From Red Light to Spot Light; Pole Dancing Goes Mainstream
Once upon a time, pole dancing was something dared only by thonged ladies named after luxury sports cars and exotic spice. But times have changed. These days this once taboo art form is wowing audience at a variety of venues. Burlesque shows. Dinner theaters. Even offered as an exercise option at your local gym. New exposure has meant a whole new female based audience, excited to watch and learn this beautiful skill. Tempting ladies from all walks of life to give it a go writhing on that iron snake. Even me.
A Google search brought me to S Factor, an establishment nationally recognized via the holy trinity of daytime divas; Oprah, Martha, and Ellen. Couldn't be bad right? The website promised more than pole dance training, infused with yoga, ballet, Pilates, & striptease. Their program specifically focused on "…the awakening and cultivation of (your) own soulfully sexy Erotic Creature" Feeling wild, I schlepped my $400 plus bones across the counter (gulp), bought myself a pair of platform candy red patent leather stripper heels, and signed up for the level one. Let's wake this sexy she'beast up!
Somebody's Gonna Cry
Who would have thought I'd be spending my Saturday mornings in a dimly lit room bumping and grinding like a North Beach stripper. But here I was, along with a motley group of ladies, awkwardly following the 45 minute warm up; a bizarre combination of basic exercises punctuated by random moments of hair tossing and self groping. OK. Just past ten a.m. and I'd already reached second base with myself several times. As the music transitioned from Lilith Tour style fem pop to hardcore rap, we moved our bodies as if treading through molasses, attempting to lure our "erotic creatures" out of their hidey-holes. I wasn't sure what I looked like, but if the other ladies were any indication, I was glad we were engulfed in near darkness, and certain my face was as red as the bulb illuminating this strange show.
Our stocky, freckle faced teacher, who bore a striking resemblance to Punky Brewster, seductively raked her mop of corkscrew curls and then snaked a hand down her body, slapping her round ample ass as she cheered us on toward sex positive self approval. "I want you to be open to a full range of experiences and emotions here ladies" she instructed. "Some women cry. This can be a very cathartic experience…."
Cry? I looked around at my fellow level ones, wondering who amongst us would melt down first. I tagged the girl in the corner, whose hair was as straight, coarse, and stiff as her geriatric hip grinding, and slapped my own ass on command with the others. Yep. Now I felt really dumb.
Mirror Mirror On The Wall, Who's The Stiffest Of Us All
"…There are no mirrors in this room" our instructor pointed out, "So we have to be reflections for each other. That means when you see something great, show your encouragement. We're here to support each other. And when you see something that looks kind of weird…. well….. clap for that too."
When the forecast called for weird, that was no joke. Our S Factor walk -- meant to be the sultry strut of a jungle cat -- looked more like seasick babies traversing the deck of a rocking ship. Our first tricks, with names like The Firefly and Peter Pan, summoned airy, winged magic. But with each attempt to soar, we generally thud, slid and puddled round our instrument, shuffling away like embarrassed children.
No doubt, S Factor anticipates meager beginnings. While the lack of mirrors is a common Yelp complaint, perhaps I'm glad the only reflections given were those offered by my humbled S Factor sisters, obliged to offer encouragement (if not condolences). Yet regardless of how often and completely we train wrecked with each successive ring around the rosy, our teacher yipped with excitement. "You look amazing ladies!" she lied. And although nobody cried that day, Miss Stiff As A Board never returned. I imagined her weeping silent, ugly tears in her car after class, and enrolling in a water color work shop the next day.
Biker Babes Make The Best Friends
As the weeks went on, we added strip tease to our list of level one accomplishments. I have to say, learning the finer points of taking off your dress in front of strangers might be the ultimate ice breaker. After several more weeks of intimate sessions with this small group of ladies, I felt a special kinship to them. Something like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants…. or traveling with no pants as the case may be. Emboldened by this sense of sorority, during break I sidled up bravely next to a brawny woman who looked as if she'd been born on the back of a Harley, and complemented her wide assortment of platform stilettos. Towering over me by several feet, she nearly growled her disdain for me and my unsolicited opinions of her shoes, I reasoned her "erotic creature" was some sort of grizzly bear, and vowed to steer clear of her from here on out.
