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I wore dance shoes. They’re the closest thing to the type of shoes people normally wear to work out that I own, and I had no idea what the dress code was. So I put on my yoga shorts and my orange dance shoes, and I was as close to ready as I would get. I knew this was something I’d have to experience to understand.

I walked in to the studio and found out my pole dancing class would be in a room called “the Farrah Fawcett room.” It was the only room with poles, yet I still felt the need to ask which room it was in. As I was walking past it toward the locker room, I glanced in another room where some beats were dropping and an instructor was dancing in the hottest way I’ve ever seen. That’s how I want to look, I thought. Then, I went to the locker room to stare at myself in the full-length mirror for a few minutes. Because what else is there to do with time to kill?

As class was about to start, I waited in the hall with the other pole-dancers-in-waiting and watched the hip hop dance class wrap up until we were let into our room. All eyes were on the instructor. She was just so good. Our door opened up, and we streamed in, taking off shoes, claiming poles, and wiping them down. I, however, was not aware this was the ritual, so I was left wandering between the poles — at first with my dance shoes on, and then with them off once I caught on. Once I realized I was without a pole, I looked for someone who would share the pole they had claimed with me. Apparently, pole-dancing is a popular class. And, also apparently, sharing poles is a common necessity. Thankfully, someone took pity on me and said I could share with her.

I have never danced with, on, or around a pole. I haven’t really even seen anyone else dance with, on, or around one. I was so new to the whole thing that when our instructor — the one from across the hall whose moves I’d been admiring — said, “And, please ladies, don’t grind your vaginas onto the poles!” I was sincerely grateful, because it’s possible I might have tried.

After my pole partner and I warmed up with the pole together, I let her have the first go while I stood back to observe. I wanted to learn the dance sans pole before trying it with it. The front of the room was lined with mirrors like most dance classes are, so we studied ourselves as our bodies moved. We learned the dance in eight counts, doing body rolls and head whips on five and six, and leg reaches and spins on seven and eight. We were on the floor and around the pole, grinding (almost) on it and dancing beside it. We learned and then practiced with music; learned more and practiced more. With each practice time, I felt a little more confident — not with all the moves, but with some. And that felt like a big deal, considering how brand new I was.

About halfway through class, our instructor dimmed the lights, lending a sexier mood to our movements, and I found that it also made me less inhibited. Without bright fluorescents on me, I felt freer to throw my head into the whips and my body into the grinds and rolls. No one was there to see me anyway; we were all there to watch ourselves. Why not try to impress myself?

At the very end, when we were going through the dance in its entirety (with some freestyling, that of course the instructor made look like a choreographed scene from a movie, and left the rest of us mostly struggling to find our own strides), some strobe lights were added to enhance the dim, sexy effect. It didn’t matter if we forgot a move or couldn’t figure out exactly what ‘freestyling’ even meant; we were just dancing by that point. We were allowed to touch ourselves and shake our bums to the beat without being ashamed, and we were allowed to like seeing ourselves do it.

And that’s exactly what I came away with that night, what lifted my mood and left me thinking about the magic of my first pole-dancing class for days after. I wasn’t performing for anyone else; there was no man to worry about impressing, no one looking at me and judging. I was the one looking; it was my eyes that saw, my body that danced. I was both subject and object, the perceiver and the perceived. I may have gone in, thinking it would be sexy to perform this for someone, but I came out transformed from the inside, knowing that it was within me to be sexy, that I have something others can’t see, and it’s for me and not for them.

I remember a moment before class ended, I looked in the mirror and caught a glimpse of a sexy figure dancing and thought, “She’s hot.” But this time I wasn’t talking about the instructor, nor anyone else. I was talking about myself.