I took a pole dance class (and I liked it)

Are there many things more certain to ignite controversy among a certain class of feminists than the idea of pole dancing for fun and fitness?  The controversy has ebbed somewhat in recent years, but it still pops up from time to time, usually in the form of lectures about young women searching for empowerment by posing as strippers and how they are Doing Feminism Wrong by spending their time “pole-dancing, walking around half-naked, posting drunk photos on Facebook, and blogging about your sex lives” instead of fighting for reproductive rights.

As a woman in her 30s who has been immersed in online feminist communities since I was a teenager, I’m pretty well-familiar with the arguments against pole dancing.  I’ve read “Female Chauvinist Pigs” and I understood the point Ariel Levy was making.  But I couldn’t really find myself getting too worked up over the fact that some women found it fun to put on clear heels and shake their butts while swinging on poles.  Sure, it wasn’t something I was particularly clamoring to do, but I figured that was just because pole-dancing wasn’t in my personal wheelhouse, not because there was something fatally flawed about the entire enterprise.  Live and let live, you know?

My opinion started to change a couple of years ago, when my best friend Brandi took up pole dancing.  Actually, she didn’t just take up pole dancing – she got really into it.  I mean, reaaaallly into it.  This is how into it she got: she began teaching, she quit her job as a technical writer, she opened a dancewear-and-shoes boutique, and now she owns a pole studio in Tampa. Like I said, she is really, really into pole dancing.

Naturally, when one of the people I love and admire most in the world gets really, really into something, I am inclined to find out more about that thing (unless, of course, it involves thetans or crack cocaine or something similar).  Brandi and I talked about her experiences with pole, what she loved most about it, how it changed her attitudes toward life and herself. We talked about the way so many people seemed to regard it in a variety of negative ways: silly, retrograde, damaging, embarrassing, shameful.  She told me that she hated the way some people acted as though she did pole to please her husband, and not something she did for her own enjoyment.

Best of all, she shared videos with me of pole dancers doing the most incredible things, spinning and climbing and lifting themselves, and doing so in a way that was graceful and sexy and feline and powerful.  I admired the aesthetic of the dancers and the way they, like so many acrobats and aerialists, were capable of exercising such exacting control over their bodies. Over time I became intrigued, and I decided that I would give it a try.

A couple of weeks ago, the pole-dance stars aligned.  I am not in training for any specific race right now, and Brandi decided to offer a beginning pole-dance boot camp that lasted five weeks.  I signed up.  My first class with Brandi was last Friday.

I showed up at her studio, and since it was the first time I’d seen it, I spent the first few minutes squeeing with her over the studio as she showed me around.  She introduced me to the other ladies taking the class, who were sitting on a couch strapping on their heels.  I did not own a pair of stripper heels, so I planned to take part in the class while barefoot.  I did, however, wear a pair of booty shorts, since Brandi had told me how the skin of my legs and inner thighs will provide me with extra grip when climbing on the pole.

We all took position standing next to a pole facing a wall of mirrors.  We started off with some exercises to warm up our shoulders and arms, then Brandi walked us through the basic terminology and moves involved in pole.  She showed us where to hold our arms and how to position our shoulders so they remained firmly in their sockets.  She had us walk around the pole and explained that she would use phrases like “inside leg” and “outside arm” to instruct us.  Then she had us do a couple of non-tricky moves, starting with the “body wave,” which involves rolling your body in an upward wave against the pole.

As I tried to do the body wave for the first time, I started feeling an uncomfortable sensation that I quickly recognized as embarrassment.  “I feel like I should be alone with the pole for this,” I joked in a weak-ass attempt to mitigate my awkwardness.  I tried it a few more times, and each time I was mortified by the way my body didn’t seem to roll as much as it stuttered, which I knew was happening only because I was feeling embarrassed and self-conscious.  Brandi said it was okay, that everyone feels awkward at first, and to just keep practicing.

Next was the “moneymaker,” where we bent over at the waist and used a variety of techniques to – you got it – shake our moneymakers.  The idea isn’t so much to move our actual butts as it is to make our butts jiggle. Again, I failed miserably at this. It was during my attempt to make my booty jiggle that some random creepy guy opened the front door, poked his head in and started laughing and leering at us.  We all started screaming at him to get out, and I briefly considered walking over to him and physically shoving him out of the studio, but fortunately he left before that became necessary.  Seriously, bro, NOT COOL.  (And hello, we are in Tampa – it’s not like there aren’t places where the women are happy to do this for you just down the street. Of course, that’s provided you aren’t a cheap piece of shit and are willing to give them some money.)

After this, we moved onto spins, which are moves in which the dancer hooks one leg and her hands around the pole, then spins until she glides to the floor.  At least, that’s what a spin is supposed to look like.  I, on the other hand, looked about as graceful as a marionette held by a drunk puppeteer.  I could not get my legs to behave. It was like my legs interpreted my attempts to glide gracefully to the floor as stumbling and falling, and bless their hearts, they were like, “girl, we’re here to save you!” and then shot out of nowhere, causing me to land awkwardly on my ankles.  More than once, I banged the inside of my right knee so hard against the pole that I am still carrying around a blossom of greenish purple on my leg.

It was just a huge clusterfuck, made even more clusterfuck-y by the fact that every other woman in the class was executing the spins quite nicely.  And Brandi – well, let’s just say that girl looked like she was born with her legs wrapped around a pole.

It was at this point that I noticed my bare feet were not doing me any favors when I tried to pivot, so I broke down and rented a pair of white vinyl six-inch heels from Brandi.  I pulled them on, then stood up and surveyed the view from my new NBA-ready vantage point.  I walked around for a bit, got myself comfortable with my altered center of balance, then went back to the spins.  Finally, I almost successfully pulled off a herkie spin.  Almost. Kind of.  At least, that’s what I’m telling myself.

The last part of the class was an introduction to pole sits and climbs.  The pole sit is a move in which you squeeze your thighs together so you end up sitting on the pole while in the air.  We wiped down our poles with some rubbing alcohol, then Brandi walked us through each step leading up to the pole sit. I followed each step, then got myself into position, pressed my thighs together around the pole, and voila! I was pole-sitting!  I couldn’t believe it. I had actually done something right.  I came back down, then got back into the pole sit again, just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke, and it wasn’t.  I could actually do it.  I could even lift my legs straight in front of me.

The climb is similar in that you use your arms and legs to hold yourself in the air.  Brandi showed us how to line our shin up with the pole, then flex our feet so the front strap of our shoes was gripping the pole.  Then we put our hands on the pole over our head and pull ourselves up.  By this time, my hands were sweaty and I kept slipping, so Brandi had me put some grip-aid on my hands.  The grip-aid basically serves the same purpose as chalk for gymnasts and weight-lifters, and within a couple of minutes, my hands were dry and tacky.  I got my leg into position, grabbed the pole, and pulled myself up.

