I’ve decided to finally do the things that end up on a neat list of things I’d like to try, but that I never take the time to put into action. So this summer I started with the one that I knew would make me the most uncomfortable: a group class for beginners in pole dancing.
Since I was a tiny human being, I’ve refused to take part in activities until I know I could do them well. For example, when I started in a German speaking kindergarten and eventually in an English-speaking school, the concerns from teachers were always the same: “She doesn’t say anything” they’d tell my parents. I refused to speak until I knew the string of words leaving my mouth made sense. This sense of perfectionism has followed me in extracurriculars. I prefer private lessons in something new before joining a team (which I rarely do anyways) because I’d like to have some mastery before exposing myself to a group of people. The fear of not being able to keep up brings a flush to my face; it feels embarassing. This has gotten better over the years as I've come to terms with the fact that no one is a master in everything, but none the less, I can feel the awkwardness bubble up inside of me when I have to do a group activity. Especially if it's a physical activity.
There's also no way to get around the fact of physical appearance when we talk pole dancing. Google image the words and you'll be greeted with photos of flexible and toned women mastering the pole. I do not identify as flexible or toned, so the idea that someone of my physical stature can take part in such an activity, isn't really marketed. At the time I was feeling incredibly insecure about my body, so signing up for this class really challenged me to accept my body as is and not let it keep me from doing things I want to.
I’ve been fascinated by pole dancing before it was made popular again by Jennifer Lopez in the 2019 movie, Hustlers. I remember, some years back now, reading in a magazine that Kate Hudson had installed a pole in her house to train. It was around this time that pole dancing started to move away from being reserved for sex workers and viewed as a crass activity, to being recognized for the athleticism it required. Last year, I came across FKA Twigs’ music video for her song Cellophane. In it, she expertly twirls around the pole. It was in that moment that I knew that I really wanted to try it out. I researched places in Copenhagen that teach pole dancing, but the thought and desire to try it out, just stayed etched on the to-do list.
I decided to challenge my group acitivity anxiety by signing up for a pole dancing class. I found the names of the places that teach pole dancing and chose the closest location. Then I proceeded to enter my card details for a trial lesson and signed up for a class the following day. Done. No way back. I prayed that I wouldn’t be in a class full of tall and lithe people while my panda-esque body tried to climb a pole.
On the day of the class, I started by using the wrong entrance – that was for the silk and aerial class. No one was there to greet or help out; so my anxiety was given space to swell some more. I shyly asked where the entrance for the pole dancing class was and an instructor directed me. Around the corner was the entrance, and when I got there another instructor simply asked for my name. Not the friendly meet and greet I had imagined, but hey, too late to go back now.
The room was H shaped. The middle part was where the instructor took residence and the two vertical spaces flanking it, made up the spaces where us students took position. The instructor asked me if I had brought a mat or a towel; it hadn’t said to on the website or in the email, so no, I hadn’t. She told me because of COVID they encouraged students to bring them but that I should just remember it for next time. I sheepishly made my way over to a pole and sat down on the floor next to it, waiting for the rest of the class to arrive. Four other women joined the class. Two middle aged women occupied one side of the room. A girl younger than I took position behind the instructor, and I was on the other side…with the only tall and lean girls in the class right behind me. Perfect.
The instructor didn’t introduce herself, rather took a roll call, sussed out who had done the pole class before – which was everyone but me. Then, she started playing energetic music and our dance warm-up started. The last time I took a dance class was in the 8th grade and I’ve never prided myself on having moves. Like many others, I need copious amounts of alcohol before I start dancing; you will never see me boogie in a sober state. The wall in front of me was completely covered by a mirror, so I had the full experience of watching myself make a tit out of myself. The instructor writhed her body rhythmically. I gave it my best shot, but I looked more like a mechanical penguin. We did high kicks, we did squats, we did stretches, we did an ab series. After the 15-minute warm up, I was dripping. To top it off, it was an incredibly humid day, so I desperately wished I’d brought a towel. Furthermore, I had completely forgotten to bring a water bottle (such a rookie mistake) so I knew I was in for a long hour.
