Pole pas de deux

Pole pas de deux

Friday, December 30, 2011

My Favorite Dance Performances of 2011

In no particular order here are some performances that moved me and inspired me as a dancer this past year: Dancers with passion. 
  • Amber Richard Girl Next Door Showcase, Los Angeles, CA
  • Brandon Freeman - A Detective in Ballet Nouveau Colorado's production of Intersection by Garrett Ammon and Michael J. Henry
  • Marian Faustino and Damien Patterson - Arabian Dance in Ballet Nouveau Colorado's production of the Nutcracker by Garrett Ammon and Dawn Fey
  • Jenye Butterfly Showcase of the Stars Pole Pressure 2011
  • Sarah Tallman - Sugar Plum Fairy in Ballet Nouveau Colorado's production of the Nutcracker by Garrett Ammon and Dawn Fey
  • Meredith Strathmeyer - His Mother in Ballet Nouveau Colorado's production of Intersection by Garrett Ammon and Michael J. Henry 
  • Wendy Whelan and Tyler Angle rehearsing Christopher Wheeldon's choreography to This Bitter Earth/On the Nature of Daylight by Dinah Washington and Max Richter
I'd also like to acknowledge my teachers: Diana Hoffman Fantano, Estee Zakar and Elona Fish.  The journey is just beginning.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Men, Poles, Sexism

(A version posted earlier on Studio Veena)

It's two days before Christmas and all through my house not an ill feeling was stirring...Then I noticed the following call in my Facebook timeline. (sic)" **CALLING ALL MALE POLE DANCER** PLEASE HELP me. Do you absoultly need a bare chest to pole? Can you compeet in a vest....? Then I read the thread. In essense something is cooking with certain competition rules regarding men dancing topless."
In my very best short Spanish/Italian temperament I posted to the supportive friends wall:

"Thank you M.E. I only have access to KT's thread in some other dancers time lines. I find the Olympic swimming arguments and guys topless in tiny swimsuits "distracting" offensive. 1) Our dance can be sexual. For both men and women. Get over the sexist crap. 2) Some of us could care less the Olympics. We are artists. The whole thing is sexist. When I ballet dance I have just as much hanging out in tights and a dance belt. Wow. Distracting... Pot Kettle Black.

I then posted this as my status:
"Sexism and discrimination against male dancers is alive and well. If our ass and bulge is hanging out its distracting. Tell me that at least 50% of the "dance wear" on Bad Kitty isn't distracting. Rules, competition, legitimacy, fitness. I'm an artist. If you don't like my sexy male ass hanging out don't look.

I have dealt with this subject from both scholarly and gut levels since I started blogging about dance. Dance can be sexual. You can find Allegra Kent's thoughts about dance here in my blog. Suzanne Farrell has also spoken out on the matter. Ballet is sometime choreographed with the men topless. Sometimes the ballet dancers appear almost naked. I don't ever have any intentions of competing but I get waxed. Everything. All gone. I wear tiny black stuff when the mood hits me. I  don't see anything different when a woman who normally dances barefoot comes to class with her heels in something really revealing just because. One of my initial blog posts here on Veena was about a reaction I got from a female dancer in my studio that had problems with my swimsuit. It was the very same reaction I saw today. 

I guess my heart will always be with the artistic in pole "dance" because you just can't logically judge art on a 0 to 10 scale. You like it or you don't. You might be offended, you might be inspired. You might be sexually aroused. Art isn't logical.

Dancers are performers. We are meant to be seen. The mirror, the camera, the heart. You can be technically great and stink because you have no passion. I try to make my dance as honest as I can make it. If I offend someone I am just as likely to move someone in some way. A few minutes after I posted my mini-rant on my page a female friend responded, "I like the "asspect" of male dance."
That kind of comment is one of those that keeps me dancing. I am just as empowered by the sexy in dance as any woman. I want to be attractive. Deep inside I want to be desired. Rules just can't change that.

I'm a dancer.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Dancing with Conflict

(Originally Posted on Studio Veena)

I tend to be very analytical even when it comes to dance. Starting on a new path in my life always means understanding the history and the cast. Dance is rich in that respect. At the end of my first encounter with a dance pole my teacher asked me if I wanted to freestyle. The question seemed pretty strange for someone who makes his living as a scientist.  Then I thought what the hell. I had watched enough YouTube to know that a woman by the name of Karol Helms made it look fun.

Clocks by Coldplay. I will never forget that feeling. The uneasy connection between me and dance was born that day. That conflict still lives inside of me today. It is all about my search for style and the social stigma that I feel as a male dancer. Not just pole and not just ballet, just my being a non-social dancer.

