Out this month, “Meet the Regulars: People of Brooklyn and the Places They Love” is Joshua D. Fischer’s debut book, and the first to come from Bedford + Bowery. Here’s a new installment of the series.

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(Photos: Phil Provencio)

What is “pole fitness”? Isn’t it an exercise fad for bored midwest housewives? “Hopefully it will be one day,” says Karimah Gottschalk, an advertising resource manager by day and pole dancer by evening. “That’ll be the trickle-down effect of it becoming non-stigmatized.” With a thriving competition circuit, the mainstreaming of pole fitness may already be on its way.

Karimah first encountered pole fitness/pole dancing at Sacred Yoga in Bed-Stuy, which was close to her former neighborhood of Clinton Hill. When pole fitness got too popular at Sacred last May, the studio decided to cut their pole program in favor of their yoga classes, says Karimah. She and her core group of pole fitness friends realized they didn’t want to lose the pole, and they really didn’t want to lose each other. “These are my real friends,” it dawned on Karimah. Nearly a year ago, two of those friends, Sharon Goldberg and Kirstin Dahmer, opened their own 1,000-square-foot studio in a former banquet hall for the Polish Democratic Club in Greenpoint. They named this incredible space Incredipole, and naturally, Karimah became a regular. According to Sharon, Incredipole is already at over 500 clients, including “a bunch of regulars.”

Now a resident of Ridgewood, 30-year-old Karimah aims to be at Incredipole five times a week. When she was three, Karimah’s first love was dance; she started with ballet and then some modern, jazz, and tap on the side. The daughter of a German father and black and Cherokee mother, Karimah came to New York from Connecticut at 17 when she started studying fashion design at Parsons (she recently moved on to the advertising world). Her teenage years were spent at an all-girls boarding school. “I’m so into the female clan kind of thing,” she says, “and I didn’t get that in college.” Fortunately, Karimah found female expression, empowerment, and bonding with the group of strong women she met through pole fitness. Karimah reflected on the powerful impact climbing that 16-foot pole in the studio has on every part of her life, from friendship to work to family.

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Pole is what you make it. I have a heavy dance background; so I think about it in a dance/choregoraphy feel. There are some people who are not dancers and are way more athletes. They’re really into the tricks and not so into the sexy part of it. And then there are some people who just want to twerk.

When you’re in a safe space, you’re constantly checking out other people. I’ve just come to respect and love all the bodies around me. There’s all different body shapes: You have plus-size dancers, really small people – and everyone looks good. Everyone is so confident and strong.

When I go to strip clubs, they don’t do that good a job. They’re not doing the really hard stuff. They’re kind of just holding a pose and shaking their butt in your face. They don’t really need dance-level stuff.

I’m not going to be a ballerina. That ship has sailed. It’s beautiful, and it feels like dancing to me. It is dancing. The other thing that does it for me is just being strong. I have never been so strong before. Especially turning thirty and being like, “I’m in awesome shape. I feel really strong. I feel really young.” It’s so empowering.

_MG_0412That physical strength has translated into my spiritual/mental strength. Now you have a visual cue that you are a strong person, so you feel strong walking into any situation.

Women have a traditional way of people pleasing. I used to be the worst people pleaser. Now, with this strength, I can say no. Now I can make decisions. I’m on this new kick where I want to get my motorcycle license. I don’t think I would have felt I could do that if I couldn’t climb up 16 feet on a pole.

I haven’t shown my dad, but not because he would disapprove. I want to soon. Honestly, I don’t speak that much with him. He hasn’t shown much interest in what I do in my every day. It’s so important to me that I feel protective about sharing [pole dancing]. And, my dad had a sex change; so my dad’s a woman. It was two years after my mom died. My dad has remarried a woman, a lesbian. So, they’re just really self-absorbed in their life. I feel like if I share that I do pole dancing, my father is going to take credit for – he takes pride in being very “out there” – so he’d take credit for my being “out there.”

My mom died of a heart attack. She was young. She didn’t really take care of herself after her last child. She was really stressed out. That’s another reason why I’m here. Especially in black females in America, heart disease is probably going to kill you. I’m seeing everybody in my family having heart problems. It’s so preventable. I want to start now. I know what it’s like to not have someone in your life that you care about. I’m not going to do that to other people who care about me. She was so self-sacrificing; she wasn’t selfish. A lot of people still needed her in their lives. This gives me the motivation to stay healthy. I drink less. I eat really well because I love what I’m doing. I’m proud of it. I just had my physical a month ago, and I totally rocked it. Losing her so young to something about her health really was a wakeup call for me to be more selfish.