And holy shit, I did it. I pulled myself right up onto that pole, and I stayed there.  I stayed there long enough to see myself in the mirror, and I have to say, I looked amazing.  My arms were flexed, my legs looked strong – I looked amazing.  It was the closest my tall ass was ever going to get to being an acrobat.

I did it a couple more times, each time marveling at the sensation of having pulled my body up into the air like that.  I would have kept doing it all night long had the class not come to an end.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the class since it ended.  I’ve thought quite a bit about how much fun it is, and how I’m looking forward to my next lesson this week.  I’ve thought about how I am decent at things that require brute strength (pole sits, climbs) and how I suck at things that require grace and elegance (everything else), and how the only way I will not suck at those things is to practice.

I’ve thought about how it’s possible to enjoy things you would have never thought you were capable of enjoying.  I mean, I’m kind of a tomboyish jock who doesn’t really do femininity and sexiness all that well.  I’m one of the last women you’d expect to see in a pole class.  Yet I ventured outside of my comfort zone and found myself experiencing something quite remarkable.

And I do feel like there was part of the pole-dancing thing that was remarkable for me, and I don’t necessarily mean exploring the realm of public sexiness (with which I am admittedly very much uncomfortable). Rather, it was during the part of the class where we focused on climbs that I had an epiphany about myself.  I knew I was doing something that required a considerable amount of physical strength, and that the fact that I was doing these things meant I was strong.

I am very used to thinking of myself as a work-in-progress – as someone who is trying to become strong – that I often lose sight of where I am right at this moment in time.  I have a bad habit of comparing myself to other people and finding myself falling short.  I don’t think about how fast I can be, just that I am not as fast as other runners.  I don’t think about myself as strong, just that I can’t deadlift as much as some other lady lifters can.  It’s hard for me to conceive of myself as myself, not in relation to other people.

But as I hung there on that pole, suspended in the air using nothing but my arms, legs and a strap of vinyl, I realized that there is no “becoming” strong – I already am strong.  I can become stronger, but I’m already strong.

It was a tectonic shift in how I thought of myself, and it didn’t happen in the weight room with chalk flying through the air. It happened on a pole with Lucite heels strapped to my ankles and a pair of booty shorts. If you had asked me where I’d have that epiphany, hanging off a pole would have probably been damn near the bottom of the list of possible places for this to have occurred.  And yet, that’s exactly where it happened.

P.S. About the shoes…they really are comfortable. I swear.

81 responses to “I took a pole dance class (and I liked it)

  1. what a great story! You brought a tear to my eye in your closing. absolutely beautiful and an amazing way to remind us to check our judgement at the door because there is absolutely no way for us to anticipate when we’re going to experience a truly life changing moment. love, love, love.

  2. A few random thoughts. Wouldn’t you consider the basics of Pole Dancing to simply be acrobatics. It’s only sey if everyone wants it to be. Second thought about how you mostly perceive yourself in relation to others… in the book the Self Delusion, the author makes the hypothesis that the self only develops when it is in a social environment. otherwise, the self will not properly develop. If that’s true, your statement makes total sense.

    • I actually agree a lot with that hypothesis. I’m not a huge fan of the idea of going off and finding one’s self by living in the woods or whatever (which is weirdly a common fantasy I’ve heard, especially from younger men). For me it’s more about needing to adjust my self-perception to reflect the changes in myself, both in relation to others and intrinsically, instead of maintaining a static sense of who I am. Does this make sense? I’m not sure I’m articulating this well.

  3. That’s awesome! My brother & sis-in-law have a pole in their house – why I’m not sure, their dance style of choice is ballet, but I guess they thought it would be good for workouts? Anytime I’ve attempted to do anything on it, I’ve quickly realized it’s damn hard. However, they own a dance studio, and in addition to ballet, my sis-in-law also teaches burlesque, which I took and it was a lot of fun! I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed taking off my clothes, haha.

    • “I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed taking off my clothes”

      OMG lol. You are much braver than I am. My clothes will be staying on, thank you very much! (Residual modesty from my Mormon upbringing, I suppose.)

  4. I love this. True feminism is doing whatever the hell you want, regardless of what anyone thinks is feminine or not. I’ve been wanting to try a pole dancing class for ages. Haven’t done it out of fear of being completely embarrassed but, inspired by you, I’m determined to give it a shot.

    • It kind of was embarrassing but so is a lot of stuff I’ve done, especially when trying it out for the first time. I think having a good sense of humor about the whole thing is critical when doing something like this, because I really did feel quite silly for most of the class and if I took myself too seriously, I would have not enjoyed myself at all.

  5. Hoooo boy, this one is awkward for me.

    I can *get* that it’s a great workout, and that it can be fun and that it can even, in some ways, be empowering.

    But the feminist in me (who is really, REALLY good at speaking her mind!), is Not Happy with the advent of pole dancing.

    Because the easy question about whether it is truly empowering for me is, would men do it? And the answer is quite clearly, no. They wouldn’t. You’re not going to find a typical bloke dressing up in six inch vinyl heels and wrapping his goods around a pole.

    Yes, men and women are different. I get that. And yes, we have different abilities. I get that too. And wants and needs. Yes and yes. But objectification has been a big problem for women, and today’s society shows no signs of it abating.

    I’ve written about the feminist in me dealing with bodybuilding and the possibility of me getting up on stage in a bikini, and the questions I’m asking myself about whether that’s empowering or not. I still don’t reall have answers. But at least men do that too (minus the bikini top).

    But as an aside, here’s a really good link that got me thinking this morning about treating men and women the same, and the objectification of women in our society. Have a read. It made me realise that we, as women, are objectified so much that e often don’t even notice it any more: http://thehawkeyeinitiative.com/post/50432219744/special-guest-edition-the-hawkeye-initiative-irl

    In the end, women should do what is right for ourselves. But would I do pole dancing? For my partner, yes. In public, no. Do I think it objectifies women? Yes. Does it advance our status as *people* and athletes, rather than just bodies and sex objects?


    Just my views. I’m not meaning to offend, but I think it’s an interesting feminist issue worthy of comment. Thanks so much for posting about this and writing such an open, entertaining, and thoughtful article. It made me think, and was much appreciated 🙂

    • Oh and I don’t wear the shoes unless I am doing it for my man, but even then I feel silly. I do it only because the strength of holding and iron X is impressive.

    • Hey, thanks for the comment. You touched on something that I will admit that I have trouble with, because I often do the gender role-reversal thing in my head and I find a lot of the stuff we women are expected to do just seems ridiculous when I envision a man doing it. I know that I could point out that there are men who do pole – more specifically, the kind of strength-based, acrobatic pole that appeals most to me – but the truth is that the vast majority of people doing pole are women.