The demon really came to life the first time I took a spin to the floor. Now what? Roll over and play dead? Push up hands and knees? Roll facedown? Attempting to deal or rather not deal with the floorwork question made the next “pole dance” lesson hard. Finally in exasperation I looked at my teacher, and said, “Now what? I can’t do this.” With that declaration I crawled to the pole in my best sexy and gestured that I was flipping my hair and ran my hands down my sides.

When my teacher stopped laughing she got serious. She told me to look at Baryshnikov (“Misha” to the ballet world). She suggested that some of the other female dancers and I should get together and take a look at how the guys danced in clubs. Baryshnikov was a great help. But the guys in the gay clubs not so much. It is not like there was anything offensive about their dance. It’s just that I’m over 50 years old and I knew that trying to grind the pole in a little nothing show your stuff bikini was a fail that could lead to a divorce.

So it was Misha. Misha was my salvation. It didn’t hurt that my wife thinks Baryshnikov is one of the sexiest men on the planet. My first encounter with his power and emotion was his dance to Horses by Vysotsky in the movie White Nights. A year later I found myself standing at the barre at Ballet Nouveau Colorado clueless in the land of plié and Balanchine. Beginner class. My, “I got this I can plié.” didn’t last long. I had the joy of going to a Boulder dance supply store, buying ballet shoes, tights and a dance belt. Dance belt. Joy. What a nice way to say guy thong. All I could think of at that point was cut out the carbs. Thank God for the legs and hockey player ass. My years of ice skating saved what little comfort I had after pulling up my “dance belt” and tights in the locker room at the ballet studio.

At this point the analytical kicked in and I figured that I wasn’t the only guy who ever faced the, “He dances, he must be gay” stigma. I mean Baryshnikov was known all over ballet for being the “The horny little Russian”. Balanchine… Tallchief, Le Clercq, Farrell. Peter Martins… Heather Watts, Darci Kistler. A single Google search brought up some scholarly stuff: When Men Dance: Choreographing Masculinities Across Borders by Jennifer Fisher and Anthony Shay, The Male Dancer: Bodies, Spectacle, Sexualities by Ramsey Burt, Men Who Dance by Michael Gard, I was a Dancer by Jacques D’ Amboise and finally Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet by Jennifer Homans.

I devoured them along with my once a week pole dance and ballet lessons. My blogspot blog entry about my first public pole dance performance after I blended classical ballet with pole is still #1 in page hits. It works. I feel sexy and powerful when I transition using a deep plié or show my attempts at mastering the Russian classic arm positions of Vagonova at the top of a spinning pole. But I have to say that the uneasy truce I have called between the hockey player and the dancer in my head can be easily disturbed. I have found my style and it works as long as I don’t wonder too long about what other people see when I dance. I can’t ignore it. Growing up male can be such a handicap when it comes to feeling instead of thinking. I am not alone either. Michael Gard studied male dancers who identified as either straight or gay. The stories of the straight dancers were filled with this conflict.

It is one of the reasons why I choose not to be anonymous in person or on the Internet. What if more of us spoke out and told the world that our need to dance has nothing to do with our sexual preference? Maybe the guys in ballet wouldn’t have to dance three parts in Nutcracker because there are only six guys under 18 in the entire student company. Maybe more guys would be able to say that watching Wendy Whelan and Tyler Angle rehearse Dinah Washington’s This Bitter Earth/On the Nature of Daylight moved something deep inside.

Oh and This Bitter Earth… It’s mine. As soon as I can plié and shoulder mount again.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Rest of the Story (A reply to my original post on Coaching and Teaching)

(Posted on Studio Veeena after I strirred the hornets nest with my blog about Coaching and Teaching).

I understand that many of my readers probably think that I have overreacted to something meant to be humorous or tongue in cheek and I totally understand that. However as (Veena Member) said I grew up male and I have been subjected to what borders on or what could be considered physical and emotional abuse by teachers and coaches.

I come from a pole dance studio that is very spiritual. The dance is used by my teacher to heal in a gentle but firm way. We are never allowed to say "can't or never". But her reminders and insistence are quiet and gentle. Her approach to dance is philosophically very Eastern. Her warm up is demanding both mentally and physically but I never walk out of her class feeling like I have after some hockey practices or gym classes. When my arm is out of position on a move she gently moves it. When she does it without saying a word after the fifth or sixth time I feel like I'm letting her down and that is my reminder to suck it up and pay attention.

What I want to say is that one of the reasons men don't dance is because we are always supposed to be tough. We can never cry, we can never show hurt. The whistle blows... we skate. Seeing that list brought out something in me that dug up a lot of old wounds and reminded me that if I reacted as I did yesterday how did some of my older players remember me as a coach before I had to rethink my methods and change?

