My obsession began around 2001, when I convinced my mom to let me buy Jennifer Lopez’s self-titled album J.Lo in the checkout line at Walmart. When I wasn’t listening to “I’m Real” on repeat in the coming years, I was watching (and re-watching) early aughts Lopez classics like The Wedding Planner and Maid in Manhattan.
When pressed to pinpoint what it is I love about Lopez, I’d tell you that she’s not just a talented and multi-faceted performer, but one of the truest encapsulations of the American Dream. As she’ll explain (er, sing?) to you in seminal 2002 anthem “Jenny from the Block,” she “went from a little to a lot,” yet she still knows and values where she came from. To me, something of an outsider in a town known fondly as the windsurfing capital of the world, Jen’s rise from “the block” to superstardom gave me hope.
But Lopez’s endless drive isn’t the only thing that draws me to her. I’m enamored with Jennifer’s confidence, which seems to reach its summit when she’s at what most people perceive as their least sexy: mid-workout. This woman doesn’t simply face the paparazzi’s flashbulbs in her workout gear, she steps out in the most extravagant of exercise attire, complete with her signature aviator shades, oversize gold hoop earrings, vibrant leggings (which sometimes even bear her face), an occasional Hermès Birkin bag, and the most iconic of her accessories: a giant, crystal-encrusted tumbler.
As a celebrity news writer, I come across Jennifer Lopez workout photos on an incredibly regular basis, yet I’m always in awe of how confidently she owns her aesthetic. I find myself wondering, what would it feel like to be that comfortable in your own skin?
Well, two things happened recently that allowed me to explore that very question: 1) Lopez partnered with her go-to leggings brand Niyama Sol to curate an athleisure-themed subscription box, and 2) Lopez’s Hustlers pole-dancing instructor Johanna Sapakie offered an intro class to various journalists and influencers.
I decided that I, a deeply introverted and physically awkward writer, would do my best to work out like the one and only Jennifer Lopez.
Most of the products I needed were in the subscription box, namely a pair of J.Lo x Quay tinted aviator shades (which I love) and leopard print Niyama Sol leggings. Surprisingly, I do not own a Birkin bag, so I made do with my own Coach purse. But the most essential (and challenging) accessory to track down was the bedazzled tumbler. Sapakie told me that Lopez had a sparkling “J.Lo” cup with her during every session, so this portion was non-negotiable. Lopez gets her custom Swarovski-covered cups from TaylorMade, a business that charges upwards of $500 per tumbler. Since this would likely be the only time I’d bring something so unapologetically bling-y out in public with me, I opted for a cheaper (yet equally fabulous) version I found on Etsy from The Fawn Doe.
Aesthetically, I was ready. All I needed now was J. Lo’s unique brand of “take no bull—t” confidence. I’d hoped a couple listens to “Dinero” would get me in the mindset, but it was honestly a lot simpler than that. By merely changing into a bold pair of leggings and wielding my personalized tumbler, I’d transformed into someone who’d feel comfortable roasting a marshmallow over a burning pile of money.
Unfortunately, the 6 train wasn’t an efficient method of transportation to the pole dancing class, so I took the 1. Were there searching looks and not-so-subtle whispers in my direction as I perfected my fish gape about the subway pole? Yes. Did I care? Not a bit.
I was a star, you see. I couldn’t get caught up in the noise around me.
We were given towering platform Pleaser heels when we arrived at Body & Pole for the class. Sapakie told us Lopez had balked at wearing heels on her first session, but she’d insisted. “I had her in 7-inch platform stilettos on the very first day. I needed her to get extra comfortable doing the pole work in those shoes from the very beginning as this would be part of her wardrobe for the film," Sapakie told InStyle. "There was no point training or rehearsing in anything else, so she had the feeling of doing the movement in those shoes only."
The heels honestly weren’t as uncomfortable as they looked, and did help facilitate the sexy, empowered vibe that pole dancing is intended to cultivate.
Once in class, we were given a crash course similar to what Lopez had received. We began with warm ups to help us get in touch with parts of our body we weren’t used to exercising (who knew there were so many muscles in the torso?), then we practiced simply walking through the forest of poles before us, spinning around one or two if the mood served. Stumbles were par for the course, and Sapakie assured us even Lopez had suffered from a Bambi-like misstep once or twice.
Stripped of my aviator shades and tumbler on the floor, the confidence I’d felt On The 1 took a palpable dip. It didn’t help that my first-ever pole dancing experience was being watched (and occasionally videotaped!) by about 15 strangers. Knowing my shortcomings when it comes to hand-eye coordination, I treated each move learned with scientific precision, opting for somewhat proper execution over anything resembling grace or sex appeal.
As you may have heard, pole dancing is hard. It was incredibly comforting to hear that even a lifelong performer like Lopez had struggled to master the art (though you’d never know by watching her opening scene in Hustlers).
Once class ended and I was able to reprise my full Lopez look, I found the confidence I’d momentarily lost.
Stepping into J.Lo’s shoes (and leggings) was fun and certainly empowering, but also somehow humbling. I was playing a role when I sipped from that jewel-encrusted cup, and no matter how exhilarating it felt, it was just an act. Learning a skill which Lopez herself has described as “one of the hardest things” she’s ever done was a practice in peeling back the curtain to get a deeper look at someone whose life and work has impacted me for so long.