Disco lights shimmer against shadows dancing in darkness as music blasts through a sound system being blessed by the voice of Nina Simone.
“Birds flying high. You know how I feel. Sun in the sky. You know how I feel. Breeze drifting on by. You know how I feel. It’s a new dawn. It is a new day. It is a new life for me. Yeah …Ooh. And I’m feeling good.”
The bodies belonging to the shadows are energized by Simone’s “Feeling Good,” as they swirl around a pole to her mellow crooning.
Here, during an acrobatic workout that is graceful and a tad naughty, Ashley Spalding is leading the charge to gain or maintain ultimate wellness, inside and out.
“The beauty of pole fitness is that anyone can really do it, and it is fun,” said Spalding, who was recently voted No. 1 Fitness Trainer by readers of The Sun News for Best of the Beach 2016. “Women who are physically fit who want a challenge do it, as well as women who are over 300 pounds and everything in between.”
This 35-year-old beauty is a beast about grinding to help folks get the bodies they desire. As the lead aerial and personal trainer at Wicked Fitness in Myrtle Beach, she plays the role of cheerleader and sergeant to those who seek her out.
“She is encouraging,’’ said Jodie Rowe, band teacher at St. James Middle School. “She is supportive, but she is also hard on you in a good way. You feel encouraged to do it for yourself and for her.”
Rowe’s 33-year-old frame has lost 17 pounds in one month with Spalding’s assistance. She not only gives Rowe nutritional advice, but she also guides Rowe and others through a vigorous weekly workout known as “Boot Camp,” held Thursdays prior to pole dancing fitness.
“Ashley has a good spirit,” Rowe said. “She is always happy when we come in here. We come in here and begin exercising and we think we are going to die.”
Tiny, but tough, Spalding engages clients in challenging regimes that cause them to be mindful of what they eat during the time they’re pushing themselves to unknown fitness limits. Yet, her teaching style makes the most demanding moves manageable.
“Push it up ladies,” Spalding said to clients working on leg stretches designed to create firm bottoms after they wrapped up a robust workout on the pole. “Push it up ladies. Our booties will thank us later. Feel the burn ladies. Feel the burn.”
When the intensive stretching was over and the groans and moans subsided, Spalding said, “See, you didn’t die. You ladies did it. You all are awesome.”
Spalding knows, as most of us do, that when it comes to shedding pounds, pain partners with gain. Muscles we didn’t know existed start aching, and our bodies are sore in places we can’t locate. Yet, we don’t let our hurts hinder our hopes.
Spalding understands. She is a petite 5-foot-3 weighing 127 pounds. Now. There was a time, however, when she had at least 40 extra pounds on her current and arguably hot body. The former U.S. Marine, professional model, makeup artist, bartender and bar manager keeps it real and relatable.
“I have severe fibromyalgia, which actually got me medically discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps,” she said. “In order to no longer be on massive amounts of medication, I decided I was going to try and control it through diet and exercise. When I did, I kind of fell in to aerial arts by accident in searching for my passion.”
Since pole fitness swung into her life nine years ago, Spalding has added more specialties to her extensive resume. Her classes include belly dancing, cardio bar (ballet moves with cardio), twerking and a class using stability balls, and one that specifically targets bellies, booties and arms.
“Pole dancing does require a lot of strength, but the cool thing is that you get strong here and then you take that strength with you to other parts of your life,’’ said Karina Maselli, a 43-year-old grandmother who has been training with Spalding for about four months. “This class is very empowering because she accepts you as you are, and she encourages you to work as hard as you can.”
True enough. Time spent with Spalding is like a day hanging out with girlfriends in a cozy nook enjoying light-hearted conversation, except you’re also putting your sweat glands in overdrive.
Wicked Fitness looks like a loft apartment minimally decorated with plenty of open space and furniture strategically placed along the walls. The setup is ideal because Spalding needs space to do her thing.
On this day, she is dressed in Army camouflage stretch pants, black sneakers, and a black, tank shirt that reads “Wicked Pole Fitness.” Her light, golden brown dreadlocks are wrapped into a top bun. Her smile is the Colgate kind and threatens to outshine her sparkly, hazel eyes. You can tell she is happy. Why shouldn’t she be?
Spalding has a flat tummy, perfectly proportioned buns of steel and clients who really like her. Plus, and most importantly, she has two cute kids – a 9-year-old daughter, Keala, and a 5-year-old son named Paxon. Both benefit from their mama’s healthy perspectives on life. She prepares them an array of homemade goodies made without added sugar and lots of flavor. From homemade chicken nuggets, straight-from-the-garden goodies and zesty sauces chock full of veggies. And she gives them her all.
Her clients feel this motherly love, too.
Carolyn Taft, 43, has only been coming to Spalding’s pole class for three months, but she already has deep admiration for her.
“The class is energetic, fulfilling and enthralling,” said Taft, a hairstylist at Hair Studio in Socastee. “She is one of the best personalities I’ve met ever in my life … I come in here with a wrist brace, knee braces. I have fibromyalgia. I feel like crap. I’ve got stress, and I feel great when I leave here. She does that. Ashley does that.”
If Spalding had a mantra, it would be, “Don’t quit on yourself.”
She doesn’t want you worried about how fat you are, how skinny you are or about how you will ever reach your fitness goals. She just wants you; yes you, to know you can reach them. Yes, you can.
“We always have a choice. If you could feel better, and stronger, and more fulfilled, wouldn’t you want that for your life?” Spalding said. “You did not wake up this morning to be mediocre. And why would you be when you can be great. You have the power. Be beautiful, be strong, be well, be fierce, be better because you can.”
Contact Johanna D. Wilson at johannasCarolinaCharacters@gmail.com or to suggest subjects for an upcoming column.
If you train
If you want to train with Ashley Spalding, visit http://wickedfitness.net. Fitness class prices vary, with pole dancing fitness classes costing $15 each. Spalding’s pole dancing classes are held Monday at 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., on Thursday at 6:30 p.m., and on Friday at 11:15 a.m. Space is limited. You can also call 877-751- 2992.