It’s been a while since I’ve given much thought as to what style or color of underwear I should don on any given day – but this morning, I paused as I sorted through my skivvies, and I consciously made my choice. Today, a very real possibility loomed that someone other than my husband might (accidentally) see my undergarments. Today, I was going pole dancing.
Many people may puzzle why on earth I would even want to consider such an activity?! Don’t I think it’s demeaning and degrading to women? How could I possibly engage in any activity that even hints at normalizing such harmful, oppressive behavior? Not too long ago I thought much this same way; but then, I attended a belly dancing class. The instructor had us shake our hips, push out our butt, shimmy our chest, and play with every bodily curve we could find. Over the course of the hour-long session, I began to lessen my grip on the idea that a woman’s body (my body) is something to be hidden, that breasts and tush are liabilities which can only result in mild embarrassment (at best) or severe shame (at worst). I began to see my ass as one of my (many) assets – and this change in perception was wonderfully empowering.
Six months of belly dancing is what allowed me to begin to explore the range of my physical self, and of my own femininity. Twisting, bumping, and rolling all sorts of body parts gave me both the comfort and the confidence to begin exploring my physicality in other domains; this soon led to my willingness to try yoga (and the confidence to enter a variety of ‘vulnerable’ poses).
These days, I’m so comfortable in my own skin that I really don’t think twice about having an instructor touch nearly any part of my body (for the purposes of helping me); nor do I have any qualms about wearing a bikini, or movin’ what my mama gave me. My body (every body) is amazing and wonderful – and I’m ready to take my physical exploration to the next level, and see how I might fare in the still-riskier context of a pole dancing session.
So this morning, I put on a pair of skimpy shorts, threw on a sports bra and tank top (then layered on appropriate cold-weather wear as the temp hovered in the 40s [F]), got in the car, and drove across town to attend a Rock-n-Pole class.
As I arrived at the location of the studio/gym, I laughed: I was literally two doors down from where I took my very first yoga class over five years ago. Talk about coming full circle!
As I entered the building, I was greeted by a super-cute 20-year-old gal, who politely entered my name and address into a computer, took my money, and personally walked me downstairs to the gym-and-studio space. On the way we passed by a snack table where one of the moms of a kickboxing student had baked fun little karate cookie people for the crew:
Once downstairs, I walked by a mixed-martial-arts class taking place on my right, a boxing coaching session occurring to my left, and passed through a door that read “Ladies Only, 18+”. To say I felt ‘out of place’ is a huge understatement. I don’t fluster too easily, but what the heck had I gotten myself in to??
I drew in a breath, straightened my spine, walked confidently into the dance studio – and saw a room lined with mirrors and dotted with silver poles.
Okay Stef. Game on.
The teacher entered the room a minute later. She hooked up her iPod to the stereo system, and started blaring club music. She smiled, turned to face the wall of mirrors, claimed her spot, and started shaking her hips. “Here we go gals!” she yelled over the music. “Follow me!”
With that, she started teaching us a very sexy, very suggestive pole dancing routine.
Over the course of the hour-long session, the instructor iterated this general pattern: She showed us an 8-count set of moves, then we practiced that 8-count set with her two times slowly, then two more times at tempo. She then showed us another 8-count set, we repeated those moves four times, and then we started at the top and put everything together. We repeated this segment-then-build approach again and again, and by the end of the class I was able to perform a minute-long pole dance routine – complete with struts, slides, and spins. It was a whole different world.
Due to my years of yoga practice, I possess ample flexibility – so I didn’t have many problems kicking and stretching and pulling and doing some of the more ‘intense’ moves that a pole routine requires. However, what I don’t have a lot of is sensuality. I’m bony, angular, and precise; in yoga, these qualities bode well for me. However, in pole dancing, a woman is better off being soft, padded, and loose; there needs to be a sense of abandon, of whimsy. (And a good portion of breasts and butt helps, too.) As I observed my wiry self moving in the mirrors, I could see how much I over-effort; how much I labor and strain. In life as a whole, if I can’t do something, I try harder; and if it still doesn’t come, I try even harder. But in an activity like pole dancing, “trying harder” is a turn-off. In this activity, it’s better to allow instead of force; to permit instead of push; to relax into what is ‘right’ instead of resist what is ‘wrong’. Pole dancing is all about not caring too much, about walking the line between arrogant-and-flirtatious, about being playful. And today I got to see how serious and how not playful I typically am.