      As far as doing pole in public, do you mean public like in a class or do you mean like on a stage? Because honestly, I’m not even sure I’d do pole for my husband’s viewing pleasure. I do want to show him the tricks I’m learning, because I think they are cool, but the slinky-sexy stuff…I’m not sure I could do that for him with a straight face. And the class didn’t really feel all that public, since it was me and four other women, and we were all so focused on ourselves that it would be difficult to say that what we were doing is for an audience, unless you count the audiences in our head.

      • This stuff is way hard to figure out. I don’t have answers, that’s for sure. I don’t think anyone really does – maybe those feminist theory experts do, if anyone.

        Maybe the best rule is, Do what works for you, and what you’re comfortable with. And don’t let anyone else tell you what to do. But do it with thought and consideration for how it will be perceived by others maybe?

        Hard questions.

    • Actually, a lot of men do pole dancing, there are competitions and you can even see videos of men doing it on youtube. Men also dance in other styles and are acrobats and gymnasts.

    • Avid poler here, who also quit my life draining job to open a pole fitness studio. I There are TONS of men in the pole dance scene now, both in and out of heels. Check out one of my favourite men in the pole dancing scene: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGtcXecw_9M

      What I find quite disonant coming from a feminist is that you claim you will pole dance for your husband… I have never pole danced for my boyfriend, or any man. I have performed in pole fitness showcases adn competed in competitions but everytime I perform, it is for myself. Also, the majority of the people watchign a showcase are women…so I guess you can say I perform for other women as well.

      The women I have met in the pole fitness community are the strongest I have ever met, and I don’t just mean physically. They take no truck from anyone.

      • The more I do pole, the funnier I find the idea of doing it for your husband/boyfriend. I have actually done pole in front of my husband but it was mostly because I was excited to show him the tricks I’d learned, not because I was trying to give him a sexy little show. (Not that I have a problem with that.)

        Honestly, unless every woman in pole runs out and has a pole installed in her house, I don’t even see how the oft-lodged criticism of “doing it for your husband” is even realistic, because most of us are missing an essential piece of equipment. So basically, the more I do pole, the farther and farther off-base I find the vast majority of the criticisms to be. It’s like a lot of the critics have conjured this vision of recreational pole dancing in their heads that bear very little resemblance to what actually happens within the pole community.

        Also I think it is really awesome that you compete and perform in competitions. I doubt I will ever get to the point where I’m good enough for that – it’s not really a priority for me – but I admire the hell out of the men and women who DO perform.

  6. I have been pole dancing for fitness for 4 years and it is the only reason I have abs. My strength increased dramatically within the first 4 months. It’s so empowering and a lot if fun. Wait till you reverse caterpillar upside down 20 feet and drop to the ground with only your feet holding you! Amazing! Next move on to the silks and really get a workout.

    • I’m fascinated by the silks – I love watching videos of people performing on them. Acrobatics in general just blow me away, and it’s one of the few times I wish I was a little bit shorter so that these things would be an actual option for me in terms of athletics. Alas…

      • My trainer for pole is 5’7″ and when it comes to pole or silks, and even hoop, the longer you are the more beautiful the lines, but yes you have to tuck those legs even harder 🙂 Also all the shoulder mounting and iron x positions, carve your abs into phenomenol shape. 🙂

    • They call that drop the nose breaker for a reason!

      As I was reading your post I realize that only another poler will understand “caterpillar up”. For those not int he know, it’s climbing the pole while up side down…as ascending feet first.

  7. “A certain class of feminists”? Basically your entire first paragraph is incredibly condescending to feminists for whom, no, wearing “comfortable” skyscraper heels (enjoy the foot damage down the road) and doing acrobatics on a pole in a hyper-sexualized way that men never would (why not just, I don’t know, do acrobatics?? Is it too much to ask that your strength come with dignity?) is not a form of fun, optional empowerment, but rather is actually part of an *imperative* that some women find incredibly damaging to *their* attempts to live a happy life. There are many, many things that fun feminists don’t get, but the core of it seems to be that when virtually every woman accedes to expensive/painful/degrading/etc. (<– whatever the case may be) patriarchy-compliant practices, it enormously increases the pressure on those of us who would prefer to opt out. Our actions don't happen in a vacuum (nor are our desires shaped out of thin air), so no, it is not really simply a case of "live and let live"…

    Literally *every* woman I know now gets a Brazilian wax. They have all tried a pole class, some getting more into it than others, many of them have acquiesced to unwanted anal sex after months of badgering by porn-enthused boyfriends (who incidentally, aren't the least bit interested in being on the receiving end themselves, even though they are the sex that stands to gain more pleasure from said sexual act), most of them dress to the "hotness" imperative, with all of the discomfort that entails and the future health problems that a life in heels most certainly *will* cause, and plastic surgery is increasingly commonplace (but traveling? Taking classes that stretch their brains? Saving money just to be secure and comfortable? No, spending money on invasive surgeries to make them more acceptable to men is the norm now).

    And I get why women acquiesce to all of this (and I don't mean to conflate the practices, sexualization exists on a continuum)- it makes them popular with men. I don't acquiesce to any of it, and it makes me extremely unpopular with men. I am fit, attractive, whip smart, and a highly academically and professionally accomplished woman (and have worked my way up from a working poor, trailer park kind of life, so I take *nothing* for granted)- but literally every time a man dated me and subsequently found out that I do not do any of the above, which all the other ladies were(are) quite willing to do, he immediately lost interest in me, and usually made sexist fun of me to others (small town, it got back around). This was the case until I moved to a city in another country and began dating a man much, much older than myself, who comes from a generation that is sexist in other ways, but does not expect my compliance with above extreme (and narrowly defined) "sexy" practices. My experiences with the "hotness" imperative have been so damaging that when my partner and I split, I plan never to be involved with men again for the rest of my life. Because I know the choice is to comply, like most other women, or to be alone.

    Do I resent the media and men for setting these ridiculous imperatives, and for insisting on making them imperatives? Absolutely. First and foremost. But do I also resent the women who comply, when they actually have the *choice* not to (some women have no choices, and I would never judge their survival practices)? Absolutely. I do. Because the fact is that patriarchy wouldn't last two seconds without its collaborators.

    So you know, fine, whatever, people are going to do what they are going to do. But I don't know, it seems to me they could at least have the courtesy to try to understand, in good faith, the discomfort of those of us who are deeply marginalized by our choice not to comply with practices that we find painful/expensive/ and/or degrading. Our discomfort, our experiences that come very much at the cost of your choices (your choices as as group, which are remarkably monolithic), our despair. I'm in the minority, but I'm not alone in paying the price of non-compliance. I think we deserve a little more than the condescending, and frankly, deeply insulting, dismissiveness on display here and in pretty much all fun feminist writing.

    • I get the arguments against recreational pole because I actually did as you said and listened/read/thought about them in good faith. I understand the idea that pole dancing is part of an overall trend toward establishing new behavior norms for women that are based off of a specific kind of performative male-centered sexuality. I actually have made the effort to understand positions even if I don’t particularly agree with them. It’s part of being an intellectually honest person, which is something I take pride in being.