When I put on my skates and take the ice I am the guy the players are supposed to look up to and trust. In a dance studio I'm the student and when I look in the mirror and see my demons I know that all the push ups in the world are not going to fix what hurts and I also see things from a different viewpoint because I do coach and teach.

Everyone responds to teaching methods differently and I just want people to think carefully about the way they run classes and approach students. Some students shut down and other thrive in the class environment. Reach as many as you can.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thoughts on Coaching and Teaching

(Originally posted on Studioveena.com)

Just a few minutes ago I was reading the "Rules and Punishment" laid down at a New Zealand pole dance studio. Quite honestly I was shocked. Push up and planks for flexed feet, negative body statements, saying can't etc?? I am going to share my thoughts coming from the viewpoint of a man and an ice hockey coach.

It sounds like U.S. Marine Corps basic training. Pretty extreme for bad dance pole form don't you think? I have been a youth ice hockey coach for more than twenty years and hold the highest certification that can be granted to an American amateur ice hockey coach. Back in the dark ages (when I was thirteen up until the late 80's) ice hockey coaches used a variety of skating drills to punish players for poor performance, misdeeds, and lazy work ethics. One of the most notorious drills was the "Herbie or Ladder" drill that was demonstrated so graphically in the movie, "Miracle" about the 1980 USA Olympic Gold Medal ice hockey team. The idea is to take away the pucks and skate a team until someone pukes. Punishment. I've been the victim and the guy who blows the whistle. In the end the method fails for the majority of the players.

What modern hockey coaches have learned over the years is that we took a skill that every player must master (skating) and made it something dreadful. The great hockey players are by and large great because they skate as naturally as they walk and they love doing it. When you look at a great pole dancers upper body and abs you have to understand that this is one of the keys to their mastery of the pole. The Push Up and Planks build this strength. Why would you want to make a dancer dread them or associate them with negativity?

Great coaches and teachers are exceptional because they do not adopt one size fits all methods or methods used by men to teach other men how to stay alive in primitive combat. A good coach understands that every person they work with needs to be motivated and reached individually. One size does not fit all and the more intelligent a person is the more they resent "punishment." It might be fun at first but I can tell you that after living a life time of push ups and Herbies in the macho world this "guy" would run, not walk out of a pole studio that had "Punishment."

One of my hardest skating drills split the team in half and had each of the players in their group push one of the hockey nets down the full length of the ice (200 ft) and back in a relay. The team who finished the relay race first got the hot water in the showers. The drill ended up being fun and encouraged team work. The players skated their hearts out in that drill and laughed the whole time. In my opinion Push Ups and Planks should be approached in a similar manner. If a dancer is saying can't or negative things it is easy to say, "Give me ten." It is hard to pull that person aside and find out what they fear or what voices from other places are talking to them from the past.

Coaching and teaching demand that coaches and teachers learn how out to get the people they mentor to do difficult things without damaging them physically or emotionally. It's much more complicated than posting a list on the wall.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sometimes Dancers Have to Cry

Yesterday one of my friends was upset about YouTube comments left on her pole dance videos. She was subject to comments about her weight (which is ridiculous by the way), and her music choices. It's easy to be cruel from the safety of the anonymous keyboard. At least a critic puts his name and face on the page. Cowards.
Artists can really tell you a lot about the hurt that comes with sharing and rejection. How could anyone say that this isn't a beautiful pole song. There is more to pole than pop. You can only do so much Lady Gaga and then you have to cry and say it with movement.
 “We try, in the most interesting way, to swim in time. Music is time. It’s not the melody that’s important but the division of time.” –George Balanchine

Friday, November 18, 2011

Entertaining the Emergency Room Staff

Previously posted on StudioVeena.com

So how do you explain a potential broken toe to the ER admitting nurse? While driving from my aborted dance lesson with Estee Zakar I kept going over my story. Last Wednesday was going to be the start of a wonderful week of dance. I had either ballet or pole lessons scheduled for Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

It all ended with a loud crack at about 4:45 Wednesday afternoon. Somehow I managed to get my right foot in the wrong place coming out of a spin and kicked the pole. X-Pole 1 - Bob 0. After about five or so minutes of waiting for the pain to subside I knew that I better get my butt to the ER. I prayed that I would be able to drive my five-speed Honda Civic to the hospital before the adrenaline wore off. I was lucky. I made it and I also made a call to my poor suffering wife telling her that I was on my way to the ER and that I probably had a broken toe.