As class reconvened our teacher announced excitedly that today we would begin lap dance week. "Now ladies" she leveled with semi stern conviction, "I'm going to require everyone here to partner up for this activity. I know some people feel a bit strange about this, but it's important for you to experience what it's like to actually have a real person in the chair when you learn these moves. Try it, and if it's really just too uncomfortable for you, after today you can practice on an empty chair, but at least once everybody here will dance for a fellow student."
I looked around at my choices; the clumsy blond sorority girl with the long legs, the busty soft butch with tattoos -- there were several ladies in that room I would actually pay for lap dance. And then I landed on Ol' Mama Grizzly, giving me the scowl of death from across the room. Anyone, gawd, just not her.
Of course, no sooner had I made that earnest prayer, our linked names were rolling out our instructors cruel lips. Moments later, I was grinding on her lap, trailing my hair ever so lightly across her face, and using her body like a slide at the park. The whole experience was a blind rush of embarrassment and terror. I was certain any moment she'd crush me with her massive arms. When it was over, I was grateful I'd escaped intact. But after that day, when practicing our tricks, I found the grumpy grizzly had become a big sweet teddy bear. Suddenly I had a new gal pal offering constructive tips and assistance. "I'll spot you this time" a gruff voice would offer. Had she not nearly doubled me in size, I suspect she might have even let me borrow a pair of her shoes.
Queen For A Day
Perhaps my favorite S Factor experience came the day our teacher asked for a volunteer to sit in the chair and be the audience while the rest of the ladies performed the finale routine. My arm shot up, and before I knew it, there I was, like a Queen on a throne, watching the room full of women do their best version of our sexy choreography, all for me. While it's not entirely clear whether my classmates pulled off seduction or managed only comedy, the spectacle was enormously entertaining nonetheless. I watched as the entire group was instructed to crawl slowly towards me on their hands and knees, and leaned back in my chair, deciding that this was worth the price of admission. I mean, c'mon, how many people can say an entire room full of women have given them a lap dance? Scratch one more off the bucket list.
Putting The Spin On It
After my two months were up, however, I still knew next to nothing about pole dancing. And my erotic creature? It remains so rarely seen, some wonder if it's close to extinction. I prefer to think she's just living in a deep, as of yet ungentrified part of the jungle. As for S Factor, I suspect their "gurl power" curriculum focuses more on building self esteem than the foundation of strong dance technique. Combine that with the lack of mirrors, classes of eight to nine ladies, and only two poles on which to practice, each session provides scant time to perfect our serpentine tricks. While there's definitely something to be said for a safe place where we gals are encouraged to both growl and grope ourselves simultaneously -- and without judgement -- I wondered how many of my future children's college tuitions I'd have to pilfer to afford the classes required to actually twirl round the brass the way our instructors did. At these prices I'd actually have to become a stripper to foot the bill; but let's face it, I'd never get the job.
So before you go rolling your eyes, getting red faced at the thought, or running to your next lesson, my advice is this; make sure you check out the spot before you sign on the dotted line. The popularity of this new fad means there are lots of options when it comes to pole dance studios, but style and focus vary greatly from place to place. Thus it's worth trolling through the sometimes loathsome whine-o-sphere of Yelp reviews before committing; just to ensure you pick the best fit for your personal expectations.
Still, my stint as an amateur pole dancer had certainly given me some new perspective. For one thing, I learned that as products of this culture we women wield a double edged sword -- one where we are both praised and rewarded for our sex appeal, but simultaneously taught to regard our sexuality as something lurid. We have largely lost our permission to create, cultivate, and truly own our "soulfully erotic creature"; whatever that means to us. Tracking this elusive she-beast, whether within our relationships, through therapy, meditation, or even taking pole dance classes, can be awkward and time consuming. But the efforts are worthwhile. Not only can we discover hidden or neglected parts of ourselves, this kind of work can open the door to connecting more empathically with other women. A double plus in my book.
Finally, I say this; while the pros make it look easy, ladies I'm gonna tell you right here and now, there's a reason strippers are getting rained on by dolla dolla bills, and the answer is very scientific; bitches be hav'n mad skilzz yo! The art of dance seduction and strip tease take guts, grace, and glamour, and pole dancing itself takes strength, training, and practice. So to all those bad ass babes out there working their magic on a pole, whether the club be of the sport or gentleman variety, I tip my hat. And who knows, maybe next time date night rolls around, it will be your idea to go to a strip club. Or better yet, maybe next time you go to a club with a pole, you might have a trick or two up your own sleeve.
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