      But you know what else? When I encountered women – feminist women, even – who said they enjoyed pole and that they didn’t see any contradiction between themselves as feminists and their love of pole, I actually listened to them in good faith as well! I didn’t assume that they were exhibiting false consciousness. I didn’t accuse them of being compliant with patriarchy or selling out the sisterhood. I actually listened to them, and not only that, I decided to try it instead of just dismissing it because it didn’t fit within my theoretical framework of How Women Should Be. I mean, you say that I’m insulting and dismissive of feminists who are critical of the idea of recreational pole, but how is it any less insulting to act like young feminists who do it are vapid bubbleheads who are so absorbed with being sex toys to care about anything serious like reproductive rights or violence against women? Why are all of the smart, strong women who enjoy pole not allowed the right to have their experiences and opinions taken in good faith as well?

      IDK maybe this is easier for me as someone who has already stepped outside of feminist orthodoxy in certain choices I have made, specifically in my decision to take my husband’s name when I got married. I have very good, solid reasons for doing this, yet I know there are a lot of feminists out there who say my reasons do not matter because I am still following a patriarchal tradition that views women as chattel. So I’m already comfortable with the idea that what is good for Women as a Class may not necessarily be good for a Woman as an Individual.

      It’s interesting to me that I can make the point over and over again that I am not what you would call a “patriarchy-compliant” woman – you know, as the “tomboyish jock” who doesn’t feel comfortable with public sexiness and who doesn’t buy into the “hotness imperative” (which, by the way, I like that phrase and will probably be borrowing it in the future) – and yet because I actually was willing to have an open mind with regards to pole, I am now lumped in with all of those vapid “fun feminists” who you accuse of collaborating with the patriarchy.

      BTW I hope you are having these conversations with your friends and not just posting your concerns on the internet.

      • Hey! Thanks for your sarcasm! Sorry I wasted my time trying to engage here because I enjoy a lot about your blog (“BTW I hope you are having these conversations with your friends and not just posting your concerns on the internet”). You’ll probably be really horrified to learn that actually I have a PhD from a top 10 in gender grad program and so actually I read, write, talk, and teach this stuff *for a living*. And most importantly, I do empirical research into gender issues, which is interesting and often harrowing. But I digress.

        You are arguing with arguments I didn’t make instead of the argument I did make- “how is it any less insulting to act like young feminists who do it are vapid bubbleheads who are so absorbed with being sex toys to care about anything serious like reproductive rights or violence against women?”

        I didn’t say anything remotely along those lines. For one thing, women who make patriarchy-compliant (or whatever you prefer to call it) choices are often very vocal in their support of reproductive rights or violence against women. I really have no idea where you got the idea that I said otherwise.

        I said our choices don’t happen in a vacuum, and when most women are making the same choices (choices that may be some combination of degrading/painful/expensive) it makes it very difficult for other women to not make those choices (i.e. women pay a price for not making the common choice). And that when the majority make their choices, as they will, maybe being insulting toward the minority isn’t helpful.

        I absolutely agree that what is “good for Women as a Class may not necessarily be good for a Woman as an Individual.” It is tremendously American to prize what is good for the individual over what is good for the class, which is probably why choice feminism is so very popular. But all one has to do is look around to realize that women’s problems call for a different approach.

      • You took that as sarcasm? I was being absolutely sincere when I said that I hope you are talking to your friends – particularly the ones who are basically being coerced into doing sex acts they don’t to do – about these things and not just talking about them on the internet. Those are some pretty serious things you said are happening with your friends.

        I realize that I probably came off as defensive in my comment, and I apologize for that, but that is because I felt as though you came into this, all guns blazing, because you thought I was dismissing the arguments against recreational pole dancing out of hand without considering them in good faith.

        This is the thing – I did consider them, even before my best friend decided to get involved with them, and I decided that I didn’t agree with them. And then after she got involved and we had several serious conversations about this, I came to the conclusion that I really didn’t agree with them. I don’t agree that women taking pole classes where they do pole dance in a room with other women, with their clothes on and no audience and no one sticking dollar bills in their garters, is contributing to an environment in which women feel as though they have to perform anal sex and rip hair out of their vulvas to keep a man. It’s a common argument that has been made repeatedly over the past several years, and I simply don’t agree with it.

        I would like to think that you could exercise that same attempt to understand this – from the intelligent, feminist women who have posted in this thread no less – in good faith that you demanded from those of us who disagree with you. I don’t feel as though that is something you’ve done, which honestly, as an intellectual I would think you would be doing practically as a reflex.

        By the way I am not horrified that you have a PhD in gender studies, and I’m kind of offended/shocked that you would think I am horrified by that. You say you’ve read my blog for a while and yet you say something like that? I don’t even know what to say about that.

      • I realize that this is a “feminism 101” question, and in that sense – somewhat derailing.

        “I said our choices don’t happen in a vacuum, and when most women are making the same choices (choices that may be some combination of degrading/painful/expensive) it makes it very difficult for other women to not make those choices (i.e. women pay a price for not making the common choice). “

        I agree. There is nothing particularly “feminist” about choosing to pole dance. The fact is many women enter the pole dancing world in pursuit of teh sexay, and while my observation is that most of them either change their motives and perception of pole dance over time or leave so it’s not as big a problem as you seem to think, we do need to acknowledge this.

        My issue is with this argument:
        I absolutely agree that what is “good for Women as a Class may not necessarily be good for a Woman as an Individual.” It is tremendously American to prize what is good for the individual over what is good for the class, which is probably why choice feminism is so very popular. But all one has to do is look around to realize that women’s problems call for a different approach.

        It also seems tremendously American to glorify everything that is not American. I know the argument that if we want to bring change – each and every one of us will need to shoulder some of the responsibility in that process, which might mean making some uncomfortable choices.

        But all the examples I know of ideologies that demanded that kind of compliance from individuals ended up being just as damaging and oppressive as the system they were trying to replace, if not more.

        I think that the change is happening, and it is happening just by giving people more choice. It might not as fast as some would want, but frankly – oppressive ideologies and extreme changes scare me more than the patriarchy.

      • “But all the examples I know of ideologies that demanded that kind of compliance from individuals ended up being just as damaging and oppressive as the system they were trying to replace, if not more.”

        This is something I think about a lot. How do you balance examining choices within a structural framework with still preserving your individual right to make your own choices? And yeah, I know that prizing my individuality makes me soooo American, but I really don’t think it’s a bad thing to appreciate yourself as an individual, provided it’s balanced with an understanding that you are just one of many individuals living in a society. But maybe this is because I was raised in a religious subculture that wanted everyone to sacrifice their individuality for the sake of cohesion, and I know how seriously painful that was for me, so I am not all that excited to toss away my belief in my worth as an individual for the sake of another ideology, even if it’s one I do happen to believe in quite strongly.

