Four years into my pole dance journey and it’s hard to remember why I was ever nervous about pole dancing to begin with.
I mean I get nervous about doing specific tricks, namely ones that I might fall on my face while attempting it. I do stress about not poling enough, worry about not being good enough or working hard enough. I get butterflies for performances, etc, but that whole thing many new polers experience about being too scared to take their first class, I don’t remember that. I don’t think I took much convincing either to take my first class, my friend did it, she suggested it to me, and I gave it a shot, end of story…sorta.
See I know there is no way that it went that smoothly for me, that just isn’t me and nothing about pole dance has really been easy for me (remember I’m the Battler http://www.polegeek.net/2013/04/the-battler.html). So I thought back on what used to really freak me out about pole, cause there had to be something.
This is what I remember: I spent an unreasonable amount of time NOT looking in the mirror, like actively focusing on other things in the room in order not to. I spent an unreasonable amount of time seeing how long I could get away with wearing leggings and not shorts. I did the same thing with avoiding crop tops. I also used to let everyone spin before me to the point of often missing my opportunity to spin at all because at 5’11” I was worried I would hit other people or just get in their way. I spent two years turning down the lights before I performed in class.
And then it hit me, the thing I was so nervous about when I started pole was taking up space.
Pole is not like most fitness classes where you could hide in the back, keep your head down, and just get through it. Hell, most pole teachers wouldn’t allow it. No pole dance requires you to be present, to take up space, to decide that you are worthy of being there and look yourself in the eye while you do it. *EEP* That shit is scary!
This is both the worst and best thing about pole dance. It is why we learn so much about ourselves through pole, it is why we might leave class in tears, why ours lives might change dramatically, and our minds too. It is scary to put yourself out there, it is scary to drop our shields, and it is much more comfortable to stay hidden.
I spent a lifetime of dance classes being pushed to the back of class. Literally told to stand in the back by teachers. I got comfortable there, with it’s veil of security and anonymity I didn’t have to confront myself or my insecurities. Over time I didn’t need the instructor to put me in the back, I did it to myself.
Enter pole dance.
Pole studios are structured around each dancer having enough space for themselves, poles placed to avoid students overlapping or being hidden from the mirror or teacher. Unless you are at one of the now rare studios that doesn’t have a mirror, you are forced to confront yourself every single class. Teachers single students out, ask them to freestyle, perform for each other. The movement often delves into the deeply private sensual arena which we rarely put on display. You might have to share a pole where your partner is watching you. Moves can be large and expansive meaning you have to be aware of others around you and they have to be aware of you.
This forced self-confrontation is part of why pole can be such a powerful feminist activity. As women (and specifically larger women in size or height) we are often taught to make ourselves smaller, let others shine, be dainty, be restrained, don’t make too much of a fuss about ourselves. Well, pole dance says to hell with that. Shout it loud and proud, you are there, you are taking up space, and you deserve to be.
It is why the rise of pole “fitness” scares me. Logically I know that it can peacefully coexist with traditional pole dance (i.e. pole dance classic, as I like to call it 😉 and any other form of pole that has or will exist. But I worry that the focus on fitness with lessen the focus on self-expression and discovery, that classes will become competitive. That the best with rise to the top, to the front of the class, they will get the attention of teachers, and the rest, those not normally invited to take up space, will be pushed to the back. They will not have the benefit of the self-confrontation that pole dance provides. I hope I’m wrong because the learning to know and love yourself that comes for pole dance is equal, if not greater, in value than the fitness ones.
I wrote the majority of this post last December, but it is now, after taking a deliberate step back from pole dance to focus on other areas of my life that needed attention, that I really feel the impact of pole dance in my life. Each week I don’t take class I feel myself become more and more nervous about returning to an active pole dance regimen. I am nervous about taking higher level classes, I want to roll around on the floor for a bit, take beginner classes, and stick to the back of the room. I don’t quite feel like myself in regards to pole. And I realize that when I first started writing this post I wondered what I could have every possibly been nervous about when I first started and now I am wondering what I could have every possibly been so confident about when I was poling regularly.
I will not be able to return to pole dance full force any time soon, a combo of money and shifting goals have made it so, but I am doing my best to continue it at home. To take up space in my own living room, to remind myself that I can look myself in the eye while dancing, that I can leave the lights all the way up and wear short-shorts. I am reminding myself of all the lessons I first learned in pole dance and what make pole dance so much more than just a workout.