in our area.
Right before you hit campus (yay — no foot traffic or bad parking) at 24 E. Green St., Suite 11, in Champaign, you’ll find Defy Gravity. Park and enter on the north side of the building.
The studio features two very different, very cool approaches to fitness. Exercise that features a pole as equipment and an art form — called aerial art — that uses hanging bars, hoops and fabric as gear.
Insert disclaimer to be open minded.
For many, many, many of us, diets, exercise programs, classes and videos start out inspiring and invigorating. Quickly, though, they fizzle into the mundane and boring. Exercise becomes one more chore on the list that falls to the bottom and eventually stops. Then the cycle repeats when the next exercise fad comes along. If you want to shake up, or simply start, an exercise regime that will keep you engaged and show results, this is the place to do that. You will not find a free weight or treadmill here, and that’s what many of us need; something different, something fun.
You enter straight into the studio space that is outfitted with poles mounted from floor to ceiling. Adjacent to the main studio is a room with three contraptions hanging from the ceiling. Long swaths of fabric (silks), a static trapeze bar and a giant metal hoop (lyra) were awaiting our arrival. A mirror lined the room, and a cushy mat lined the floor. This is where my mom and I would take the Intro to Aerial Arts class taught by Chey Drew.
Chey took us through a thorough series of stretches. After the stretches she walked us through a conditioning exercise on each apparatus. It was tough! We pulled our legs to our chest while hanging from the silks in a crunch motion, touched our ankles to our butt while hanging upside down on the trapeze and did shoulder shrugs while hanging from the lyra. I learned a lot and laughed a lot — mostly at my mom. But our instructor was patient and walked us through each piece slowly and carefully.
After the conditioning we did a trick on each piece of equipment. Our foot locked in the silks and allowed us to bend our back and push our chest forward in an “arabesque.” We lay sideways on the trapeze in a “mermaid” and sat in the lyra in a “man on the moon” trick. Even if it took a minute for us to get in the positions, they looked legit after we were all set. It looked like we kind of knew what we were doing!
I work out regularly at an intense level, and I was sore when I woke up. My shoulders and arms felt well used — which is exactly what I want from a workout. But in the moment it didn’t feel highly intense or intimidating. My mom is older than 60 and was able to do each of the exercises.
While we were taking our class, a pole conditioning class was taking place in the next room. Sarah West, co-owner and lead instructor in pole fitness, explained that pole fitness has been around for 20 years.
If you can put any preconceived notions aside that pole fitness is a highly sexualized activity, then you can open yourself up to an entire list of fitness classes and opportunities.
“Try it once and your mind will be put to rest. It’s a legitimate sport. It’s booming,” West said.
The class we observed was as legitimate as an exercise class gets with an infusion of energy and a lot of fun. All shapes and sizes took part in the class that looked challenging and engaging.
“The [pole] apparatus is so versatile,” West said. Which is apparent when you look at the 46-class schedule the studio hosts a week.
Defy Gravity also offers classes specializing in different dances, yoga, burlesque and more.
They are currently training Champaign Central High School theater students in preparation for the school’s spring production. The ongoing collaboration spurred the development of a teens/tweens program that launched Jan. 25. The classes are appropriate for young adults ages 11 to 17 who are developing a fitness routine. The classes are geared toward students interested in ballet, gymnastics or martial arts. Check for classes under the “Young Adults” tab.
You can buy single classes, a package or a membership.
For your next girls night out or if you are hosting a bachelorette soon: They do fun parties with a wide variety of dance themes.
Shake it up in 2016, and ditch your old exercise regime. Personal guarantee: You will never be bored with this type of exciting workout, and you will leave with a little strut in your step!
Emily Harrington is a Chambana townie who left her 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job to be a 24/7 mom to a dreamy son. Still interested in writing, Emily uses some of naptime to practice her passion and keep her mind right. Emily is a happy wife with a happy life, because she fell for a fellow townie. Oh, and let’s not forget her other son—a degenerate canine named Heppenheimer.