What deep secret do I have to reveal today? Wow. If you know me in real life or on Facebook you know I'm out there. I'm not much for secrets. But I do have things I don't talk about. I'm a little uncomfortable discussing the inspirations for pole pas de deux or pole pas de deux for that matter.
Little secret #1
I have no male pole heroes that inspire my dance. I have nothing in common with the modern male pole dancer. I'm not young, ripped, bendy, or crazy into gymnastics/pole tricks. I'm old, stiff, at least fifteen pounds overweight and my aerial invert is a thing of disaster. The male dancers that inspire my movement are all ballet dancers. Tyler Angle (New York City Ballet), Brandon "Private" Freeman (Wonderbound), Baryshnikov, Peter Martins (NYCB), and Dmitry Trubchanov (Colorado Ballet).
Little secret #2
I start with the music and then I dance. Pole pas de deux choreography is the hardest. In the last few years I have worked with three partners. When it came time to share inspiration with them I showed them all pieces of ballet pas de deux choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, and Carla Korbes with Batkhurel Bold dancing to Edwaard Liang's Fur Alina. In every case they all gravitated to specific movements that were so simple, so direct, so emotional, and so gorgeous that all four of us in some way ended up playing with them over and over. It is also a little scary to note that in two cases we ended up with some of the same music. Matty and Shimmy mixed Damien Rice into a routine and my current partner loved it. She had no idea who Rice was, or that I had soloed 9 Crimes six months before.
There are common themes in my dance. I dance with partners and teachers that share them and inspire me with the things they bring to me.
Little secret #3
I wasn't finished with Max Richter's This Bitter Earth/On The Nature of Daylight as either a pas de deux or a solo piece until I walked off the stage at the 2013 Colorado Pole Championship.( I just watched it on YouTube. I should have quite earlier. *much laughter*)
God creates, I do not create. I assemble and I steal everywhere to do it - from what I see, from what the dancers can do, from what others do. ~ George Balanchine
My time in
pole dance has been filled with joy, laughter, wonderful friendships, and
applause. I have also experienced rejection, injury, self-doubt, sexism, and
tears. Nothing in my male life experience prepared me for the look into my soul
that would come with swinging around a dance pole to “Clocks” by Coldplay. I have
always been an extremely sensitive person in some ways. I don’t know if that is
a result of brain chemistry, my Spanish-Italian ancestry, or some other cosmic
force that pulls on my heart. All I know for sure is that before I took my
first pole dance lesson I did NOT dance. My world revolved around my family, meteorology,
ice hockey, and annoying my boss.
I really was
not body aware before I started pole dancing. After my first lesson I needed to
find something to wear that was as functional as the stuff that had a Mika or
Pole Fit logo on it. But the crotch had to be cut differently. When I went out
looking for something to dance in, all I could find was swimwear. The kind that
leaves the world no doubt about the gifts nature gave you.
As I stood
before the swimwear rack at the sporting goods store, I knew I was in for a
whole lot of conflict. Men and women were going to judge me. The mere mention
of the word, “Speedo” would get me a bucket load of disgusted remarks from any
woman under sixty that I knew. Unless of course it’s Channing Tatum. As I
pulled a pair of boy short style Speedos up my legs I could hear the hockey
locker room voices, “Is that gay or what?”
don’t know how I got past that first time in the fitting room. As I looked in
the mirror I was thinking that women were going to see me climbing a dance pole
in this swimsuit. I could see my stomach hanging over the edge of the drawstring.
My fifty-two year old legs looked like they had been hit with a waffle iron,
and the tattoos only my wife had seen were on display. I found myself thinking
that ice hockey (all those hours in the weight rooms and skating) had given me
a decent ass and good upper body. Maybe the women would notice my arms and
chest and not see my gut. As I walked out of the store with my purchase I wasn’t
so sure that I was safe in the place women were safe.
As my time
in pole has progressed I have become acutely aware that some women really have
issues with “scantily clad men.” There is an ongoing thread on the Studio Veena
website about dress codes in pole studios. The majority of the women don’t want
to dance in studios that are body shaming. I agree with them. If you are going
to have issues with exposed body parts, why are you hanging out in pole dance
At the same time some of my best female pole friends are vocal about
men wearing dance belts under their dance wear. I started wearing one right
after I started taking ballet. Why? Because one day I was inverted and I
noticed that you could see the entire outline of guy parts in my shorts. I was
ashamed of my body. I wasn’t trying to expose it to anyone. It just happened.
