Ryan Chartrand

The first thing you think of when it comes to poles: Santa Claus, firefighters, strippers and…San Luis Obispo?

Polin’ Around is a pole and exotic dancing academy ran by political science senior Selene Marcum and it’s taking over San Luis Obispo County by pole.

“I come from a dancing family, and I took it from there myself,” Marcum said.

Marcum has been pole dancing since she was 16 and would primarily call herself “a sensuality coach. I teach women how to let that out … everyone has it. I’m able to give that nudge.”

While pole dancing is a very sensual activity, Marcum focuses on women empowerment and self-confidence, straying away from an image that would belong in a stripper club.

“I don’t want to be put out as ‘girl on pole.’ I want to make sure men don’t think I’m a stripper. I’m not going to make you take your clothes off with $1 bills,” Marcum said. “Women are naturally sexy creatures. I have to convey that this will help bring that out and it’s nothing weird. You’ll be comfortable.”

Marcum maintains Polin’ Around on her own and teaches about 20 women a month depending on her personal schedule, which mainly revolves around her classes and workload at Cal Poly. She teaches classes at the homes of her clients.

“I bring it to their homes because sometimes it can be a little intimidating to be in a studio,” Marcum said.

She mainly teaches private lessons where she is able to keep a close eye on her dancers and personally customize the dances to please her clients.

“I design around their bodies with customized stripteases and lapdances,” Marcum said. If a client wants to accentuate a certain part of her body, then Marcum will specialize the dance to concentrate on this body part. She said that many of her clients usually want a one-time lesson to get ready for a wedding night or an anniversary.

While private lessons involve one-on-one teaching, Marcum extends her classes to groups ranging from three to 30 people.

“With bigger parties, there is more focus on just having fun, doing your own thing. There is usually a goofy start-out,” Marcum said. “Then halfway through, everyone is starting to figure out, ‘Oh, we are made to move like this.’

“It uses curves to your advantage. Women are usually really surprised at how natural it comes. (Dancing) gives you an extra little skip in your step, like wearing lingerie under your clothes. No one can see it but you know it’s there.”

Marcum brings different types of poles with her to the lessons, depending on the skill level of the dancers and how many people there are. There are three different kinds of poles. Chrome is the cheapest kind, with the most slippery grip to give dancers more ability to swing around the pole. Brass is for intermediate dancers and titanium tops the list for advanced dancers and costs around $315.

“I prefer people buy the poles through the school because then I can be sure that my students get the right pole to suit their needs as there are a lot of options, none of which is right for everyone or every place,” Marcum said. “The poles do not damage ceilings and there is no need to put anything permanent in the house. All the poles are completely removable and can be hidden away in case parents, in-laws, etc. decide to drop by!”

Prices vary depending on how long the lessons are, how frequent the client is and how many people are there. She is the sole teacher for her academy as she wants “everything to be done right, and if it goes wrong, I want to see where it goes wrong.”

During her lessons, which can range from an hour for private lessons to four hours for groups, only women are allowed to make sure everyone is comfortable.

“If there are men in the room, women tend to be a little more reserved,” Marcum said.

With this unique business, Marcum is the only pole dancing instructor between San Francisco and Los Angeles, but she usually sticks to San Luis Obispo, Five Cities and North County. The trend is picking up all over as a unique and fun workout, especially with A-list celebrities.

And while dancing on a pole may seem easy, body strength definitely comes into play.

“I was trying to think what you don’t work out,” Marcum said. “The next day your legs and arms are usually sore. You have to curl yourself up with your hips and it’s a very intense workout.”

While Marcum runs the entire business herself and is serious about her work, it is hard to avoid the stripper stereotype.

“Many people are under the assumption that I have to be a stripper,” she said. And while she does have clients who are strippers, she is not teaching her clients how to dance to get more dollar bills.

“It’s intimidating because of the reputation it has,” she said.

And conveying this is one of the hardest parts about advertising, a main reason why she has relied on word-of-mouth to get new clients.

“It’s hard to show in a 4-by-6 advertisement that this is women empowerment, not bringing in more tips.”

However, Marcum has had a good amount of success so far and her client list is definitely diverse with clients ranging from 16 to 70 years old.

As for the older women – “they’re a blast. The grandmas go crazy; they’re funny. I did not expect it. Maybe it’s the 50-year-olds that are rebelling against being ‘over-the-hill.’

They are just like: ‘I don’t care what people think’ and they go for it.”

On the other side of the age spectrum, Marcum is careful when it comes to younger clients.

“I would only accept a minor student if she were at a pole dancing party with her mother. I wouldn’t feel right about accepting her as a private student either in pole dancing or exotic dance. I feel like kids are growing up a little too quickly sometimes, and I wouldn’t want to fuel that.”

Pole dancing is different from other forms of dance in that it is based on what one personally feels comfortable doing.

“It’s more of whatever you think looks great. It’s not standardized. Of course, there are techniques to make it safer and more efficient, but you can be really good at it without dedicating your life for six years,” Marcum said.

A typical lesson starts off with warm-ups and then she uses “fillers” that utilize dancing on the pole without any spins. Then she focuses on a new spin every lesson.

At the end of the lessons there is usually an “open-mic,” letting all the women have their turn to freestyle on the pole.

When it comes to music, “you can do it to almost anything,” she said. Some of Marcum’s favorites include Reactor, Breaking Benjamin and Timbaland.

As for her personal pole dancing experience, Marcum was guided by longtime friend Kathy who has been “an incredible mentor,” while also receiving comforting support from Nate, her boyfriend of three years. Marcum plans on continuing to pole dance many years from now, and said that she will “always have a pole room.”

After she graduates next year with a political science degree and a biology minor, she hopes to become a veterinarian.

Check out her Web site at www.polinaround.com.

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