Being an ice hockey player and coach I am all too familiar with the emergency room. I also know that if something smells funny the doc is probably going to know it so I figured the best thing to do was just say, "I kicked a dance pole." The admitting nurse cracked me up when I told her what happened. First she looked at me like I had just walked down the ramp of a spaceship and then she giggled. Then she said, "Really?"
After I limped into a room in the ER the doc showed up for the preliminary exam. Young guy, straight laced, I found out later that he is newbie. Well now he is not so newbie. You meet all kinds of crazy people in the ER. I did not kick the pole so that I could stock up on Oxycontin.

It seemed like it took two or three people to do everything. I was cut on the bottom of my foot and it took one person to clean the wound, one to watch and a third person to look around the corner to see that weird guy. Same story in X-Ray. The guy who took the pictures looked at my foot, the Minnesota Hockey sweatshirt I was wearing and asked, "Ice Hockey?" Sigh. No. Pole Dancing. The surgery scars are from a puck I took in the foot in 1988.

When they brought me back to my room in the ER my wife was there and she had given my insurance information to the admitting nurse and was trying really hard not to laugh. Her Facebook check in, "Ok so I know I shouldn't be laughing at my poor hubby in the ER." Her first comment on the check in was, "I've been here lots of times for hockey but a broken toe from pole dancing? Chuckles." After that, "The nurses in here are busting a gut."

A few minutes later the doc came back and gave me the bad news. Broken toe, buddy tape it, crutches, funny shoe, pain meds, see an orthopedic doctor for follow up as soon as possible. Go Bob. The check out nurse came in to give me final instructions and say that she thought it was really cool that I pole danced.
Just when I thought the coast was clear I grabbed my crutches and started to sit up. My final visitor was the nurse who had earlier escorted my wife to my room. She looked at me, looked at Carol, and said, "Was she serious? You really pole dance?"

Yes, and dance poles do not move when you kick them.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Doctor Dancebelts Guide

Since I have mentioned dance belts in some of my blog entries I have noticed quite a few hits on my blog with the search keywords "dance belt." I assume that some of you are looking for serious information about them and I have found that Doctor Dancebelts Guide is an excellent web resource for male ballet dancers. I personally favor the M Stevens 1099 tights, the Capezio N5930 Quilted Dance Belt and Bloch canvas shoes. Happy Dancing.

If you are ever looking to cross-train try pole dance. You are already wearing tights and a thong. What else could possibly be stranger? *smile*

Saturday, October 15, 2011

YouTube Parrots and Male Derrière

A guy in my ballet class was really excited today. He just got his tickets to see the San Francisco Ballet perform Divertimento No. 15, Scotch Symphony, and The Four Temperaments. Three Balanchine ballets in a weekend away from snowy Denver with his wife. He couldn't remember which Balanchine pieces were in the program and I found them by looking at the SF Ballet web page.

Now most of us know how you can start surfing the Net and end up far away from your original destination with two hours of your life sucked away forever. My hop and skip ended up on YouTube watching Svetlana Zakharova and Roberto Bolle dance Swan Lake. I've been fascinated lately with the idea of dancing with women who have ballet backgrounds, AND love to pole dance. I can see the Tchaikovsky pas de deux in my head. Ballet between the poles, with fish and arabesque lifts, two pole solos and a finish together.

While I was watching the video and wondering why Balanchine was so hung up on Stravinsky's music, I happened to look down and saw the following comment posted on the clip, "I'm sorry but that dude's crotch is bothering me..." Stuff like this makes me nuts. Like the guy who slashes me five or six times in a hockey game right after he knows the referee is looking the other way.

Dear Homophobe,
You are supposed to be noticing Svetlana's eyes and those beautiful Vagonova arms as she seduces   the Prince. How can you miss her legs, not to mention her strength? Two great dancers before you and all you notice is how his stuff looks flattened by a dance belt?

Where do all these giggling, school boy, closet cases come from and why are they hanging out on YouTube watching ballet where they know they are going to see guy ass? Let's set the record straight. Pun intended. It just so happens that not every man who dances is into men.

George Balanchine: Married four times, dumped his wife literally or emotionally every time a young prima ballerina crossed his path. Mikhail Baryshnikov: Nicknamed the "Horny Little Russian" by ballerinas at both New York City Ballet and The American Ballet Theater. Go read Gelsey Kirkland for more info on Baryshnikov's  bedside manner. Candace Bushnell of Sex in the City fame: Husband, retired NYCB principle dancer Charles Askegard. Peter Martins: Retired principle dancer (NYCB) now Ballet Master in Chief (NYCB), married to retired prima ballerina Darci Kistler. Lynn Swann: Pro Football Hall of Fame, Four Super Bowl Rings. Married twice, two kids. He's African American, Republican, pro gun and studied classical ballet, modern and tap dance. Me: Married twice, two kids. My brain locks up every time I see clips of Suzanne Farrell, Amber Richard, Karol Helms and many many other women dance.

