What I learned my first time pole dancing
When my friend offered me a promotional code to take a free pole dancing class five years ago, I figured I would fo. Why the hell not? I realize that pole dancing is not of interest to everyone—it can be intimidating since it is often tied to sexuality in a way that a lot of us don’t encounter in our daily lives. It can also be a little seedy, associated with an industry that a lot of women don’t necessarily want to be in, and one that many object to for the way it treats women. Still, I’d watched enough Youtube videos and read enough articles to find out that pole dancing is actually an intense workout, one that requires artistry and skill. Its popularity has also made it more commonly found at dedicated studios and reputable gyms, spaces that are much more comfortable and familiar.
At best, I would somehow find my inner sex goddess and pick up some tricks that would blow everyone’s socks off if I ever gave a public performance. At worst, it would make for a good story to tell at cocktail parties, a reason I too frequently agree to do things beyond my comfort zone.
My friende ended up dropping out at the last minute, and I found myself nervously sitting in the small waiting room of the studio space alone, wondering what exactly I was getting myself into. All around me were women flurrying about, strapping on high heels, adjusting their shorts high up their legs, and chatting excitedly with one another in familiar tones. I stared at my baggy t-shirt and yoga pants, definitely not feeling like I was about to embark on any type of sexual awakening.
What I assumed was an advance class started, and the chatter and rush of girls funneled itself into the other room. That was when a smiling face poked out of one of the other studios and beckoned to us few stragglers who remained with our eyes darting around the room helplessly.
When I entered the room, there were a lot of unusual details I noticed aesthetically. First, the lights were dim, not bright like I’d come to expect from gym spaces and dance studios. There were also no mirrors on the wall, which our instructor pointed out was purposeful: they wanted the class to be a safe space that was more about feeling your movement and less about worrying about what it looks like.
As the instructor had everyone grab a mat and go around the circle saying why they decided to take the class, I realized how diverse all our body types were. None of us looked like the lithe beauties or sculpted athletes that seemed to be most prevalent in the Youtube videos I have watched. Instead, we all nervously giggled about our inappropriate workout attire, our curiosity to learn some new skills, and even our desires to learn how to be a little sexier. This was not something I voiced often, even among friends, so it was an almost instant bonding experience.
The first hour was all stretching, and while there were sultry songs playing over the stereo system as we raised and parted our legs over our heads, there was no denying that it was a tough workout. Despite the fact that we were instructed to make it look like our pointed toes were sexily dangling as we dipped them midair from left to right, the burning in my thighs and my heavy breaths definitely detracted a bit from the facade. When it was all over, our instructor actually pointed out that there were a lot of yoga and pilates moves that were integrated into the whole regiment, explaining why I had a feeling I would be sore in the morning. This was as legit a workout as I’d ever experienced playing sports or going to the gym.
Still, even unexpectedly covered in a thin layer of sweat, the stretches had gotten me in touch with parts of my body I hadn’t really been aware of before. While learning how to circle your hips Dirty Dancing-style can look alluring when done to the right beat, it also can make you aware of your center of gravity, of how high you can arch your back, of how low you can bend your knees before they start to cramp up. You suddenly become very aware of what your butt is doing. There was even one stretch where our instructor had us run our hands from the top of our head, as far down our body as they would travel, exploring all the folds of our faces and torsos as they went. It is rare, I realized, to have an excuse to be so intimate with yourself and to also have other people taking the time to do it with you.
When it came to actually doing moves on the pole, I surprised myself by how I had no trouble throwing myself at the pole and spinning, but I realized that certain little things like pressing the right part of my foot against the metal or holding my arm up at the right angle were gestures that my body wasn’t used to. It was weird for me to feel so awkward with my limbs, something I rarely experienced because I had become so limited in my range of motion, mainly being seated at a computer all day. I wasn’t getting the motions right away—but I kind of liked it. By the end of the half hour, I felt myself incrementally improving, and it was weirdly reassuring that I could still learn completely new things. The instructor also called me a “flyer,” since I just kind of threw myself into motion, and it was a title I wore like a badge of pride.
While a lot of the class involved very technical steps with a sensual flow, we did have a chance to learn a sexy dance routine, combining both the stretches and pole moves we had just learned. Having taken ballet when I was younger, I thought I might have an advantage in this area, but I was surprised that there was no counting involved. Instead, we were told general movements and motions that were to be done at our own speed. We were encouraged to feel the beat of the music on our own and move accordingly. This allowed for a bit of meditation. As weird as it is to say, I really listened to D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does It Feel),” as I flipped my hair stood up slowly. We were encouraged to fixate on a point in the room and imagine we were performing for someone, and it was great to direct some of your seductive energy at something, even if the stakes are low and it’s not even for anyone in particular.
Overall, I was really impressed with how body-positive the class was. It really made me appreciate my body, for all its limitations and abilities. I felt empowered by how I was able to learn new things and channel a sexier side of myself. I was also encouraged by my instructor to embrace my flaws, to give love to the places that weren’t fit or taut, and use them to my advantage. It was also great to go through the experience with women of all different sorts, all of us realizing that we may not fit the profile of an Entourage extra, but that we too deserved to feel sensual and learn a trick or two for being able to be a star in an intimate setting.
I was disappointed when the lights came up and we were dismissed from class. In fact, a couple of years later, I would return to the same studio and take a full set of level one classes, happy to have one day a week to myself where I could experience the same me-time I had experienced in that first introductory class. I thought that taking the class would be something I would talk about often, using it as a fun fact of flirtation to get people’s attention, but instead I really liked that it was personal secret, an ability only I knew I had. In fact, I did end up telling people about how great pole dancing is, but it was less to members of the opposite sex and more to my girlfriends. It was an enlightening experience, and I wanted it to be something we could share.