Last year I was dancing in a studio where a gay guy was dancing. He was coming
out into the main studio floor from the bathroom where he had changed. He
announced that he was coming out and the unified response that came from the
women was, “You better not be wearing a thong.”
sure that the response to a new thong or g-string in any pole studio I dance at
would be different for a woman. At the same time I know that a guy with a Magic
Mike body might also get a different response.
How do I feel about that? The same way a woman
feels when she opens the pages of a fashion magazine. I don’t feel sexy or “pretty”.
I know I can never live up to the Photoshopped images. When I dance,
I feel exposed and vulnerable. When I show emotion in a performance it comes
naturally but only in the moment. When I look at the video of past shows I
rarely see something I like. I keep doing it because I love to dance. You have
to love it a lot to keep on dancing when you are a guy. Especially when you are
a guy over fifty.
I try to
keep a sense of humor about my dance and keep it fun. There are women who enjoy
my company in the most intimate of pole classes. Just last month a Coed Art of
Sensual Movement class started at one of the studios where I dance. I love the
woman who teaches it. It is full blown erotic/stripper, complete with legwarmers,
seven inch platforms, and chairs. I can chair dance, throw the “Hello Boys”
shot and invert without stabbing myself.
ago I let the teacher tape one minute of me dancing to “Cola” by Lana Del Rey.
I posted the clip on Studio Veena. Can I tell you a secret? I don’t hear lyrics
very well in many pole studios with high ceilings. Too many Deep Purple concerts in
my younger years. It was only after I was posted my dance on Veena that I
looked up the lyrics to “Cola”.
taste like Pepsi-Cola”
Go ahead. Laugh with me. Laugh at me. It is all good.
asked me why I chose to be a dancer. I did not choose. I was chosen to be a
dancer, and with that, you live all your life.” Martha Graham
I had this long winded post that talked about pole dance and how painful it can be to be a male pole dancer. It was about vulnerability, biology, and doubt. Then I read a blog post that upset me. So I changed my post. Here it is:
This months Pole Dancing Bloggers bloghop topic is the sanitization of pole dance.Where do I begin? The longer I dance, the deeper I get into the art of pole dancing. I'm truly a dancer. I love the way pole dancing and dance in general gives me a chance to express being human without words. Implicit in our humanity is our sexuality. I don't know of an art form that does not touch sexuality in some way. Ballet is sexy. I've been over that ground numerous times in my blog. Imagine the great art museums of the world without nudity and eroticism. It is just not possible to pull them apart in my mind.
However, pole dancing is going to evolve. The sexy/artistic dancers cannot stop this evolution. I am not going to question the motives that some people use when they promote pole fitness any more than I am going to question the use of the word "Empowerment". I am simply going to dance my dances for those who appreciate my approach to pole.
I have a choice. I can work on choreography, learning new pole moves, listening to new music or I can waste my time trying to convince people that K.T. Coates is destroying an art form with the International Pole Sports Federation. The clearest statement of my commitment to the artistic side of pole dance can be found in my performances and the collaborations that I have had with my fellow dancers.
Last week I read a rather controversial article about pole dancing by Dr. Goal Auzeen Saedi, Ph.D in Psychology Today. I posted a quote from it on my Facebook page and took issue with the glaring bias in the article and her statement about rape culture. One of my friends replied, Refer to Annemarie Davies post about haters hating : "You are not the jackass whisperer."
Personally when this months blog hop topic was announced I though of a song by folk music artist John Gorka. I attended John's performance last January in Denver. He told the story behind his song, "Where the Bottles Break." He was living in the rough side of a Pennsylvania steel mill town. Big money was moving into that part of town, tearing down the biker bars and neighborhood stores. They were being replaced by corporate chain stores. In one line of the song John writes, "I just wanna make enough to buy this town and keep it rough."