Yes, I noticed Baryshnikov's butt. Peter Martins has legs a lot of skinny, slow hockey players would kill to get. You want abs? David Owen and Steven Retchless have some they can lend you and still look awesome. I have a message for guys into women. Dance studios are full of unattached, strong, intelligent, women. But they are looking for guys who don't giggle and act like they are in elementary school when they see guy butt.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Studio Veena

When a guy decides to dance it helps to have safe places. Places where you are not judged and just accepted as a dancer without regard to your gender. Ballet Nouveau Colorado located in Broomfield, Colorado welcomes male dancers. I'm not sure that the teachers and staff at BNC have figured out what is up with the old guy who shows up twice a week and stumbles through a barre. But I do love the way I am treated there. Fundamentals of Ballet in your 50's is daunting.

Now I am happy to say that I have found a second place on the planet where women have welcomed a male pole dancer.

Studio Veena is an online community run by Veena Poledancer. I'm sure Poledancer is not her last name but anyone who has seen her dance can tell you she knows her stuff. It is a place where you can exchange ideas in the forums, blog about your day, take online pole lessons, and best of all post video clips of your dance without the slow uploads and goofy music policies associated with YouTube. Veena and I are friends on Facebook and she invited me to join a couple of weeks ago. So I posted some pics, filled out a profile, posted my latest dance video, and blogged.

I am still a bit surprised at the number of women who have shown total support and kindness. Yesterday I made a comment on Natasha Wang's Facebook page concerning an article she had linked to that discussed discrimination against male pole dancers. I said, "American society has a bigger problem with men dancing than women in pole dancing have with men on dance poles."

Studio Veena is just one more place that makes my point.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

More Thoughts on Women Only

I'm not really sure that the notices on pole dance studio webpages and pre-recorded phone messages that say, "Women Only" are really necessary. When was the last time you saw guys lined up wanting to dance anywhere except outside a club where they think they might get lucky? I've have been pole dancing since March of 2009. Before I came to the studio where I used to dance there had been one group of men dancing in the studio and some of the men were dancers from a gay bar working on a documentary film.

I was in a couples class two years ago and five male significant others spun and laughed their way though two hours of basic pole dance. Did any of the guys sign up to dance in a class afterward? Not one. The invitation was there and their girlfriends or wives were certainly not adverse to the idea of their man hanging on a "stripper" pole.

Wankers and some men aren't going to put themselves on display in front of a group of women where they are out numbered eleven to one. Some men cannot give up control or power. They need to be sitting on the edge of a runway with paper bills in their hand. Venturing onto female turf means not acting like Beavis and Butthead giving away beads on Bourbon St.

After the first ten or so minutes of getting your butt kicked and your skin burned by that 50 mm pole the last thing you are thinking about is the people around you. It reminds me of my first time on a nude beach. You think everyone is looking at you and you pray that nothing starts sticking up when it shouldn't. After a half hour or so you get desensitized and realize that people are more interested in the books they are reading and teaching their dogs how to catch a frisbee than your obvious tanline.

During my initial coed class my first thought was, "This isn't a go at your own pace private lesson, there is a curriculum here and I gotta move my butt because the next woman in line wants her shot at the new move." I've been in almost complete darkness with Lady Gaga pounding away in the background freestyle dancing  with ten or twelve women. Am I drooling? No. I am too busy figuring out if I have enough points of contact to get into a move without landing on my hard head or just inside myself feeling the music.

The first time I danced in an advanced level class I was asked me to pick a freestyle song. Caught a Lite Sneeze by Tori Amos was my pick. The protocol back in the old studio was that if you picked the music you had to dance on the pole closest to the audience. The music played and I danced up in front with my heart in my throat. Afterward the pop music women wanted to know more about Tori's music and they mentioned how much they liked the change of pace. Was I just a little apprehensive and wondering if I was going to make someone uncomfortable with such a strange choice of music? The answer is yes. But those misgivings gave way to wonder after one of the women in the class thanked me for coming because she said that things were getting catty and competitive between a few women and the atmosphere wasn't fun. I had changed the chemistry by just showing up and dancing. I had to step back and think a moment. Such a statement runs counter to all the arguments used to justify keeping men out of pole dance studios.

So not all pole dance classes are filled with sisterhood and support. Sometimes women compete with each other and treat each other disrespectfully. Contrary to popular belief the atmosphere in that class had nothing to do with the presence of testosterone. It was all about the individuals.

