DADE CITY — Christy Parker calls the seven metal poles in her dance studio "stationary partners." She opened Frixtionz in March and slowly, she says, her clients have shifted from skepticism and fear to loving the skin they're in.
It's taken Parker a year to debunk the stigma that pole dancing is for strippers.
"It's transformative," Parker, 37, said. "If a woman can dance in front of the mirror for three minutes, I guarantee she'll recognize her beauty."
As a child growing up in Dade City, Parker loved to dance but her family couldn't afford ballet lessons.
She describes her early style as one of a free-floating spirited gypsy girl.
"I'm self-taught," she said. "I feel the music and allow my emotions to flow and I never stop dancing."
Parker recognized the odds against her when some in the religious community tried to save her soul.
"It's not fair because I was raised in the church," Parker said. "It got so crazy that I almost believed it."
But she pressed on and chose an 800-square-foot, free-standing building close to home along an industrial stretch of U.S. 301. She read about renovating at Lowe's, then the petite but strong Parker knocked down a wall, installed ceiling tiles and base boards, bolted floor-to-ceiling poles and painted the walls a vibrant pink.
"It's not so much about the atmosphere," she said. "It's about the way it makes you feel."
Parker strives to make her dancers comfortable. Most arrive barefoot in sweats and a T-shirt before progressing to booty pants, sports bras and high heels. Warm ups, stretching and learning to move to the music are a must before advancement to pole art.
"Once a woman breaks out of her element, her self-confidence and sense of well-being soars," she said. "It's a workout that changes you from the inside out. That inner core strength grows emotionally as well as physically. It's where courage comes from."
Parker teaches all levels in both private and group lessons Monday through Thursday from 4 to 10 p.m. She is a member of Pole Dance America and will compete in the national tour for the first time in April. She also trains dancers for competition.
"The dips and spins are easier than they look," she said. "It's the technique that leads to the tricks."
Parker chose the name Frixtionz because of the friction created between the pole and skin that increases endorphins.
She's observed healing among women with addiction and domestic abuse issues. High school girls are encouraged by older women to reject the cover girl image. The music is carefully selected at a pace from classical to country to pop and hip-hop.
"There is no music that is derogatory toward women," she said. "It's contrary to our goals."
Veronica McLemore is a 43-year-old rehabilitation nurse who's been shaping up at Frixtionz since it opened. "The gym is not for me," she said. "I'm not athletic or a dancer but I've gained strength from the tricks and it makes me feel sexy."
Parker wants to expand her market by hosting a day of the week for men. She says that more than anything pole work strengthen the abs. It's also a strenuous cardio workout.
Her own self confidence is growing while bonding with her daughters, Brook, 17 and Christina, 16, who participate at the studio and express pride in their mother. With her business growing, local feedback also is improving.
"The local bankers give me support," she said. "They say it takes (courage) to do this. I suggest that they try a class."
All of her proceeds ($10 class; $15 pole tricks per hour) go back into the business. Soon she's expecting delivery of new brass spinning poles.
"This all about freeing yourself," she said, "and I won't quit."