Brittany Jenkins paced around Norris Center’s Louis Room in her dark tank top and sweatpants, nails painted bright pink and hair colored chestnut-red. She shouted words of encouragement as she passed by each of her students attempting and executing movements at poles.
“Now you’re gonna push your body,” she said to one student, jutting her hips and butt out to demonstrate a dip turn to body roll.
Jenkins has many roles. At home, she’s a mom. At work, she’s a yoga instructor, personal trainer and pole dance instructor. She’s not only a teacher but also a mentor to her students.
“You see them growing and becoming better and there can be a connection or an attachment in some way,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins’ pole dancing journey started in her second year at Trinity International University during her friend’s bachelorette party. They booked a pole dancing class together, and a moment of fun turned into a lifelong passion for Jenkins.
“I was watching one of the instructors climb all the way up and then slide down, and it was mind blowing to me. Like, ‘Oh my God, I want to be her,’” Jenkins said, with her hands gesturing explosions by her head.
Jenkins graduated from college in 2009 and worked at Baxter Healthcare for one year before deciding to quit when she saw her burnt-out colleagues. She then pursued pole dancing instruction full time.
“Being in an office every day and seeing other people who’ve been there for 10, 20, 30 years, everyone seemed so jaded and dead inside,” she said. “I didn’t mind taking a pay cut to do something that made me feel alive.”
Jenkins now teaches at Pole Icons in Bucktown, Chicago. One student there, Sarah Rot, fondly remembered when Jenkins stripped to her underwear during a class after her pants prevented her from getting traction on the pole. Rot said that though Jenkins initially seemed nervous, she quickly said, “Fuck it” and rocked her pole routine in her unsexy striped cotton underwear.
“I actually loved it as a student because it felt like it gave us permission to be a bit goofy and helped us feel more confident wearing less clothes too,” Rot said.
Jenkins’ career later spread into Evanston when she started teaching pole dancing at Northwestern in the Fall of 2022 after Weinberg fourth-year Dani Zhang reached out to her on behalf of Polerize, a student pole dance organization. Zhang said the organization wanted bring a pole dance instructor to Evanston for both residents and students to learn from, so she connected Jenkins with Linda Luk, the Norris University Center program manager.
“Now that we have gone through the first quarter of mini courses, I think that [Jenkins] has been a great instructor,” Luk said. “Students really enjoy the class and find her very engaging and very friendly.”
Connie Chau, a second-year PhD candidate focusing on technology and social behavior, took Jenkins’ classes during Fall 2022 and said they offer a warm and welcoming environment. Chau said she appreciated Jenkins’ supportive instruction, especially as she performed a trick upside down on the pole for the first time.
“I was upside down and literally squeaking my entire way down,” Chau said. “Brittany was like ‘Don’t worry, it happens to everyone.’”
Teaching at Northwestern also helped open Jenkins’ parents to the legitimacy of her career. Still, Jenkins usually refrains from directly mentioning her job to others. As a mom, she has had to teach her kids about the stigma that surrounds this industry.
“They're unashamed,” Jenkins said. “They don't have that guilt or anything, so they'll innocently say, ‘Oh, my mom teaches pole’ and so I have to tell them, ‘Not everybody's going to accept that.’”
Jenkins also said that many people have misconceptions about her home life and marriage due to her pole dancing career.
“I get people say a lot ‘Oh, your husband must be so lucky.’ And it's like, ‘Ask him how many lap dances he gets,’” Jenkins said. “I'm not saying he doesn't get any, but like most people just assume things. It's like no, I'll come home and go to bed or watch TV and not want to be touched.”
Jenkins emphasized the self-fulfillment and empowerment aspects of pole dancing.
“[My students] can do pole dancing, and they don't have to tell anybody. They can keep it their own secret,” Jenkins said.
Beyond teaching her students pole dancing tricks, Jenkins hopes her classes can serve as a safe, fun and accessible community where people can escape their everyday stresses. She reminded her students of this goal as they wrapped up their class in the Louis Room.
“If you’re having fun and you’re forgetting all the other troubles from your life, then you’re winning in this class,” Jenkins said to her students.