Reader, life really is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get, especially when what you get is unbridled delight and pride in your own ass clapping on a stripper pole.
I took a pole dancing class, y’all, and I liked it. Didn’t see that coming.
I’m not talking about some second-wave, porn-wars feminist dilemma or anything. I appreciate skilled exotic dancers. Just as ballet was developed in the court of Louis XIV to codify positions and movements that best sing the body electric, exotic dance is no less concerted and canny in its (graphic) exploitation of the female form.
I mean, have you ever been to a decent strip club? As in, NOT the kind of joint that serves up generic Spring Break-style titty-shaking in a bog of desperation and self-loathing? Quality strippers can channel that whole goddess-Salome thing to remarkably relaxing effect. They can unite all genders and persuasions with the hypnotic, ancient power of undulating lady bits.
I associated pole fitness, rather obtusely, with only upper-body strength. Good strippers have guns. I have little Olive Oyl arms and a big ol’ ass. The idea of supporting said ass, along with the rest of me, on some reverse-feminist pole of empowerment seemed to portend humiliation and a stop for ice cream on the way home.
As I discovered in my first-ever pole dancing class, though, Michelle Obama arms aren’t the only ticket to ride the recontextualized stripper train. Attitude, a sense of humor, an ass and some thighs you know how to use, a couple nips of whiskey — choose your weapon and put on some short shorts. (“But I hate shorts!” I hear you saying. I do too, but leggings and pants are too slippery. Embrace the shorts; roll them up like you’re one of the popular girls in P.E.)
On a tip from a friend, I went to a spot out in the ‘burbs in a crappy strip mall sandwiched between a real mall and the interstate service road. It was a second-story unit, and the interior stairs that took me there were painted black and positively assaulted by silver glitter. A good sign. The studio itself was even better: wall-to-wall hot pink, more glitter, mirrors, and a bunch of poles. Oh, and white Christmas lights, which would be our only lighting for the session.
The instructor, whom I’ll call Thalia because I don’t remember her name, was a big girl with a small voice and a sweet smile. After starting out with some crunches and squats, she had us grip and strut around our poles, introducing us to our new dance partners. And to Prince? Noooo problem. After a while, though, I sensed that spins and other beginner pole tricks were imminent. I gripped my pole, looked up at it and suddenly became hyper-aware of a couple things: gravity, and the sizeable piece of ice cream cake I’d eaten at an office birthday thing earlier that day.
But instead, we went into the “booty bounce” portion of the class, where Thalia used her preschool-teacher delivery to instruct us in the stalwart stripper canon of pussy-pops, pelvic rolls, and other assorted twerktastic moves.
“Ok, hold onto your pole in front of you, get low and pop your booty up and down,” Thalia said sweetly. “That’s right, up and down. That’s good. Now rotate your coochie in and out, in and out. Gooooood.”
That was all I needed to shake off the self-consciousness. You just can’t take yourself too seriously when you’re bent over looking at your butt jiggle from upside-down. Also, in my city of New Orleans, this kind of activity is actively encouraged through the bounce music scene. Bounce, if you don’t know, is a hyper, often explicit, dance-based kind of rap that’s been around for over 25 years and lends itself perfectly to exaggerated ass-shaking. It deserves a Hairpin article of its own, but in short, bounce = butts.
And I LIKE BUTTS. A lot. I like all the things you can do with ‘em. I like how round and cushy they are. Even if they’re flat, flabby, riddled with dimples, suffering from rosacea or covered in animal cracker-shaped birthmarks, they still look like butts. Which is to say they look like proof that, if God exists, he/she has a sparkling sense of humor.
So anyway, after all the booty love, it was time for pole tricks, starting with a regular old spin. Thalia advised us to not jump, at least not with this basic a trick, because it’s not sexy to visibly heave yourself onto anything if you don’t have to. You’re not going for a hairsprayed-ponytail gymnast vibe, but rather one that says, “I don’t really care whether I wrap myself around this pole half-naked, but it looks so damn good on me and it’s soooo easy, and how else does one pass the time? Tra la la.”
Also, you don’t need much momentum to spin seductively around a pole, something I learned when I panicked, jumped anyway, and found myself spinning rapidly around and down the pole as if I was in a McDonald’s Playland.
“Trust yourself, and trust your thighs,” Thalia said. “Squeeze them. They’ll hold you up. Remember, if your thighs ain’t workin, your coochie’s hurtin.” I took that in, filed it away for further reflection, and tried the pole spin once more — without jumping. She was right: slower is better, and thighs are to be trusted. Can I just say I looked good? Because I looked good. Any girl spinning midair in a pinup kneel looks good. You know what else looks good? Tilting your head and arching your back. So I did.
Thalia taught us how to spin down to the ground and end in a wide kneel in front of the pole, where we could continue with some booty pops and pelvic rolls. That was trickier — you gotta be loose as a goose in the crotchal area to p-pop or slow wind in that position — but even my meager results were rewarding.
We worked on different spin variations until Thalia went too advanced on me and I hit a wall. My arms were not up to the task of holding my entire body up with my legs in a spread-eagle split, nor was I ready to flip head over coochie and try an inversion. My wrists were feeling taxed, which told me I should just keep working on everything else we’d learned. Which, surprisingly, was still enough to get me sweating and in-the-zone-feeling.
We finished the class by putting all our booty-shaking, coochie-popping, pole-gripping moves together into a lil routine set to The-Dream’s “Fancy.” I followed a few of my classmates and slipped on some sexier shoes — my office-friendly red patent Mary Janes with two-and-a-half-inch heels. But let me tell you, stripper heels or not: (heels + pole + dim lighting) x The-Dream = FANCY. Fancy-feelin’ all over. I still couldn’t execute half the moves with real finesse, but it was a first shot, not the tryouts for Miss Exotic World.
Unless you’ve been previously warned about too much saucy mirror-gazing by a loved one or therapist, you’re in no danger of getting too much satisfaction from strutting around and ‘preciating your assets, even if it’s simultaneously hilarious and weird and terrifying. I left that glitter-bombed studio feeling worked out, energized, sexy, womanly, and really DTF. I bought a Groupon package for more classes the next week.
Takeaway: pole dancing: try it once, just to try it. Or just put on some music or a Twerk Team video and strut around in your underwear. We’ve only got one butt in life, ladies. Better enjoy it while we can.
Molly Reid is a writer based in New Orleans. She surveys the world of workout videos on her blog, worldofsass.blogspot.com.