When my former teacher asked the women in two of her classes if they were ok with a man dancing in class she gave all the women a vote. One no vote would be all that it would take to keep the class closed. I danced twice a week that summer and made some great friends. I'm pretty sure that the signs and messages can go away. I doubt there is a flood of wankers waiting for the doors to open. A man open minded enough to want to try pole dancing is not the kind of man who is going to be undressing women with his eyes and treating them like sex toys. It is like putting up a sign on a steak restaurant that says, "No Vegetarians."

Saturday, September 17, 2011

You Can Starve to Death Eating the Same Thing Every Day

An intellectual is a person who has discovered something more interesting than sex. ~ Aldous Huxley

I'm writing this piece because I think it is important to challenge the thoughts espoused in the new book entitled, Pole Story: Essays on the Power of Erotic Dance by Claire Griffin Sterrett.

Nothing bothers me more than a singled minded, blinders on approach to any endeavor. When Herb Brooks set out to build the 1980 USA Olympic hockey team he blended the Canadian and European schools of hockey together to produce a system custom fitted to a group of college level hockey players. This group of non-professionals took down a Soviet hockey team built around the best hockey players in the Communist bloc that had dominated Olympic ice hockey for nearly two decades. Herb is a legend among hockey coaches.

When George Balanchine brought Russian ballet to the United States he brought with it a vision that embraced his Russian classical ballet training and the free flowing spirits of dancers like Maria Tallchief, Allegra Kent, Melissa Hayden, Jerome Robbins, Tanaquil LeClerq, and Jacques d'Amboise. East meets West and we are all richer.

What Claire is really selling is boys against the girls with an extra helping of sex. Many of the points Claire makes in her work are valid. I am someone who grew up in a Catholic family one generation removed from Ellis Island. I can tell you first hand that sexy isn't the first thing you have drilled in your head when a Jesuit priest comes to teach your elementary school catechism class in 1968. Yes, women have been sent mixed messages about their bodes and sexuality for centuries. Pole dancing can be an important self-discovery tool. But is taking your clothes off to purge ones self of centuries of oppression all there is to pole dance? Are women the only victims of sexism?

I don't think so. For one thing stripping did not start in the United States. Hey we all remember Moulin Rouge right? Paris 1889. What about sexual suggestiveness and self-awareness in artistic dance? The following photograph taken by Bert Stern is of Allegra Kent and Edward Villella in the George Balanchine ballet Bugaku. 

Notice anything sexual? This is 1963. Not much left to the imagination is there? After seeing the ballet, Arlene Croce founder of Dance Review magazine wrote, "Balanchine seems to have derived his inspiration for the pas de deux from Japanese pornographic prints." However, Allegra Kent saw beyond the school boy giggles of the critics because she danced it, felt it and lived it in that special moment that ANY dancer knows. Allegra wrote in her biography, "In other more abstract ballets, the body is used merely as a supple substance. What does it matter if a crotch becomes an apex of a triangle if the dance is abstract? But in this dance, if it looked sensual it was sensual. Our bodies were used as bodies." How do you think Edward Villella felt with his body exposed to the NYCB audience?

I can't speak for Edward but I can tell you that I feel pretty damn exposed standing at the barre in my tights and dance belt in a class full of women. The lights and mirrors in a ballet studio are as bright or brighter than any pole dance studio I have ever seen. I can also tell you that I feel pretty damn sexy inverted in a jade with the lights low. Am I exposed, vulnerable, and doubting? Sometimes I am. Sometimes I just fly. I feel the music and I just fly. I try to take everyone with me male and female.

I know some of my regular readers probably tire of me quoting Baryshnikov but it was Baryshnikov who said, "Dancers are stripped enough on stage. You don't have to know more about them than they've given you already." Divide and conquer. Guys against the girls. The more we make the dance entirely about female sexuality the more we limit it. Now that I am mending from my hockey injury I am going to go back to learning lifts in my ballet studio. Why do you ask am I learning ballet lifts at 54 years of age? I want to blend the sensuality of the ballet pas de deux with pole dance. Because this dance can be artistic, beautiful, and sexy. It isn't all about sex.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Injuries are part of the territory if you dare venture off the living room couch. Some are harder than others and the sitting around and waiting for them to heal can be agonizing. Then there are the more severe injuries that you may never recover from and the limitations that they can place on the activities you love. I'm dealing with one of those types of injuries right now.

On August 10th of this year I was playing ice hockey and I had a sure breakaway if could win that race to the puck. I was there and then there was this huge pain in my right adductor. I limped off the ice after kneeling for a good five minutes. I haven't skated since. One of the most common injuries in ice hockey is the "groin pull".