I want to keep pole dance rough. I like my Scotch neat. Excessive gluteal exposure is ok with me. I have learned to dance wearing eight-inch platform heels because I wanted to feel what the other dancers feel when their heels hit the floor after a slow spin. A spin to a piece of music that expresses some emotion bubbling from deep inside themselves. A spin that says, Here I am. I am beautiful. I am sexy.
I'm not concerned about pole gymnastics becoming an Olympic sport. I'm not concerned about the mainstream or my dance getting a G-Rating. I'm just going to be a better dancer and artist tomorrow than I am today. If someone thinks that I am attractive either physically or intellectually because of my dance I'll take the compliment and run.
Where the Bottles Break
by John Gorka
I walk where the bottles break
And the blacktop still comes back for more
I walk where the bottles break
And the blacktop still comes back
I live where the neighbors yell
And their music comes up through the floor
I live where the neighbors yell
And their music wakes me up
Life beyond the playground fence
Is serious as basketball
Life beyond the playground fence
Four blocks from the steel mill blasts
I paint my claim up on the wall
Four blocks from the steel mill blasts
I paint my claim
From my end of the southside drag
It's a common thought to call the cops
Further west it's been gentrified
They turned biker bars into flower shops
I kind of miss those Harley guys
Who rarely did a body harm
They mostly liked to drink and shout
And flash the pictures on their arms
It happens when the money come
The wild and poor get pushed aside
It happens when the money come
The poor get pushed
The buyers come from somewhere else
And raise the rent so you can't hide
The buyers come from out of state
And they raise the rent
Buy low sell high
You get rich and you still die
Money talks and people jump
Ask how high low-life Donald what's-his-name
And who cares
I don't wanna know what his girlfriend doesn't wear
This months topic is social media and pole dance. I've decided to look at two negative instances where social media has restricted or complicated my social interactions as a pole dancer.
Sharing art. YouTube. If it were not for YouTube I would have probably never spent a dime on a home pole or pole dance. When I became intrigued with the idea of learning how to pole dance the first videos I found were on YouTube. Watching Karol Helms and her basic moves videos inspired me. I watched, attempted, and learned. I spent hours watching pole dance on YouTube. However, when I became brave enough to video my own dances and upload them I came face to face with the music copyright demon.
My first upload was a dance I performed to the Melissa Etheridge song, Dance Without Sleeping. The audio was muted within a few minutes after the upload. BMI music copyright violation. I just searched YouTube and the only version of the song I could find uploaded was the official version. My stance on the issue is that if I took Melissa's music, put my dance on it and used it to sell my pole studio I could see a lot of people in the music industry taking issue with me. In this instance I am not adding value. I'm using Melissa's art to fatten my wallet. However, if I am not asking for a dime and dancing on the street to Melissa's music where is the harm or theft? Could it be that by my choice of dance music that I am encouraging people to go to iTunes and buy her music?
In my scientific field we take advantage of numerous example of Open Source computing resources. These are tools that enable scientist to carry out their work without paying licensing fees for proprietary computing programs and operating systems. Linux, GRASS GIS, R Statistical Analysis, and the GNU Fortran compiler are stunning examples of how freely exchanged source code and programs benefit everyone.
Enough said. I rarely post to YouTube. I have been required to post my competition entries to YouTube and I do it grudgingly. I'm not in dance for the money and I know the difference between plagiarism and being inspired by the art of others.
My next issue is the gnawing feeling I get in my gut when I refer to a particular dance studio in my blog or on Facebook. I am homeless when it comes to a dance studio. There aren't many guys in pole dance and after nearly five years at a single studio I knew that I wanted to share my dance in any studio that would let me dance there and with any group that wanted me with them. I have been invited to dance at nearly all of the Denver area pole dance studios and I have felt welcome. Unfortunately, there is the business side of pole and each studio has to be cognizant of the bottom line. Art doesn't keep the lights on and the water running.
I used to share where I was pole dancing on Facebook. I no longer do that. I used to share linked images of the studios where I danced here on this blog. Now I only link to them for those who are interested in learning more. I hesitate to mention studios in my blog. I just don't want to be in the middle of the money and politics. There isn't a studio owner here in Denver-Boulder-Longmont area that has ever treated me badly. I would do anything anyone of them asked of me so long as it did not harm another studio. Social media has the ability to upset a lot of people in a short amount of time. The more media exposure I get, the more I have to be on the lookout for land mines.