Granted, I was kind of self-conscious today. (And staring at myself in a wall of mirrors for an hour certainly didn’t help.) I was struggling to learn a series of very unfamiliar moves in quick succession, in a surrounding and context that was completely foreign to me. So I’m cutting myself some slack. It’s difficult to be light and airy and sexy when I’m struggling to remember which spin or step is next in the sequence. Still, I know myself well enough to know that cultivating more play in my life is an opportunity – and I got to be reminded of that this morning.
But I think taking a pole dancing class was definitely a step in the “playful” direction. 🙂
And yes, my underwear remained safely underneath my shorts for the entire class – tush thrusts and all. Bonus. 😉
11/4/11 Update: One of my friends told me about a “US Pole Dancing Championship” that took place in New York City earlier this year. Having now done an hour of dancing, I was even more impressed at the amazing stunts these women performed. Holy crap! I definitely think watching the video is worth the 5 minutes of your time.
I loved this post Stef, and smiled most of the way through it! I think you are so brave going to pole dancing class.
The way you described how you felt after six months of belly dancing was an eye opener for me, because it put you in touch with your own body and taught you how not to be embarrassed by your femininity, but in fact, use it freely. You felt empowered, and I like that!
I’m very proud of your achievement and hope it goes even better with the pole dancing. Keep us posted. Go girl . . .
Barb, thank you for your comment! I’m glad you liked this post. 🙂 It was pretty amazing to go to the class; while it pushed me semi-far outside of my comfort zone, that was kind of the point. And today, I honestly do feel even more confident in and comfortable with my own body. Very cool.
Belly Dancing? I can really see the appeal. Great costumes, real sexy moves, the once or twice I’ve tried it (not seriously tried it, just for fun) it makes you feel great. Like a Natural Woman —
Pole dancing? Too athletic! Maybe skillful, maybe difficult, maybe complex. But sexy? Fun? Natural Woman? Not for moi, kiddo.
Smile, Stef — and let’s see a belly dancing shot!
Judith, I agree with you that belly dancing does feel more ‘natural’ (flowing) than pole dancing does. While both require skill, I think belly dancing requires more grace, whereas pole dancing requires more strength. But I think they are two sides of a similar coin; and people will likely be more drawn to one than the other – but they are both ‘good’. 🙂
As for a belly dancing shot… I don’t have one. I didn’t have a camera around me all the time back in those days, so I don’t have any pix of me in my hip scarf. Sorry lady. 😦
Oh my gosh! How brave are you?
Not only for going to the session but for also posting about a very controversial subject amongst women.
This falls into the ‘People should be able to do what they want’ category for me. As opposed to being a dictator, which doesn’t. 😉
We are given but one body in this life & there ain’t no returns policy, so make the most of it.
You go girl!
RE video: They must have amazing upper body strength. 🙂
I agree, this is quite a controversial topic for some people. But more and more, I’m coming to believe that the more a ‘normal’ person like me can bring “hush-hush” things to the light of ‘mainstream’ culture, the better off the entire world will be. Truly.
As I’m increasing in years, I’m increasing in self-confidence and self-awareness. I’m learning (training) more and more to really ‘hear’ my OWN voice – and then to be courageous enough to do what I want, versus what others may want for/of me.
Pole dancing was one small step in that ever-continuing journey; but it was a fun one to take. 😉
And yes, the professional dancers look AMAZING! I can’t even begin to imagine what kind of power (physical and psychological) those ladies have!
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I knew there was a reason I hadn’t gotten around to commenting on this post! I read it back when it came up and thought it was fantastic, but didn’t have time to leave a proper comment. Then I came back and had the chance to watch the video – holy smokes!
My good friend has a pole at her house and is quite talented and athletic – she’s a personal trainer. I’ve just barely played on her pole and it is not easy AT ALL! I still need to build up my strength to do anything to speak of. It requires tremendous athleticism, as the women in your video demonstrate.
So cool – thanks for sharing! 🙂
“Holy smokes” is an apt response to the video, I think. I kind of suspected the hour wouldn’t be easy (and I’m in pretty good shape from all of the Ashtanga yoga I do) – but holy smokes, I was *not* prepared for how tough it would be! Those ladies are absolutely athletes.