Then, the lesson really started. The instructor showed us the first basic pole position. We were told to step up on our tiptoes and reach up far and grab the pole with our hand closest to it. Next, we’d kick out with a pointed toe to spin around the pole. To get all the way around, you had to make sure to sit down into a bit of a squat half way around, and to make sure your knee on the standing leg bent and followed with. I don’t generally engage in activities where I rebel agaisnt gravity, so swinging out my leg in a big swoop, while using one arm to keep myself up, felt alien. Eventually, after the instructor came and gave me some pointers, I somewhat got the hang of it. The move after that, was to repeat what we’d just done, but this time bring both legs up behind us and make the toes meet while we twirled. I manged to hold my legs up slightly and meekly spin around the pole, but it was a sad sight. Trust me, sex appeal is not synonymous with a newbie pole dancer, however, comedy might be.
Next, was climbing the pole. I was asked if I had shorts with and again, no I didn’t because it didn’t say on the website or in the email to wear shorts. So, while everyone shimmied out of their long leggings to reveal shorts, I had to roll up my leggings as far as they would go so that my slippery skin could aid me in worming up the pole. I studied tall girl 1 and tall girl 2 behind me – they both wore crop tops and the Nike pro shorts, displaying taught tummies and long legs. I felt like such an odd ball. After receiving instructions on how to climb the pole, I managed to hoist myself up into the climbing position but struggled to get further than that. After trying to lift my legs up while twirling around the pole, my arms were starting to get tired.
The last move consisted of hanging upside down. The instructor swung one leg up vertically onto the pole and followed suite with the other leg. An internal voice in my head went “nope”. Sensing my fear, she looked at me and said “for those who haven’t tried this, we’ll start off on the floor”… I don’t think I’ve ever been so relieved. I was told to lie down on my back and line my belly button up with the pole, then, I was shown the leg positions. After mimicking the leg position a few times, I was told to get my legs into the same position while holding a bridge. Once I’d wrapped my legs around the pole a few times successfully, I was told to move into a position where I was hovering vertically above the ground and catapulting my legs up from a safe height. This was hard. Despite wiping the pole dry diligently throughout the whole class, my palms were now perpetually sweaty and as I hovered in the table-top like position, I could feel myself sliding. I suddenly felt a lot of empathy for those cartoons that cling awkwardly onto a pole for dear life, before squeaking down it.
This last move concluded the lesson. Admittedly, my arms were busted at this point, so I took a few breaks and studied the others. The two girls behind me were able to climb the poles effortlessly and spin down them. The two middle aged women were perfectly capable of standing in the upright position to kick themselves up the pole to hang upside down. The other young girl, like me, hadn’t done the upside-down position, so she too started off on the floor. Our instructor did some free styling while we monkied about and she moved eloquently and gracefully around the pole. It inspired a lot of determination to continue.
Seeing as the class was for newbies and beginners, I was pretty impressed by the progress of the other girls. I asked one of the girls behind me, how many classes she’d taken. She informed me it was her fifth and I felt a little gleam of hope. I imagined it had been everyone’s second class and had felt very far behind indeed. But it seems that with consistent training, you can get better at the moves quite quickly.
As I write this, it’s been two days since my lesson, and my arms are still sore. Every time I lift them up to take on or off clothes I wince. It was, without a doubt, an epic workout. Pole dancing requires tremendous amount of strength. The fact that advanced dancers can make the twirling look so effortless and light, is beyond me. I used muscles I didn’t know I had and getting into the various positions was a clumsy affair on my part.
So, will I pole dance again? Yep. The point of going to the pole dancing class in a group environment, was to encourage myself to do something new and to exercise my right to take part in something regardless of my appearance. I was incredibly shy when we started off the lesson and I definitely felt like a clown for the most part, but I exercised mindfulness and adopted a positive inner monologue: no one is an expert on the first go and at least you’re doing it!
Let’s see what the future brings…who knows, maybe I’ll be in the next Hustlers movie.