Yes it is common but working on splits for pole dance had broken up the scar tissue from the previous times I had this injury. I haven't had to deal with that particular tear for three years now. I was supposed to dance the following day. I haven't ever canceled a pole dance lesson. I canceled. I could barely walk for three days. When I finally visited the doctor the bruising and bleeding along the muscle were obvious. It would be two weeks before I would even be allowed to start physical therapy. Saturday the 13th was ballet class. They say the first thing a ballet dancer thinks when they get up is, "Can I plié?" I couldn't. I could barely pull my right leg into first position.

Frustration, anger and another canceled class. The only thing that was good about the whole ordeal is that both hockey and dance people understood the injury. The stretches for my splits were going so well. My jade was getting better. My lines were getting longer. Who says a guy can't look good in a splay?

So I sat on YouTube and watched others dance, drank wine, changed the ice bag, limped into the gym, worked the abs and upper body.  I also read every webpage I could find on groin muscle injures. They figure mine was a 2+. Not severe enough for surgery and like MCL injuries docs just leave them alone and hope they heal.

You don't know how much an activity means to you until its taken away. I ended up second guessing myself wondering why I was playing so hard in a pickup game. The answer was simple and I knew it. You don't ask your body if it can make the move. After forty-one years of ice hockey you just do it. There is no thinking about it. You move. It was the muscle that said, "No way, I can't do it for you."

Just before the wine drinking and sitting around put five pounds on my ass I finally got to start physical therapy. In fact my weight had dropped while I was moping. I've been through the drill before. Ultrasound, massage, gentle stretching, and exercises followed by more ice. Last week I figured that I had enough. I had to try something so I packed my ballet stuff in the car and left for physical therapy. If I got the ok, I would try to dance.

I got lucky and I was cleared to dance with limits. I was warned to stay away from anything explosive which meant no jumping, or turning and no frappé. (No frappé... breaks my heart. I hate that move) Even with all the limits it felt so good to move. I almost made it through the entire class with no stress. Finally, after five or so minutes of combinations that used balancé and pas de bourrée I knew I was pushing too much and quit. Still I was happy to stand at the barre until reverence. Last Saturday I danced again with the same limits.

They say that this injury takes four to six weeks to heal maybe longer. I'm at week five, testing it and praying. Earlier this week I got brave and/or stupid and scheduled a pole dance lesson. I'm more worried about losing pole dance than ballet. There isn't much you can do without an adductor in pole dance. So many things depend on being able to pull your leg into the pole. Climbs, weak side inverts, layouts, turns all use that muscle.

I remember my first hockey game after I had my knee scoped. I was so afraid of contact. The first time I got dumped on my ass I was so worried that I wasn't going to be able to get up. I feel like that now. I don't want to dance. I need to dance.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

We Have Met the Enemy and He Are Us

The past few weeks have been interesting in the pole dance world. First we had Steven Retchless getting a standing ovation from Sharon Osbourne and then we had the Nicki Shaw incident.

Let's start at the beginning. The day after Steven appeared on national television a pole dancing friend of mine posted on my pole dance teacher's Facebook page. The essence of her message was that Steven didn't represent masculinity in pole dance. If you look around on the net for comments you will find that all most all the women appreciated his athleticism, grace, and most of them really think he has a great body. The only ubiquitous negative comment was that the shoes were over the top. My step-daughter thought he totally rocked and loved his shoes!

Now what do the guys think? Better yet how do I feel about Steven's dance. Hey, Martha Graham was right. "The body never lies." No punches pulled. His dance is feminine. His dance is a look into his soul. It's honest. His dance is art. His dance is erotic. His dance in platforms and glitter reinforces the middle class American stereotype, "Men who dance professionally are gay." His dance before mainstream America made my day at the office just a little bit harder.

The male pole dance world isn't that big yet but the sexuality issue has and is still being kicked around in the ballet world. We have Mikhail Baryshnikov, George Balanchine, Peter Martins and Jacques d'Amboise on one hand and the world of Vaslav Nijinsky, Sergei Diaghilev, and Jerome Robbins on the other. We have the famous Baryshnikov quote, " I am not the first straight dancer dancer or the last." So what does this have to do with the enemy and us? In my world how Steven dances is not the issue. The issue is the women who believe that men have no place in pole dance and the general public who think men pole dancing is all about gay strippers.

Now onto the Nicki Shaw incident. Nicki is a professional dancer in the "Adult Entertainment" business. With much controversy she withdrew from the American Pole Fitness Association 2011 Championship. The bottom line here again is the erotic vs athletic. Legitimacy. Rated G for General Audiences. I'm glad I wasn't faced with her decision. While we sit around and poke at those dancers who dance like strippers and those who dance like athletes, the majority of the people who have never put a hand on a dance pole have already made up their minds. The enemy is not us but we don't see it and we end up fighting with our fellow dancers trying to decide who is holier.

