Words usually associated with pole dancing: erotic, night club, sex, stripping.
Words I associate with pole dancing: strength, flexibility, sensual, bruises.
When I walked into my first pole dancing class at Body & Pole NYC, I was the only guy which didn’t surprise me, however, I was surprised by the fact that there were women of all ages and body types, not just the voluptuous feminine figure we tend to associate with when we think of a pole dancer. There were some women curvy, some heavy weighted, some lean and thin and some quite muscular in their build, even more than me! Ages ranged from 18 to 60. When I entered the room I was nervous because I have to admit, I felt I would be in a domain where perhaps a masculine presence, for whatever reason, wouldn't be welcomed. Oh so to the contrary! When I entered, one of the students yelled "we got a man!" Everyone welcomed me with smiles and excitement. I had no knowledge of how class would be structured so by my apparent confusion of where to place myself in the room, another student took the initiative and guided me on what materials I would need and brought me a mat and yoga block from the stash in the corner. Yoga mat in pole dancing? Yes, there is actually a regimented conditioning routine to practicing it like every other art form. They also brought me a spray bottle of alcohol and a washcloth from the corner explaining that I would need to spray the cloth with alcohol to wipe down the pole after using it each time that way I could maintain a steady tight grip and not slip since your hands become sweaty. Plus you want to keep it sanitized since you share the pole with a partner doing trade offs between the exercises and combinations. I wasn't left to fend on my own. I felt like I was already a part of the crew and felt excited to be there. When I sat on my mat waiting for class to start, I started stretching into splits and straddle positions to warm up like the dancerly dancer I am and another lady said "...and he's flexible! You are making us look bad," and we all laughed.
At least 45 minutes of the class is devoted to body conditioning. We did various abdominal and cardiovascular exercises along with a series of stretches. It felt like a Pilates class but to fun music and with a mix of dance. There is even a short part of the class where we go across the floor to do some movement exercise that supplement the pole work (usually floorwork) before actually working with the pole. I was sweating by the end of it. After that we moved to the pole and was given specific technical instructions as to how to hold the pole, where to place your feet and legs against it, etc. and then given a combination of various patterns and tricks. It takes an incredible amount of back, shoulder, core and inner thigh strength to climb, hang and slide down a pole, some of the most basic parts of pole dancing…and the teacher did it so effortlessly. I had bruises on the fronts of my feet and on my inner thighs from gripping the pole and sliding down it. In pole dance, the pole is steel so in order to grip it, you can’t wear socks or pants or sleeves because you will slide off. In fact, the dress code is short shorts and a sports bra or tank top. The burns in my inner thighs was a whole new sensation of discomfort I had never felt.
It’s important to know too, that there are various forms of “Pole.” There is Chinese Pole where the pole is laced with a rubber material which requires them to be covered and wear layers of clothing or full body costumes so as not to get burned from the friction. This form of pole originates over eight centuries ago with circus performers of that era that used a pole in their acts. Another form is Indian pole or “Mallakhamb” which also dates back many hundreds of years ago. This pole is made of wood and would be laced with castor oil to avoid friction since they, unlike Chinese, would wear little clothing like that of yoga wear. It’s interesting to note from my research, that Indian pole was originally intended as a way for wrestlers to train. Yes that’s right, wrestlers! In fact, the literal translation of Mallakhamb is “wrestler of pole” so whoever said pole is for sissies, they were clearly speaking from a place of pure ignorance. It is also even a male dominated sport in which women don’t participate. It’s so important for people to know that what these performers do on a pole is such a difficult physical practice that takes a certain level of fitness skills. Some people take pole dancing just for that reason. I left class with a whole new respect for pole dancing. It’s a real workout!
I have taken two pole dancing classes so far. The first class was level 1 of which I was recommended to skip the introduction level since I already had a strong background in dance. I picked it up pretty well so after my first class my teacher, Danielle Romano, told me I was ready to take level 2 for my next class so that’s what I did. Level 2 was more difficult but I was still able to execute all the tricks so I was feeling confident. There was another male in this class this time visiting from France who said that back home in France, it’s difficult to find a place where men take pole dancing. He was excited about being at Body and Pole NYC because it's open to both male and female. Actually, even the changing rooms are unisex. There are no male or female changing rooms or lockers; everyone changes in the same area. The bathrooms though, are separated by male and female.
In class, I haven’t heard or been told to “dance sexy.” You basically are given pole material and at the end of class you freestyle your transitions in between, either that is in a sensually evocative manner or perhaps an emotionally expressive approach that in no means is defined as a feminine or masculine way of pole dancing in either choice of expression. It allows for individuality and is not limiting. I like how I’m not told how to exactly interact with the pole. It is a great way to promote pole dancing under a different perception than just a sexual form. However, if that is how you enjoy expressing yourself then go for it! I mean, I enjoy all the spectrum of expressions. Take a look. This is a combination I came up with on my own after taking only two classes and it’s my first time trying pole dancing in high heeled stilettos. I went to the studio during "open play time" where you practice on your own without an instructor.
As you must have come to assume by now, I really enjoy the feeling of high heels and stilettos. It allows me to become a character of which I associate with as powerful, long, and fluid. I love that. Yeah pole dancing with high heels feels more comfortable for me and I actually prefer it to pole dancing barefoot. It actually was easier to grip the pole with my feet because of the sticky patent leather material of the shoe. However, dancing with a pole, whether barefoot or in high heels, is no doubt tricky. Not only do you have to execute tricks that require tremendous strength and agility but you are presented with an apparatus that you must mold to. You leave it and come back to it. It’s essentially a duet. That may be the most challenging part: how to dance 'with' the pole. I look forward to training more in this art form. Perhaps it could be consider my "guilty pleasure" but in no means do I feel ashamed. Below is a video of one my teachers in a performance where she actually builds a character and story in a piece of choreography she created that is a very modern and contemporary approach to pole dancing. In no way does her gender constrict her expression to be that of the social perception of how a women dancing with a pole dances like. She and many others are opening up the platform of pole dancing and breaking down barriers. Bravo! Next, Ballroom Dance.