    • P., I guess I am a fun feminist (I blame Cyndi Lauper – ha). When I look at the range of imperatives we face out there: hotness, money-making, nationalistic, puritanical; I just judge them on the criteria do they make me happy and do they serve the common good. For example do I consider myself attractive? I don’t really think about it but I do enjoy moments of social interaction where I feel attractive. Also I keep fit and get my haircut to improve my attractiveness just as I keep my garden weeded in an act which I consider improving myself or my world rather than desperately trying to live up to an external benchmark. I’m guessing you’re from the US with the obsession with nonsense like surgical enhancements and Brazilians.
      Do I use criteria such as hotness or intelligence to choose my partner or friends, or do I more righteously judge people solely on their character? Well, I choose people to have around me that make me feel good and that might include elements of hotness and intelligence.Do I want to be popular with men? Just the ones I choose. At the end of the day it’s really just thinking for yourself rather than following any strict dogma.

    • Well P, I am sorry you feel you are are paying the price for my “compliance”; however, I am living my own life as I see fit and I do not see it as “compliance” to anything. I find it somewhat troubling how affected you feel by other woman’s choices. It sounds like you’ve had some jackass’s for boyfriends, and I have too but I stood my ground & never let them change me or tell me how to be and I’ve now found a man who loves me, hair up, no makeup, baggy t-shirt & shorts me.

      As to the things you have mentioned:
      I don’t get my down-under waxed (there’s 1 woman for you), I think being hairless makes me look like a child, and my beau agrees. I am a woman & I prefer to keep my natural hair; however, it is kept clean & not a thick tangled bush.

      I would also tell you that I enjoy anal; however, my beau is not interested in getting up in there (GASP), so we don’t. Why the women you mentioned are just up & agreeing when they don’t enjoy it, I don’t know, but that’s not my problem. I’ve met women who SAY they don’t enjoy it until I say I do, and they’re like “okay me too, I just didn’t want to say”, and they probably act this way because women like you are running around telling them it’s wrong and dirty and against every feminist accomplishment we’ve made.

      I am well aware of the negative health effects of heels, and I don’t wear them often, but I do love them. I love the curve of a woman’s body and I love the elongation of the legs & the flexing of the calves that heels provide;I wear them for me.

      I am unsure of the exact definition of the “hotness imperative”; however, I do ‘dress up’ for my man on occasion, the same way he puts on well fitting clothing for me. I enjoy clothes that show my curves and fit well; the woman’s body IS sexy, it’s natural, and it’s gorgeous. There is nothing wrong with that and I don’t feel the need to wear boxed out clothing to hide myself in the name of feminism. I’m not much for makeup and on the one side I do find it disturbing that some women (and girls) feel the need to completely cover & change their face, but on the other I do think I look better when I disguise a beaming pimple & soften the bags under my eyes; they’re makeup choices aren’t affecting me or my love life.

      I am surrounded by women who travel, dig into life & love expanding themselves. We share books, have heated debates, and voice our opinions. I strongly believe in women’s rights & equality and while the world may not yet be on a level playing ground, I refuse to allow people to treat me as anything other than an equal. I consider my relationship a partnership and my beau loves that about me; he wins some, I win some, but mostly we work together and consult with each other to make a balanced decision. I am respected in my place of work for my honest opinion and I am highly valued. I don’t feel like the minority; I don’t feel like I’m bearing some cross that the high-heeled lipsticked young lady next to me will never understand. I am living my life and through that, I hope to change opinions on what should be expected of a woman, but primarily I’m focused on being happy with my life and respecting myself.

  8. A women’s business networking group I belong to recently went to a pole dancing club to – supposedly – learn. There were too many of us there to all try and I was happy not to have to remove my long trousers and have my (ahem) quite fat legs exposed. Plus, I would struggle to lift my body weight so am not sure how I’d go. As for the feminist perspective I think doing something like pole dancing (I’ve done burlesque) can be really empowering. Most women I know who do pole dancing have no intention over ever performing at a club or for strangers, it’s just an exercise class.

  9. For me, what it all comes down to is this: if it makes you feel good, strong and proud of yourself, then do it and who cares what anyone else thinks. Do it because it makes you better and happy.

    I’m really impressed you were able to go into the class with a good mind set and keep on going. I’ve only been to one pole class — as a bit of an ironic joke at a bachelorette party — and I never really overcame my self-consciousness. I could not get all the dance moves in the beginning — hip and body rolls stymied me and I broke out in giggles crawling on the floor like an immature middle schooler — and I could never really get my mind back in the game even though lifting your body weight and flying through the air was incredibly fun and physically challenging.

    I might just have to give it another shot.

    • Oh, I never overcame my self-consciousness either. I think I’m just willing to make an ass out of myself, which allowed me to keep trying despite being an abysmal failure at it.

  10. I did a pole dancing class as part of a bachelorette party and had a good time. It is definitely a good upper body workout, and basically struck me as a gymnastics/acrobatics class on a pole. I kind of want to go back but I don’t really have time and thus haven’t really had to consider any sort of feminist implications either way.

    I do wonder, sometimes, if the popularity of pole dancing is more about it being available at vaguely affordable rates to women in their 20s and 30s whereas (where I am at least) it can be significantly harder to find acrobatics or gymnastics classes for adults who aren’t already competitive. So, if a woman is looking for a gymnastics like exercise class, pole dancing may be their most accessible option.

  11. Loved this! I took my first — and so far only — pole dancing class when I was in Vegas last month for a wedding. Don’t try it barefoot again! From all the pivots and such, like the “Hello Kitty”, I got a HUGE blister on my pinky toe from not having shoes on. Plus your feet just don’t move around like they should. It was fun though to explain to everybody just why I had a blister. “Oh, you know, working the pole…” I’d like to try some more classes, I had the hardest time getting my hands to slide on the pole plus the whole blister thing, would be nice to not feel like a total dork doing pole dancing.

    • The blisters suck in the beginning, but the go away 🙂 the bruises you obtain look worse than they are, but they too will stop after your conditioned. I never learned with shoes, but I would use that wrap when I started. Honestly after a month of at least twice a week, you have good strength and not to bad if calluses. I haven’t been able to pole for a month and my self confidence actually lowered a bit. May seem silly but something about the strength of it empowers me.

  12. Another feminist aspiring to be a pole teacher here 🙂

    I love dancing. The studio is my safe place. It’s where I go to forget everything that is troubling me and to drown all my thoughts in music and sweat and tears and blood. Pole dancing has taught me to love my body in ways I didn’t think I could, even though it differs significantly from what is considered feminine in our society (hello giant biceps, goodbye fitted shirts!).

    We don’t dance in “stripper heels” in the studio, although you can if you want to. I prefer dancing barefoot, with ballet slippers or with ballroom shoes because of their aesthetics (what we call “the line”).

