How I learned to stop worrying and love to pole-dance
When I first decided I wanted to write about a beginner’s foray into pole dancing classes, I’m not sure which response was more offensive: The tight-lipped smiles of the morally righteous who savored the opportunity to judge my sure-fire path to moral degradation, or the raucous laughter of those who knew me and my sedentary, unsexy lifestyle well.
While both responses were disheartening, they were the exact reasons that spurred me to take on the project. I decided to test the waters to see if it would lead me to a life of ill-repute and whether, despite my lack of grace, athleticism and sex appeal, I could enjoy pole dancing classes.
I led my search for a studio based on what I didn’t want. I had no intention of going to class with a bunch of girls named Gemini or Cinnamon—not because of a hatred for strippers, but because I knew that if I was going to comfortably make an ass of myself, it certainly wasn’t going to be in front of women who are sexy for a living. I also didn’t want to go to a studio with a bunch of fitness junkies who do things like buy creatine supplements or use gym memberships consistently. I simply had too much self-respect to deal with that.
I finally decided to take classes at Poletic Fitness, which is a smaller studio than others, but I heard the main clientele was bored housewives, which I figured would be more my speed.
I went in for a tour with Gina Geraci. She’s the kind of woman who is so god damn effervescent that you would mostly love to see her as your school’s kindergarten teacher, but also sort of worry that one day that candy-coated exterior will snap and she’ll be giggling over your bed one night with an ice pick. Geraci took me through the entire studio. Poletic Fitness offers yoga and aerial silks in addition to pole, and she told me about the studio’s mission to empower women. I silently called bullshit, but pressed on.
Soon enough, I met the owner, Brandon Deriso who echoed the same sentiments as Geraci, along with telling me about their long-term student-mentor and instructor training programs and yearly passes that they offer. It took all of my good sense to not walk out the door then. (I can tell when I’m being recruited for a cult.)Dancing with the stares
The first couple of classes were as awful as I imagined they would be. I was hoping I'd be with out-of-shape soccer moms. It turns out I was lucky enough to be surrounded by advanced students and former gymnasts. While the instructor Bri Lopez was great, I soon hated her for her impeccable work ethic. I should have known better than to start with the “Power pole” sessions, which were essentially hour-long sessions of fake push-ups, clinging desperately to a spinning pole, and trying to not to hate my muffin top as I saw the other girls strut around in sports bras and booty shorts. It was like high school all over again. I thought about scrapping this whole idea, but I already bought a workout outfit, so I couldn't give up here.
I learned fairly quickly that in actual application, pole-dancing isn’t really a sexy activity. There isn’t anything erotic about having pole burn around your crotch, constantly ashy elbows and knees—because lotion is a no-no—and sweaty bodies grinding around a pole. The last example might fool you, but don’t underestimate how foul ass sweat is.
I made it through four classes before I hit my head on the pole.
It was at this point that I made it to Sai Jaeger’s pole class. Jaeger is the only male pole instructor and he is so ripped, it’s uncomfortable to look at, like staring directly into the sun. He’s one of those guys who could turn a respectable woman into a Mrs. Robinson. Needless to say, I was ready to feel ridiculously self-conscious. But this class ended up being a critical moment. For once, I was in a class with another beginner and it actually felt like I was safe to make mistakes. After finally feeling comfortable, I began to attempt everything thrown at me, with reckless abandon. And no sooner did Jaeger say, “This is the safest way to do this” than I immediately somersaulted headfirst into the pole. Rough lesson, but I figured out that my pain tolerance is a good deal better than I thought.
Around the seventh or eighth class, I stopped counting my bruises (which my arms and legs were fraught with) and I started counting my accomplishments. I climbed to the top of the pole, flipped upside down, and twerked while spinning, a feat taught to me by Sheena Sigala, a woman who has given birth to six children.
Over time, I caved and began a lifestyle I never wanted to start. I grew so enamored of pole dancing that I started doing things like meal planning, going to the gym regularly, and buying workout clothes that weren’t also pajamas, all in the hopes that my work outside class would benefit inside class.
But the most significant change I saw was realizing that the root of my self-consciousness during these classes slowly shifted from my body image to how people perceived me taking on this project. I always knew that not everyone would be running up to shower me with praise. But what was most problematic were comments from my forward-thinking friends: Don’t you feel objectified? Isn’t that just giving power to the patriarchy?
I know that our basic understanding of pole dance is a picture limited to glitter-encrusted girls who are laden with daddy issues. In taking part, was I doing what was expected of a lowly woman, simply another cog in the proverbial wheel of misogyny? I remembered a tidbit that Deriso had shared with me during our first conversation together: “Pole dancing originated as an ancient method of training warriors. Then, at some point in the last century, some asshole figured out that you could use it to exploit women.”
In the entirety of the time I had spent taking those classes, I felt exhausted, nervous, frustrated and self-conscious, but that’s always to be expected, when you throw yourself into something you know nothing about. As time went on, I felt stronger, more confident, more energized, and a little accomplished. But in all of the hours that I spent, regardless of who was there, I never felt less than I was: a person who was desperately trying to learn something new. What I realized was that the only time I felt oppressed was when I thought of the judgment people placed on pole-dancing because of the prevailing stigma against it.
As I sit now trying to rub feeling back into my chafed thighs, I realized that there is something artistic and strong at the essence of pole dance. The level of athleticism, working in tandem with technique and creativity that the art form demands is nothing short of amazing. That doesn’t change whether you’re a man or woman, in jeans or in a G-string—although, I’ll probably pass on the G-string.