Butter & Filth
4840 Waller Road, No. 310
Second place: Phoenix Fitness and Martial Arts
Third place: Burn Boot Camp
If you're looking for an ass-kicking workout, Butter & Filth will absolutely provide that. But this small, sassy pole-dancing studio is about so much more than burning calories.
"On the surface, to the naked eye, it's an aerial and pole dancing studio," says co-owner Nia Burks, who opened the business with Heather Williams in February 2018. "But what I think it really is is a project, an experiment, a sort of manifestation of our mutual interest in creating love and community and a sort of badassery across the city of Richmond by using principles of exotic dance to get there."
Burks, who's also an artist and historian with two master's degrees, started pole dancing when she was 18. She says over the years she realized that she could use her talents to help people — mostly women, but the studio is open to anybody and everybody — become the most authentic versions of themselves possible.
"I think people say they're looking for a new type of workout because that's socially acceptable," Burks says of first-timers. "We're allowed to say, 'Oh, I do pole dancing, it's for fitness.' It justifies and legitimizes the practice. But I see people who are seeking to find themselves."
Offerings at Butter & Filth start with level zero pole dancing classes, which are slow, first-time sessions going over all the basics, and go all the way up to level three, with aerial inversions and highly athletic maneuvers. Burks is quick to point out that the beginners' classes don't require any level of athleticism, and she encourages everyone to come as they are.
"I believe everybody is always seeking love of the self," she says. "Our classes are open to everyone of every sexuality, gender identity, size, race, class, everything."