I'm open source and not for sale. I love sharing my ideas and art. It's free. Scientists are lousy businessmen. We have to share to advance.
The Midwest Pole Dance Competition and Convention is one week away. My last blog entry was in May. Most of the minutes that I have spent since the day I took the stage in Longmont, Colorado have revolved around one piece of music, a lot of hard work, rejection, soul searching, and unparalleled joy.
I suffered a injury to my forearm in late February and was not able to grab a dance pole with my right hand until May. The stress was unbelievable. The deadline for the online entries for Midwest was looming in mid June and all I had was my music. There isn't much you can do in a situation like that. All you can do is sit tight and listen to your body. I had torn some tendons and muscle. If you can pick up a coffee cup and drink you might be out of the woods in a couple of months. I was told that if I kept on dancing I could end up being out until November.
The clock was running out by the time I started final choreography on my Midwest submission. As you know from my earlier blog post I was able to run the dance from beginning to end for the first time on the Dickens Opera House stage in May. I gave the video of that dance to two of my most trusted friends. Estee Zakar and Sarah Tallman.
All you pole dancers know Estee. Sarah is another one of Denver's dance treasures. Sarah is a professional dancer, and choreographer. She dances with the Wonderbound Dance Company (formerly Ballet Nouveau Colorado). She has also choreographed a number of ballets for the company. I met Sarah for the first time at my ballet school where the professional company used to rehearse. A lot of the floor work for my Midwest piece was based in classical ballet and if there was anyone in Denver that could help me with that it would be Sarah. Sarah graciously agreed to help me and we scheduled studio time on a warm June afternoon.
It was an amazing experience working with Sarah. She almost instantly memorized my music. I had been stumbling over the count for days. She looked into my musically challenged brain and just told me to count eights. And then she shared some of the secrets of her stage presence and what she thought about my Dickens dance. It was on the marley with Sarah that the arabesque's and pas de bourees took shape. In the pole studio with Estee we polished the final pole passes. The video submission rules for Midwest gave me three minutes to tell my story. I painfully cut my music and steps to fit the the time limit.
On the twenty-first of June I walked into Denver's Tease Pole Dance studio with Estee and we taped. I made a first pass and it was usable but I knew there was more. On the second attempt I was in the hardest pole move of my routine. The "Meathook" jade. Thirty seconds from home I had the first major fall of my pole dance career. On the way down I hit my ulnar nerve "funnybone" on the base of the pole. My arm went numb and I sat on the floor with one thought in mind, "Fuck." Estee was there with understanding and support. She said that a lot of her women were falling and that was just part of the competition. I missed pickup ice hockey later that night. I would be going back into the studio the next day and I doubt that I could have held a hockey stick in my right hand anyway. Estee and I taped Thursday night and I submitted my video a day before the deadline. My arm looked like it had been hit with a puck moving 90 mph.
I received an email from Mary Ellyn and Midwest Pole Dance July 2. "We are sorry to inform you that you did not qualify..." And so the soul searching began. Three days later in Estee's home studio I started picking up the pieces. I knew what I was up against going into the competition. I also faced another decision. Was I going to enter the Colorado Pole Championship? I did not have much time to think about it and that story will be another blog post. I danced and polished my routine. If I decided to enter Colorado I didn't have time to choreograph a new dance.
Lazy Saturday July 6. I blew off my morning ballet class and played on Facebook. While I was laughing outside and still stinging inside, I got a Facebook message. "Would I be interesting in dancing in one of the Midwest Showcases?" It is amazing how fast you can go from the depths of hell to the top of a mountain.
Yes! Hell Yes! Sunday afternoon August 25th. The road to Chicago ends.
P.S. I made the final round of the Colorado Pole Championship Masters (Over 40) Division.
I'm a pole dancer, ballet dancer, ice hockey player and research meteorologist. I live in Denver, Colorado with my wife of 20 years and two Siamese cats. I found the gift late in life. I was 52 the first time I went around the dance pole and 53 when I made my first plié.