When you first walk into Defy Gravity, you see a small and cramped studio, something not that unusual. But what’s certainly unusual about this studio is the multiple poles scattered around. Born in 2015 from a University of Illinois RSO, Defy Gravity is a pole dancing and aerial gym that invites everyone of every gender, race, sexuality and athletic level to participate.
Pole dancing is often seen as sexy because it can be, but it’s a lot more than that. People come into the Defy Gravity studio to learn how to move their bodies in a fun way, there is no pressure to get the moves right or already have enough upper body strength to get yourself up on the pole. Some people come in for pole and try out aerial or vice versa. Both are equally popular.
Located in the northern part of the Lincoln Mall, the Defy Gravity studio is just a short bus ride or drive from the heart of campus. The manager of the studio, Liana Alcantara, a woman that radiates confidence and sureness, something for which she credits pole dancing.
“We approach pole and aerial fitness as an extension of self-expression,” Alcantra.
At the studio, they do not agree with what Alcantra describes as the “status quo narrative of health and fitness.” Instead, they take an approach that allows anyone of any health status to participate in their classes. The studio is much more than just a place to work out, it’s a place to feel like you belong.
“It’s not overstating to say that Defy Gravity legitimately changed my life,” Alcantra said.
She first came to the studio fresh off a broken ankle that left her in a wheelchair and a state of depression. She did not feel like herself, but the studio helped bring her old self back. The point wasn’t to change her body, and for most people who come to the studio, that isn’t their end goal either.
The Defy Gravity website hosts what the organization refers to as its “diversity pledge.” The studio has a special emphasis on empowering people of marginalized identities. And this is not just words, its seen through the people who take the classes, and the staff. Liana mentioned over 50% of the staff identify as queer, and many of the instructors include their pronouns in their class introductions. Things like this make it what many of us call nowadays “safe spaces” for people who may not adhere as straight, cisgender, or non-queer labels.
Not only does the studio strive to be 100% inclusive, they also aim to educate their instructors and students. Instructors participate in seminars and sensitivity training to become better equipped to give their students what they need without them having to ask for it.
Education is as Alcantra said, their “secret sauce” to making the studio so inclusive and unique compared to other gyms. They also make a point to not erase the true origins of pole dancing: strippers. There is no point in trying to hide where pole dancing came from, and as the website says, “Defy Gravity upholds the uncensored history of pole dancing in the west – that it originated in the strip club.” A combination of inclusivity and uncensored education in the Defy Gravity studio is was makes it such a beautiful community for people who may feel excluded from the typical societal norm.
Pole dancing is sexy if that’s how you want to express it. It’s fun and gets people out of their comfort zones in the best ways. At the end of a class at the Defy Gravity studio, you will have accomplished something new no matter who you are or what fitness level you are at. All you need is to be willing to try something new and $10 for the first class. They also offer discounts for students and the RSO Illini Pole Fitness.