One of the reasons I am venturing onto the internet under a nom-de-plume is because my father has learned how to use Google. So there is a chance that if Dad googled me one day, he would find out that not only do I talk in detail about my underwear on the internet, but I am also a pole dancer. And I just think he would die. Look, my dad is a normal dad. He did not make me go to a purity ball or sign a purity pledge. He did not bar me from dating until I was twenty-five (not that that was a problem in high school, zing!). He let me drink at special family dinners. He was and remains pretty darned hands-off. But there are a few things that have always figured prominently in his infrequent bursts of parental advice: Be Loving, and Be a Lady.
Being a Lady (or a Gentleman) is something that Dad takes very seriously; I just do not always agree with him on the definitions. For him, Ladies do not get tattoos. Ladies have one piercing in each ear and that’s it. Ladies do not use the F-word (oops). Ladies do not wear this one pair of lace-up boots that I have worn for five years and you will pry from my cold, dead hands, Dad. However, I do agree with him that Ladies are kind. Ladies look out for others. Ladies are not bullies. Ladies are responsible. Ladies probably do not take pole dancing lessons in booty-shorts and stripper boots and talk about their underwear on the internet.
So how did I go from being a Lady to being a pole dancer? I believe I mentioned I wanted to be a ballerina? I will repeat: I SERIOUSLY wanted to be a ballerina. I managed to ignore the fact that my body and feet were wholly ill-suited for this career until I was a teenager, at which point the realization felt like a kick in the gut. My body betrayed me, and I, in turn, tried to shut it down and silence it. My whole being and way of moving was geared toward directing attention away from my “figure flaws”- belly, hips, breasts. My last year of college one of my acting professors called me in to talk about my most recent performance, for which I’d received an award nomination. He said, “Sweets, from the neck up, you’re doing wonderful, wonderful work.” I didn’t understand what he meant, and was a little hurt. My body was under my control! I carefully planned how I was going to move! I was graceful! I was elegant! Or so I thought; in reality, I probably looked like I had a massive stick up . . . well, you know. I wasn’t controlling my body; I was closing it off and shutting it down. I was telling my audience (and the world) “Ahem, just ignore this part, will you? It’s not good. It doesn’t matter. Look at my mind, it dazzles! Pay no attention to the body behind the curtain.”
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I started seeing a therapist about two years after moving to NYC, which I guess makes me a real New Yorker. She encouraged me early on to get my body moving. I took up running. Running is great, but running is also boring, and my Mental Demons were just DYING to come out to play. She nudged again. I took up ballet workouts. Ballet workouts were super fun, but my Body Image Demons were just DYING to come out to play. Also, these are solitary activities, and for someone who sought out a therapist because she felt trapped in her own head, maybe not the best plan of attack. “Sweets, I think you need to try something physical that’s a little more dangerous. Salsa, or burlesque, or pole dancing.”
Now, unbeknownst to her, my sister and several friends in Chicago had been taking classes at S Factor, and they all sang the praises of its life-changing awesomeness. My really-not-super-healthy mind kept saying “well yes, but they’re attractive people, so they have no problem with their sensuality (FALLACY). I am not sexy. I will look like a fool.” After months of procrastinating I took my first intro class. And after the class I walked up to the front counter, handed over my credit card, and said “Sign me up, and when do I get my stripper shoes?”
Pole dancing has changed my life in so many ways I don’t know if I could begin to count them all. I mean, look, first of all, I have arm muscles. ARM MUSCLES. I know. I don’t think I’ve ever had them before. You kind of have to look for them, but they’re totally there. I just noticed them one morning when I was drying my hair and went “Oh! Neat.” But that’s a long-term change, and I need to make it clear that I felt different from the moment I left the first class. My body felt different and I felt different. I felt more open, more free, more relaxed (the next day, I felt more sore than I’ve ever felt in my life, but whatevs). I consistently leave class loose and limber and often exhausted, with sweaty, tousled hair and a swing in my hips. I’ve opened my life and myself up to a way of moving that I decided as a teenager “wasn’t for me.” It wasn’t for Ladies. What I didn’t realize was that it was for women.
Nothing has made me feel more womanly, more gloriously alive, more graceful, strong, and elegant than pole dancing. I’m pushing my body to achieve things I thought she couldn’t do, and I’m allowing her to feel and wallow in feelings I thought were off-limits to Ladies. I think one of the most vitally important things pole dancing has given me is a new way of looking at women. The women in the classes I’ve taken have all been SO DIFFERENT. Some are dancers. Some are lawyers. Some are stay-at-home mothers. Some are working mothers. Some are teachers. Some are CEOs. Some are 22. Some are 50. Our bodies are all radically different: short, tall, curvaceous, willowy, muscular, lean, light, grounded. We would look completely bizarre as members of a ballet company, and we don’t all fit the mainstream magazine cover standard of beauty. But I have been stunned watching these women; their beauty has literally taken my breath away. We’re all at different levels of strength and flexibility, but there have been times when I’ve watched a classmate finish her dance, and all I can say is “You’re so beautiful.”
You’re so beautiful.
You’re so beautiful.