    We have men in the studio. They dance more provocatively than all the girls put together. No, they are not gay. They are sexy, confident straight men.

    No, I don’t dance for my BF. He sees me dancing exactly twice a year when we have a show.

    Am I just conforming to social norms? I don’t know.
    I pole dance and used to take belly dancing classes as well, but I’ve also studied martial arts for many years. I like wearing tiny skirts and high heels and make up sometimes, but most of the time I wear men’s cloths. I do my nails in all the colors of the rainbow, but I’ve shaved my head many times and I don’t remove some of my “socially unaccepted” body hair.

    I love everything about pole dance. I love the fact that it combines art and dancing and gymnastics and contortion and strength. I love the fact that it allows me to do things that I couldn’t have done otherwise, because other similar sports won’t take beginners my age. I love the fact that I’m achieving all the things I was made to believe I couldn’t do, unless I did them since I was 5 years old.

    I am this close to my splits. I can touch my head with my toes in a back bend. I hold my entire body weight with my hands perpendicular to the pole.

    I fly like the wind.

    Anyone who wants me to take something so big that gives me so much pleasure out of my life in sake of their ideology is my enemy.

    • I’m intrigued by the fact that you’ve got straight men in your studio, and that you say they dance provocatively. I wish I could see that. Not that I’d want anyone to perform for me if they didn’t want to but I can’t deny that I would totally be into seeing men dance like that. (I also know that there are some people out there who would say that I’m objectifying men by wanting to see this, but I think there is a huge leap between appreciating men as sexual beings and objectification. I wish we as a society could find a way to understand that sexuality is normal part of being human and that appreciating that doesn’t necessarily mean turning people into objects.)

  13. I’ve been a belly dancer for years and it suffers from many of the same misconceptions — “doing it for your husband” or “you want to be a stripper when you grow up” as the pole trend. To me, pole dancing looks like the human-flagging exercises in Convict Conditioning 2, the ones that are so freaking badass that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to do them. Aerialists are also frighteningly strong.

    • Aerialists are frighteningly strong you say Cynthia? Well, yes, I remember one spectacular example. I witnessed a female aerialist do a chin-up with her legs rigid straight out in front. Not so scary? She did it using one arm. Quite a shock from this sweet-faced lady – I guess her comic-book biceps were the give-away. I could feel the men watching sheepishly rolling down their sleeves. Any muggers beware of this woman – ha.

      The point here is bodyweight exercising builds tremendous strength. I guess pole dancing would really work the fingers, wrists, arms and general upper body. Who could complain about women getting these gains.

  14. Pingback: Lovely Links: 5/17/13·

    • I laughed when I saw this link because I actually had every intention of reading this a couple of weeks ago, as I am a big fan of Game of Thrones, but a funny thing happened while I waited for the link to load: I realized I didn’t care. That probably sounds terrible but the truth is that I have gotten to a certain point in my life where I feel comfortable liking the things I like, and if someone on the internet thinks I shouldn’t like those things, then that’s their prerogative, but it doesn’t mean I have to agree with them.

  15. This is so awesome! I would love to do this. I’ve taken several belly dance classes, which gave me a similar experience of feeling strong and even sexy (I’m a bit of tomboyish jock too), but I have yet to perform in front of my boyfriend so there goes the “doing it for your partner” theory. I’m about 40 lbs. overweight, so I’ve been hesitant about trying pole classes, but there are some in the area, and this story gives me even more incentive to try it out.

    • I didn’t mention in my post but it’s definitely worth noting that the women who do pole at my friend’s studios have all kinds of bodies. It’s not just teeny little lithe dancer-types doing it, which is honestly what I kind of expected when I first tried it out.

  16. Initially I found this really hard reading. Lethalastronaut’s comment really resonated with me. But then I read a few more comments about how people felt when they danced pole… and it reminded me of how I feel about skating Roller Derby.

    That got me conflicted, because how Derby makes me feel is epic, strong, and pretty badass, and it bounced me right back into being a feminist.

    I guess the difference is that women aren’t really being made to skate roller derby from an oppressed and desperate place (which does happen with pole). But that is not a problem with pole – that is a problem with society.

    And if I look back on the original history of Roller Derby (right back to the 1950s), it doesn’t necessarily have great feminist credentials either. But from that something awesome, powerful and epic was born.

    So *maybe* a bunch of women feeling empowered dancing pole, it being about them, and the strength they find in their bodies…. could take pole to a good place?

    Really bold, and challenging post, thank you for making me think.

    • Thanks for your comment – it gave me a lot to think about as well. I think you make a good point about how you can take something that started out as problematic, dig around for the nuggets of awesome and then refocus your attention on that so that, like you said, something awesome, powerful and epic can be born. I had been grasping at this general idea, but you laid it out pretty clearly with your analogy to roller derby. (BTW my husband, who was a teenager in the 1970s, has told me all about how derby used to be perceived during those times, and it sounds like it was way more T&A and less punk rock than it is today.)

      Like, I think a lot of people really have a difficult time with pole because of its close association with stripping/sex work. When you strip, you take your clothes off for an audience of men who in turn give you money. It’s that transactional nature that commodifies the woman’s sexuality as something that can be bought and sold that is so troubling to so many feminists. But with pole, your clothes stay on, there’s no audience and no one is giving you money. The things that actually make stripping very controversial and problematic in the eyes of women are just not there when it comes to pole. The only similarities are the pole itself, the shoes (which are not actually necessary), and the exposed skin.

      Thanks again for commenting – very thought-provoking. I appreciate it.

  17. I’m super proud of you! I’ve found that many of the major (positive) changes and revelations I’ve had in my life were instigated by me doing something I was almost entirely sure I would hate. Maybe it’s because that’s just how far out of our comfort zone we have to get to really change our perspective.

    You were brave and it paid off. Congrats!

  18. i just have to say pole dancing is just a perfect kind of sport for any woman , it is an actual kind of art , ive been pole dancing since 5 months ago and i have to say i am a total addict , i cannot live up a day without touching or playing around on it ! keep up the good work .

  19. I love pole dancing as well, and I’m a feminist.

    I do have my anxieties about whether it is playing into the patriarchy or not, and eventually I decided to stop worrying about it so much. I like pole fitness. I love the women I’ve met at the studio. I like the fact that the studio is woman owned and operated, and everyone who works there is a woman. We have a little economy of women, by women, for women going on without male dollars involved, which I think is awesome, especially in comparison to the economics of strip-club pole dancing. I like the way it makes me feel strong. I like the scary-just-thinking-about-it-okay-I’ll-try-oh-wow-I-did-it feeling of learning a new trick.

    Sure, men don’t do pole dancing. But men don’t ponder if they are playing into the paycheck imperative if they decide they want to become a doctor or argue for a raise. They don’t worry if their choices are helping or hurting men as a whole. So I’m not going to either, and I’m not going to judge the choices of another woman based on how it could impact women as a whole, as if we’re a monolithic group.

