Not Your Mother’s Fitness Class

Colleen Jolly, owner of Pole Pressure Capitol Hill, opens up about her new venture and life’s challenges

Students in a Pole Pressure class at Results Gym. Photo: Lakin Jones

I lace up my sneakers and head to the gym. In class, we warm up with light stretches, and before too long, I am breaking a sweat as music pumps through the studio.

Did I mention I am swooping around a 12-foot chrome pole?

I’m at the Results Gym in SE, home of Pole Pressure Capitol Hill, and owner and professional pole dancer Colleen Jolly is teaching me the basics of pole fitness – from how to seductively walk around the pole, to a controlled swing, and finally, a pirouette with a deceptively complicated twist of the wrist around the pole.

This isn’t your mother’s aerobics class. What sets pole fitness apart from other classes is how dynamic it is, incorporating exercise with elements of dance and performance.

Jolly is the perfect ambassador and cheerleader for “pole,” as it is called: intelligent, gorgeous, and incredibly strong.  Jolly is also an accomplished businesswoman with offices in the U.S. and the U.K., an artist, international speaker and trainer, current president of the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop (CHAW), and a docent at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

That this corporate dynamo ended up opening her own Pole Pressure and becoming a professional pole dancer was completely unplanned. Her story attests to Jolly’s abundance of self-motivation and pushing through challenges, most notably a devastating injury that occurred early in her college career.

Originally from New York, Jolly grew up in Florida, and in 1999, moved to the DC area to attend Georgetown University. An ambitious person by nature, she double majored in English and studio art, with a minor in computer science. She began interning at 24 Hour Company, a company that helps businesses win contracts through proposal design, graphics, desktop publishing, and marketing. 

In 2001, her sophomore year, she was riding her motorcycle home from her internship and was hit by a utility van. The accident completely shattered her right leg. She underwent five surgeries, and at one point, her doctors wanted to amputate the leg. She refused the procedure, and, unable to afford expensive rehab, just “figured it out. I was 19, and I had things to do.”

She was in a wheelchair for six months, and then on crutches, and had to use a cane for a year. It was years before she could walk normally. She shows me the deep scars on her leg, and the scars from the skin grafts on her thigh are still visible. Later, she is inverted five feet up the pole and flips around to demonstrate the “Superman” move, extending her body completely horizontally in the air grasping the pole with her thighs. Pretty impressive for someone who was told she would never walk again.

Mostly recovered from her accident, she moved to Capitol Hill in 2003 and was interested in pursuing more leadership roles. She answered an ad in the CHAW newsletter for a position on their board and quickly became secretary, and later was made president. In 2004, a year after she graduated, 24 Hour Company made her a partner. By 2008, she had opened their U.K. offices and had developed an impressive professional resume, traveling and speaking at conferences around the world.

She became interested in taking dance, and began Bollywood dance classes after being exposed to it at a Georgetown alumni event. In 2011, a friend she met through dance class suggested they take a pole dancing class. Not one to back down from a new challenge, she agreed.

“We went to our first class, and she got most of it…and I got none of it. Absolutely none of it, I was a complete miserable failure. I got home, and the next day, I was covered in bruises. I looked like I got in a bar fight and lost. But for some reason, this translated into fun, and I just kept going.”

Fast forward to 2014, when she took on a franchise opportunity through Pole Pressure and re-opened Pole Pressure Capitol Hill in Results Gym, while still managing 24 Hour Company and sitting as president of CHAW.

Teaching pole has complemented her corporate career in unexpected ways.

 “At my other company, we help in a more business-to-business way. We help people win contracts so we’re helping people keep their jobs, maybe get new jobs, but I never get to meet those people. Whereas here, I get to see people achieve. Pole is really special that way,” Jolly explains.

And yes, pole is a sport. Just as in dance or gymnastics, there are complicated moves that require an extreme amount of athleticism and years of work to master. That being said, anyone can learn pole, no matter what shape you are in (good news for me). The community is tight-knit, supportive, and about empowerment. Jolly says that many use the physical challenges of pole with the more emotional side of putting a routine together for a performance, to work through issues and stress in their lives.

“A lot of pole folks talk about how there is something about it that is absolutely terrifying. You are hanging by a toenail upside down on this tiny little pole in your underwear, so, if you can conquer fear in this, you can use that feeling give you strength in your life,” she says.

However, many people can’t get past the slightly wicked reputation of the pole as an exotic dance prop. Jolly has had to defend pole fitness to friends, potential students, and she was even rejected for a small business loan despite having stellar business plan. Competitive pole dancers have put in a bid to be included in the Olympics, and it has been included in primetime, mainstream shows such as Dancing with the Stars and America’s Got Talent.

“It’s more cirque du soleil than strip club, but it’s a constant battle everyday to help folks understand – it can be sexy, if you want it to be sexy, but it’s also incredibly athletic,” she says.

With so many things on her plate, Jolly calls this year her “perfect storm,” but she says she wouldn’t have it any other way. As I am awkwardly attempting to execute this dratted pirouette, she tells me it took her a year to master it and I don’t doubt it – Jolly has worked hard all of her life to accomplish her goals, and Pole Pressure Capitol Hill is just another example of her can-do spirit.

Pole Pressure Capitol Hill is located in Results Gym, 315 G St. SE. For more information or to sign up for classes, visit www.polepressure.com


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