Channeling your inner goddess

Instead of silently cursing your personal trainer for making you do another set of push-ups, try a new and exciting workout: pole dancing.

Inner Goddess Studios, located in downtown Harrisonburg, Va., gives women 18 years and older a fun way to exercise and find their sexy side. The studio offers classes in exotic dance (striptease), pole dance, bar top dancing and basic hip-hop, as well as private lessons, workshops and parties.

“A lot of women are scared to try [alternative dancing],” said owner Rachel Bagnulo. “But if they can push through that fear, they would see it’s not really that taboo.”

In 2007, Bagnulo was 27-years-old, married, doing social work and not feeling too great about her self-image. In an attempt to remedy those feelings, Bagnulo and a friend decided to take a pole dancing class just for fun. But after a few classes, the two realized they loved it and signed up for more classes.

“We joked there was crack in the pole and that we were addicted,” Bagnulo said with a laugh.

After taking all the classes she possibly could, Bagnulo realized that some students who really enjoyed pole dancing couldn’t continue to the more advanced pole classes because of strength or health limitations.

“I started working with other instructors on exotic dance classes that didn’t employ the pole,” Bagnulo said.

She soon discovered that there were many other types of sexy dances, such as exotic dance and lap dance, that would give students the chance to still be involved with alternative dance and wouldn’t require them to work with the pole.

“I went from a size 14 to a 6.” Bagnulo said. “I was losing the weight I wanted to and I felt like I got in touch with a different side of myself. I understood myself better.”

Bagnulo realized how passionate she was about alternative dancing and decided to do something big. With financial help from her husband, she opened her own studio in August 2008. The first few months the business took off, and by November the next session of classes was already booked.

Walking into the studio, the atmosphere is chic and inviting. It’s decorated with lowlights, lots of pink and wood floors. The studio contains two classrooms and a reception area stocked with Inner Goddess Studios merchandise. Both classrooms are equipped with speakers, yoga mats for stretching and floor work and an entire wall of mirrors. The pole room, the bigger of the two rooms, has six poles, which are all securely bolted to the ceiling and floor.

To ensure a safe and comfortable environment for women, Inner Goddess Studios’ classes are strictly for women. No men or spectators are allowed. As the studio’s website states, Inner Goddess Studios is a “Women-owned and operated business…for women!”

“I think [alternative dancing] definitely helps women with their self esteem,” Bagnulo said. “They’re here to get in touch with themselves, have fun and explore things in a safe environment.”

Contrary to many peoples’ beliefs, alternative dancing is more about the dancer than the audience. Being able to dance and not noticing or caring if ten people are in the room is the goal. According to Bagnulo, reaching this state of mind takes time and practice, but once it’s accomplished it’s an invigorating feelings. Reaching that point in her own dancing is Bagnulo’s favorite part of alternative dancing.

“It’s a great opportunity to take a break from being a Mom and harness [my] inner woman.”

Alternative dancing isn’t only beneficial for the mind, it’s also great for the body. After taking the first classes in Exotic (Striptease) and Pole Work Level 1, the health advantages were clear. Both classes employed flexibility work, strength building and cardiovascular exercise. And the best part is you don’t even notice how sore you are until the next day! It was an exhilarating experience to try alternative dancing in a safe environment with such talented instructors.

Bagnulo’s confidence in and out of the exotic dance classroom wasn’t only contagious, it was also inspiring. She’s so successful at helping her students become comfortable with themselves and the dance because of her self-assurance and fun attitude. However, Bagnulo doesn’t only connect with her students in the classroom, her connection with them is especially apparent by her loyal clientele.

“It’s so rewarding to see the students progress and see them let their inhibitions go,” Bagnulo said. “A lot of them have become really good friends.”

Students don’t need to be fitness fanatics to take classes. Bagnulo believes that all women, no matter their age, size or dance training experience, can get something out of alternative dancing. All students need to have is a positive and open attitude.

“Everyday women, from all professions and all walks of life take our classes,” Bagnulo says. “We have a lot of mothers and even some grandmothers.”

Inner Goddess Studios is located at 122 S. Main Street, Suite 300, Harrisonburg, VA 22801. For more information, visit their website at, call the studio at 540-746-4115 or e-mail them at