    Thank you for this post, which is so honest about what a pole class is really like and I can definitely relate to. The reason I love pole is exactly because of it uses so much strength and that little-kid feeling of doing a new trick. It’s also a way of constantly pushing myself to try something that seems a little scary at first.

    • Good point about how it’s this whole woman-centric economy. Women own the studios, they teach the classes, they take the classes, and if men figure into things, it’s because an individual woman decided to bring him into it. (Also I do know that a local studio put on a public performance at a local club as a fundraiser for a domestic violence shelter, which I thought was actually really cool.)

      The little-kid feeling of doing a new trick is a perfect way to describe it. I’ve never really experienced that sensation – the feeling of “look at what I can do!” – as an adult in any of the current sports or fitness pursuits I do, and it’s kind of a thrilling thing. The only bummer is that I’ve found that in a pursuit that inspires a knee-jerk visceral reaction of OMG WTF in so many people.

  20. I would put myself in the conflicted category because I used to strip, and a lot of the mentality I see around pole dancing isn’t focused on the strength, the techniques, the elegance – it is focused on Teh Sexy. Much as this or that individual studio might not make it all about ‘being sexy for your man!’ it still ends up as a lot of marketing, a lot of the reason it is a bachelorette party activity is because of its associations with sex and acting sexy. As noted, rhythmic or aerial gymnastics is very similarly focused on that interlocking of dance/gymnastics/incredible upper body strength but what is becoming a national craze? Pole dancing. To make you feel sexy. The only time the sexy associations are left off is when trying to market it to young teenagers/children, and even then it rings really hollow.
    And what is wrong with sex and feeling sexy anyway? The problems I see are when it is made into “change yourself to please your man” ie, you need to be dressed uncomfortably, act differently, etc. especially acting less than (“don’t look too strong!”) in order to catch/maintain your relationship, which is a crappy feeling. And why aren’t the guys doing it either? But the basic idea of feeling desirable and enjoying sex? That really isn’t a bad thing.
    (usual caveat about that not happening in a void and it is really easy to feel sexy doing stuff that every magazine/media representation etc. tells you should make you feel sexy vs. something they all tell you is gross like weighing over your ideal weight or having muscles or having body hair below your neck etc. etc. etc.)
    That being said, actually doing the pole dancing? Feels awesome. Really, hanging in the air, spinning through the air, balancing – it is a great workout, I loved it so much, and kind of wish that when I stripping I actually was making all my money from that, I’d do it all day. Probably would still do it.

    • “And what is wrong with sex and feeling sexy anyway?”

      This is a conversation Brandi (the instructor int his post) and I have had quite a few times. Like I said, I am not really one of those outwardly sexual people but I don’t feel threatened or uncomfortable when I encounter women who are, mainly because I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with being sexy or doing sexy things. Like you said, the problems arise when you try to cram yourself into a stereotype for the sake of being performatively sexy without actually feeling sexy (i.e. Paris Hilton in her awful sex tape, or that Courtney Stodden girl). It’s okay to do things that make you feel sexy, you know? It’s a big, enjoyable part of the human experience!

  21. Great article! I’ve been doing pole fitness for about four months. I feel exactly like you do, the ‘sexy’ moves are a little awkward and embarrassing, but the strength moves make me feel incredible! And I get just as sore the day after a class as I did after the gym.

  22. What a great piece – thank you! Especially your line about how you already are strong. I began dancing with silks last summer, and haven’t stopped because of that very thing. You can *see* yourself doing the thing *already* in real time — even if you know that there are other things you could do better — and it’s an incredible sense of accomplishment.

    I also disagree with some of the folks who posted comments saying that making yourself publicly sexy is degrading to women, or puts other women in a bad position if they don’t want to do things like get Brazilian waxes or pole dance. I am a feminist, I am also a dancer, I am also Black, I also wear my hair natural and I also shave my legs (sometimes). I am also a dyke. Each of these markers signifies a slew of assumptions about who I *really* am and am willing to do. They also signify equally constructed opposites/foils… that’s how power and stratification work. I hold that most dance is, at some level, a form of sex work (and there is much more nuance there that I’m not going into, but on the basic level of presenting an ideal body, as ideal is socially constructed, for a scopophilic public ballet is not very different from burlesque). Having said that, is it possible for me to be a dancer (who dances both postmodern/improvisationally *and* on a pole) and also a feminist? Or a dyke who is also sexy and doesn’t hate (all) men? Or a Black person who is also proud, articulate, and so on? Well, duh, of course. Those contradictions are possible because they’re not real contradictions.

    Real feminism, as I understand it, is not about deriding women for doing whatever the fuck they want with their bodies because now it makes you have a harder time. It’s about deriding patriarchy for creating and maintaining that binary. If 10 women decide to pole dance, it really doesn’t have fuck all to do with whether or not you can get a date now because you don’t, or whether or not now your body as a woman’s body is more sexualized in public. That’s a false relationship. (Do we rail on cisgender men who train because it creates an imperative that other men be muscular? Or does it create an imperative that women be weak? It all gets very confusing…)

    Lastly, I think the idea of being in a room with a group of other learners who are primarily women, seeing yourselves all do this strength-based thing which is something you’ve never done before, and associating that with being desirable is a REALLY BIG FEMINIST DEAL! It creates space for simultaneous dialectics — you can have more to learn AND already know things! you can be strong AND be sexy! you can be sexy to yourself AND to a bunch of women with no men in sight! you can admire other women’s bodies AND still feel good about yours! — that are critical to a more expansive feminist consciousness.

    Oh, one other very last thing — I think it’s interesting to also consider how, in all of these pole dancing classes popping up in the suburbs and for middle class types everywhere, there is little mention of the *history* and *cultural relevance* of this type of dance. That is true for all dance. In this way, I find pole dancing classes that don’t make mention of the relationship between what we’re doing today in the room for the next hour and sex work very problematic — in the same way that I find an West African dance class with primarily white learners and with no mention of the cultural relevance of the dances problematic. That is the primary way I see pole dance class being very un-feminist. We need to make sure that these spaces are not *only* about how good a bunch of middle class women who’ve never had to dance on stage for money can feel about themselves.

    • “Real feminism, as I understand it, is not about deriding women for doing whatever the fuck they want with their bodies because now it makes you have a harder time. It’s about deriding patriarchy for creating and maintaining that binary.”

      LOVE THIS SO MUCH. Actually your whole post rules my world but these two sentences in particular gave me goosebumps.

      I should find a post that came across my tumblr dash a few months ago that talked about the historical connections between sex work/stripping and pole, but not in a shaming way as much as it was about, you know, looking at this amazing art form those women were creating while they were working in strip clubs. It was the first time I’d seen the connection made so explicitly and without judgement, and I found it really fascinating and thought-provoking, not least of all because it forced me to confront my own issues w/r/t to sex work and pole dancing and to think about them very critically.

