Aerial Dance Studio the Pole Barn in Stillwater Expands Space and Offerings

The colorful workouts and dance choreographed at the Pole Barn are bringing beauty to everyday exercise.
Alexis Wolf

Whether you realize it or not, you’ve already been introduced to the art of aerial dance even before you enter the Pole Barn at 122 Water St. S. in Stillwater. Whether it’s at a local circus, a Vegas show à la Cirque du Soleil or in the comfort of your own living room watching America’s Got Talent, you’ve seen the art form, most often using backlit, colorful silks.

But did you know that you, too, could transform your body into that of a light-as-air acrobat, coordinating arm and leg movements amid flowing fabrics that make even the most awkward among us seem graceful and limber?

“Definitely the aerial silk aspect is the most exciting and new thing; people like to try that out first,” says Rochelle Jacobs, owner and main choreographer/instructor at The Pole Barn in historic downtown. “But our pole fitness classes always have been a steady. Once people come in and see what it is about, they gravitate toward that class—they see the benefits of that workout. Any preconceived notions of what that is go out the window,” she adds, referring to the adult-dancing associations the name of the studio might conjure.

She doesn’t shy away from the question: “The challenge I have is there are other studios that push the sexual side of [pole workouts], and I don’t do that,” says the mother of a 15-year-old son and a 21-year-old daughter, both of whom have taken classes at the studio. “There is a benefit to this kind of movement that we do encourage, and that’s that people’s confidence increases, which maybe helps them feel sexy, but it’s not the focus.”

Jacobs, who moved to Stillwater in 1998, grew up in Oakdale, Minn., studying classical ballet, tap and modern dance at Larkin Dance Studio. “So much of my workouts come back to what I learned in traditional dance,” she says. For example, the joke around the studio that “if you don’t point your toes, [I] will slap them. Everything you do will look better if your toes are pointed.”

A natural first step into the world of pole and aerial silk workouts is her Intro to Pole class, she says, where participants learn the different movements. “It’s very fitness-oriented—a lot of sit-ups, pullups and a couple of spins,” she says. “The better you get at these basics, the more you can do tricks, like flipping upside down on the pole.”

Aerial silks are often more challenging because they move with you, so there’s a built-in core flexibility and balance challenge right off the bat. The majority of women do not have great upper-body strength, and all of the classes at the Pole Barn help build that power. It’s great for bones, the back and everything women might experience down the road. Even men come for exercises as a supplement to typical resistance training, to work those dance-move-targeted spots.

One of Jacobs’s favorite classes, pole dance choreography, is more advanced, tailored to the nine individuals in it any given month. “The premise is I teach you an entire song routine on the pole—and it’s different each time,” she says. “We do eight different routines a year, in two-month class cycles, then we switch.”

This choreography, Jacobs says, is the major element that sets her studio apart from similar businesses: “The majority [of pole dance workout studios] do not teach choreography, but for me I’m really passionate about it. I love it, and you leave here dripping sweat, but at the same time you don’t feel like you have to go home and die, because you had fun.” It’s right in line with the ideal goal for fitness these days—muscle confusion through semi-natural movements that touch areas of the body you didn’t even know you had. “You’re always working something different, and you never want to do the same thing over and over; you can get all of your gym needs met here by coming two to three nights a week.”

While the concept of pole dancing as a workout is not new, The Pole Barn turns just 3 years old this month, and with this birthday is adding an entire level to its Stillwater location, which will allow Jacobs to phase out the Mendota Heights studio she’s been renting to supplement the Stillwater classes. It’s been a transformative few years, made possible in large part thanks to Jacobs’s background in real estate—she’s been selling properties for more than 20 years in this area, a portion of which was in commercial real estate with Anytime Fitness and Snap Fitness.

The building itself is 127 years old and has the charm of exposed-brick walls, original wooden floors, high ceilings and even, according to Jacobs, a resident (friendly) ghost. After the initial buildout, she expanded again, shrinking the waiting room to allow more room for the two different types of classes, fitness with poles and aerial silks (a fluid space that also lends itself to entry-level yoga and barre classes, as well as adult tumbling).

And this year Jacobs acquired the main-level space of the building directly below her original space, allowing for another aerial silks room. The plan is that the downstairs will host hammock-style silks (which are easier for beginners), and upstairs will maintain the open-ended silks, where participants fully hold their own weight in more advanced classes. With the added beginner space, children’s programs can finally become a reality (currently classes are open only to ages 5 and older). More cardio and yoga offerings are on deck, too, Jacobs says. Up until now, classes have been held primarily in the evening or on weekends; with more space comes the opportunity to host daytime classes.

The growth just adds value to what Jacobs already established as ideal package options. She offers limited or unlimited studio membership; the best deals occur with longer memberships (so plan in advance, and you could pay as little as $4 per class, a deal by any fitness studio standard). Classes must be registered for in advance, with a maximum of nine participants each.

Jacobs encourages tours with special rates for the first class: “We are not what people think,” she says. “People assume it’s just a bunch of young ladies that are really good-looking. In reality, we are just average folks, who just happen to really enjoy this type of fitness. It’s not just a have-fun, bucket-list type of thing,” although that can be an entry into the practice. “Anyone can do this—they just need to get started.”

Pole Barn: By the Numbers

  • The Pole Barn turns 3 years old on February 15.
  • There are currently 11 instructors actively hosting workouts at the space.
  • Classes are typically 55 minutes long.
  • More than 1,500 people have taken at least one class in the past three years.
  • The age range of participants is 5 through late-60s.

Mark Your Calendars
Here’s a quick glance at the month and year ahead at The Pole Barn:

February 11 Valentine’s Workshop
Come dressed in red, and learn a special dance.

February 15 Anniversary Showcase
All members can put together a 3- to 4-minute routine.

Summer Tuesdays
Free Stillwater stairs; meet at the Post Office at 7 p.m.

Halloween Workshop
Dance with the ghost (St. Croix Paranormal has investigated two times previously).

Naughty Santa Party
Santa’s one of the (female) instructors, and in addition to a workout, there are fun games and prizes (this event is for members only).

(Jocelyn Sockness gets help from Rochelle Jacobs with an aerial flip.)