On Dec. 2, Zsuzsi Hussla of Davis gave birth to a healthy baby girl named Athena, who tipped the scales at 6 pounds 3 ounces.
But it’s what Hussla did in the weeks and months before the big day that may be the most unusual part of this journey.
She spun. She swung. She did Supermans and all kinds of tricks known as inversions that require strength, flexibility, balance and, well, a shiny silver pole.
Yes, Hussla was an expectant mother and a pole dancer – right up to her eighth month. But this had nothing to do with dimly lit clubs and two-drink minimums. Pole dancing may not be as popular as Pilates or as widespread as rock wall climbing, but it’s a legitimate form of physical fitness that in recent years has found its niche.
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And within that niche, pregnant women are not shying away from getting in on the action, too.
“I just kept listening to my body and decided that when it became too much, I would stop,” said Hussla, 38, who lives in Davis with husband Cory. “I think it made it easier to keep my energy levels good. I wasn’t as tired during my pregnancy.”
A longtime dancer who had tried and embraced all kinds of styles, from belly dancing to ballet, Hussla got into pole dancing soon after moving to Davis in 2013.
“I had been doing a lot of ballet. They had a pole dance studio in Sacramento, so I thought I would go and try it. It was hard at first, but I kept going back,” she said. “You definitely need a strong core. Also strong arms, shoulders and back.”
Hussla did her workouts at Epic Pole Fitness.
While some might see pole dancing as a remnant of exotic dancers and strip clubs, Hussla said she and many women view it from a feminist perspective.
“It can make women feel sexy and empower them in that way,” she said. “It also makes them feel strong and confident. If you can nail some of the tricks, you can feel really great because they are hard.”
Indeed, pole dancing is not an entry-level physical fitness craze. Simply to hang, climb or spin requires a good deal of strength and body control, Hussla said.
The Superman, for instance, means you’re in the air with your torso parallel to the ground, your legs wrapped around the pole and one arm positioned behind you to hold onto the bar. Advanced users make it look seamless, but it’s one of many tricks, performed in sequences, that make pole dancing a rigorous workout. Blisters, bruises and burns are not uncommon, Hussla said.
After she got the news she was pregnant, she kept up her fitness regimen, which included yoga and walking. As the weeks turned into months and Hussla started to gain weight, she decided to stick with her routine. The growing baby and her growing belly were no deterrent. A video on her website shows a lean and very pregnant Hussla doing a series of pole dance elements during a workout.
After 34 weeks, however, she took a hiatus from pole dancing.
“I thought my body was done at that point, but I did yoga for the last four weeks,” said Hussla, who gained up to 25 pounds during her pregnancy. “What also really helped me during pregnancy and labor was a technique called ‘birth dancing’ that I developed as a way to prepare for birth. That includes lots of hip opening moves and leg squats – ballet-style plié they’re called. That really helped my body in labor.”