      Wait…I actually found it. Here it is: http://commanderbishoujo.tumblr.com/post/42943025035/so-treu-blackamazon-kinkyturtle Good stuff.

      • Oh my gosh, what a great comment you linked to! Dropping knowledge! Haha. No, that’s really great. Yes, I think this fear of being sexy is actually much closer aligned to a class thing that feminists/women (like all oppressed people) have been battling forever — that is, a fear of the underclass. I love the way the writer acknowledges that not only is sex work work, but pole dancing/stripper dancing is actually a cultural form created for no pay and without recognition. I do think that the concern some feminists have around women learning and practicing this cultural form — outside of the formalized stripper context — needs to be re-examined in relation to class. Thanks for that link!!

      • No problem! I really think I ought to be sharing it far and wide because it really was one of those “click” moments for me (as was your comment).

      • Well, thank you! Yes, indeed, I just got a little over-excited about that comment on Facebook (lots of caps lock was used). lol

  23. This was such a good read – I think its great that you tried pole and I love how you focus on the strength and skills needed to be an excellent pole dancer. I can totally sympathise with your friend’s annoyance at those who assume she does it for her husband. I think this is the crux of the problem – many feminists hate pole because they assume that it’s for men’s pleasure but it doesn’t have to be. Feminism is about doing what you want with your body and not having to please anyone but yourself and if that’s what pole does for you then that’s great. Thank you for being so inspirational.

  24. I recently wrote a paper on the stigma behind pole dancing for my sociology class. The athleticism, strength, coordination and endurance required really deserves recognition in the Olympics, as they are pushing so hard to do.

    Hopefully one day we can drop the stripper stigma and see pole dancing for the sport and complexity that it really is.

  25. Pingback: Mara Glatzel » Body Loving Blogosphere 05.26.13·

  26. I think this is awesome. And I loved your Oprah-style Aha moment at the end. I’ve seen some amazing video of the “Stripper pole Olympics” and those women (or any person that can work some magic around a pole) are athletes and acrobats. Period.

    One of the other commenters mentioned bellydance which I immediately thought of too. I took for several years (and never performed for a guy at all!) and was really amazed at how much strength and muscle control it took to perform well. I’m not stripper-pole strong like you but as a former dancer I found I had a different kind of strength than I thought. Being able to have that discovery in a safe, supportive and sensual place full of women all learning what their bodies could do was a fantastic experience. And we need more of it!

    And guess what? In the venn diagram of people, “athlete” and “sexual being” sometimes overlap and sometimes don’t. OH GAWD THE CONFUSION.

    • Ooh, you mention the “safe, supportive and sensual place full of women” that you experienced in bellydancing – that happens in the pole studio I’ve been going to as well. We all try to do tricks and spins, and when we mess up, we encourage each other to try again. When we get it right, we applaud each other. No one is shy about telling the other women they look amazing or giving genuine compliments. It is one of the most woman-positive places I’ve ever been in my life, and I am slowly becoming more comfortable with myself and my body while in the presence of the other women. I so agree with you that we need more places like it. Maybe it doesn’t have to be pole or bellydancing, but definitely places where women can go and it is understood that no one is going to judge you or be shitty toward you.

  27. Late to the game as usual — been an overworked year, here.

    OMG I cannot believe the politicization of this!!! It’s about FUN… isn’t it?

    OK, so guys congregate in bars and shove dollar bills at women who pole dance. True dat. They damn well, though, better realize that this dancing is an athletic feat; search You Tube for pole dancing competition and you will see feats that make this old gym rat hang her head.

    Is the sexiness of pole dancing wrong? As long as you maintain control over when and for whom you do it, how can it be? Sex is power, too. As women, we love our strength because it’s strength. If men (or women, should we prefer that thought) are attracted by it, good for us. We get to choose when we care to make it public, and who can approach us — yes?

    One of my favorite clients is a seminary student who pole dances for fitness and recreation. I am in awe of what she can do. I mean I can hoist seven hundred pounds on a footplate sled press but I have never imagined using my thighs to suspend myself upside down on a pole.

    Sexiness is sacred, too. If there are jackasses who think of female sexuality, or any sexuality for that matter, only in terms of degradation or trivialization, well hard luck on them; they will never know the ecstatic face of the divine.

    • It’s interesting – pole classes strip all of the questionable/problematic elements of stripping – performing for men, taking money, nudity, sex work – away and leave nothing but the actual act behind, and yet the two are so intertwined in the minds of many that they cannot think about “pole” without immediately conjuring “stripping.” It’s like you don’t get to recontextualize this activity because of its association with sex work, but we don’t do that with ANYTHING else associated with sex work. The more I think about it, the more I realize that I really, really do not agree with the criticism.

      Plus I am also wondering how many of the critics would maintain their critique if they actually went inside a studio and saw a class and maybe took part, instead of merely conjuring up images of what they think happens. Maybe there’s a self-selecting thing going on here, but I don’t know if I think that’s accurate, as I know a lot of women who you’d consider non-traditionally feminine (myself included) who do pole and love it.

      • And, you know, so far as sex work… if we really had a free world, then there would still be people who did sex work but only because they liked it. (Cf. Annie Sprinkle.) Even as it is, in our skewed economy there are people of both sexes who consider it less exploitive than, say, waiting tables for peanuts. No reason to bag on it, in my mind — in a perfect world, the erotic performance (by either gender) would be respected as a sacrament to Venus, a ceremony of a kind of power that our current social norms belittle to all our detriment. And those of us who serve Pallas Athene and Diana (chuck that spear, run for that finish line!) wouldn’t be lessened by it.

    • Generally I agree with you and do not wear them at all, beyond an inch heel with some of my work outfits. I find most heels painful and cumbersome. But, like I said in the post, the strap on the ankle helped me climb. I’ve since learned how to climb without them, but I’ll mostly likely still wear them for certain parts of class.

  28. Ha! NO way those shoes are comfortable. The workout sounds challenging, and I’m all in support of women (and men, too, I suppose) doing this to explore the strength and grace of their bodies. Good for you for expanding yourself into something new and sharing it here. I was a cheerleader in high school, and have always maintained I did it for the sport and fun of it, not for the male gaze. Maybe pole is the new belly-dancing?

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  30. The shoes are actually comfortable. I work in them as a dancer 🙂 Thanks for this post. It shows that pole dancing doesn’t have to be about the audience or the sex or anything else. It can be one hundred percent for the dancer.

    • Thanks for backing me up on the shoes. No one believes me when I say this, but as someone who hates wearing high heels in my regular life, I was actually astonished by how comfortable they truly are.

      • its because of how they’re made. the high platform makes the heel part look really tall but in reality your foot is only elevated to about two inch heel range. also the bottom of the platform is curved up near the toe so you can walk more naturally. 🙂 Eight hours in them and you might get sore but they are comfortable.

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