The body never lies. No matter how you dance, if your dance is honest you deserve the support of the pole dance community. The following quote from Suzanne Farrell says this better than I can,

"If a step or movement is played only for its sexual suggestiveness it immediately becomes something other than itself, and the result is a limitation. If on the other hand, the step or movement is given its full musical and physical value without the trappings of a specific intention, sexual or otherwise, its power can be limitless - it will suggest to some, it will comfort others, and while it may provoke one person, it may be a beautiful image to another. I have never believed in foreshortening any movement's options by imposing one's own experience on it. If there is eroticism in the music and the movement, it will speak for itself; if the dancer chooses to emphasize this aspect, it is the beginning of vulgarity." 

Finally I would like to thank Veena Poledancer for the way she worded a post on Facebook today. She said,

"People are not driven to learn POLE DANCE because they have seen MEN from a foreign country dance on a wooden "pole like" object....they are attracted to POLE DANCE because of the beautiful, artistic, and sometimes SENSUAL examples they have seen on TV and the internet!!!" 

Veena said, "People", she didn't say "Women". Thank you Veena! Those who commented and were intentionally or unintentionally sexist and divisive... pissed me off.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Random Thoughts

I did my dance warm-up today blindfolded. It's easier to hold your head straight up and look the audience in the eye when you can't see a thing. You know where every movement originates.

You can feed off of an audience's enthusiasm for your dance. You can also be paralyzed by the judgments that you think they are passing.

You can't hide a whole lot when you dance. If you are self-conscious or afraid of the stage it shows. If you are an egotistical ass it comes out. If you are dancing with your soul its obvious.

Simplicity is attractive.

Above all else be honest.

Pole burn sucks.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

What Do Suzanne Farrell and Felix Cane Have in Common?

Last night I finished reading Suzanne Farrell's biography, Holding On to the Air. Her story is pretty powerful. You can learn a lot from looking at forms of dance outside pole dance. Suzanne's story is really a love story. Her love of dance, music, and her love for Balanchine. When I read the final part of her story about her last dance with the New York City Ballet after her hip replacement I was touched deeply. The feeling was very much like the feeling I had the day I watched Ray Bourque hold up the Stanley Cup with tears in his eyes.

This afternoon a friend of mine posted a YouTube link to Felix Cane's 2011 Pole Con performance. At the end of her performance she lost it. It was obvious that Felix was crying. I've always enjoyed watching Felix perform but that performance showed something very special about her. She left her soul on that pole.

There is something inside of some dancers that goes beyond technical excellence. It's a complete and honest connection between the heart, the music and the body.

The more I dance the more I learn. I have learned that all the great dancers and choreographers are always telling us the same thing in different ways. Maybe Balanchine said it best.

What are you waiting for? What are you saving for? Now is all there is. ~ George Balanchine

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Male Pole Dancers and Dance Belts

A few days ago I was looking at keywords used in searches that lead people to my webpage. I was intrigued to find out that "dance belt" came up quite frequently. In fact someone searched using the string, "Do male pole dancers use dance belts?"

I'm male (last time I checked), I pole dance, and yes I wear a dance belt. Before we get to the reasons I need to explain a dance belt for the non-ballet people.

Male ballet dancers wear tights. Now there is no way to hide that pesky "bulge" in all its splendor when you wear tights. Nobody (especially the female friends of Congressmen) wants to see the "bulge" much less the amount of detail that is available to the eye if a man is wearing tights and no underwear. This leads us to the next issue. The dance community does want to see the male posterior and those muscular legs. So how does one show off the lower half of the male anatomy without showing Mr. Happy or visible underwear lines?

The answer lies in the dance belt. A dance belt is a glorified, super uncomfortable, thong for guys. Yes, long before Stephanie Seymour graced the Victoria's Secret catalog in thongs, male ballet dancers were cramming their "junk" into dance belts.

Now everyone who reads this blog knows that I pole danced first and then took up ballet. One of the first things you learn in pole (sometimes painfully) is that skin sticks you to the pole. The more skin contact you have on the pole, the easier it is to defy gravity. I learned early that if I wanted to learn the Superman move I couldn't wear shorts that hung down below my knees. The answer I found was the compromise between the much maligned Speedo bikini swimsuit and the next step up in coverage that comes with the "boy short" style of swimsuit used by competitive swimmers.

I blissfully danced for almost two years without much thought to how my "lines" looked when I was pole dancing. Then last December Amanda Campbell, a Denver area photographer came to the studio where I was dancing and photographed a charity event where I danced. While I was looking at the pictures of my dance I couldn't help but notice that my endowment was quite visible. It was especially noticeable when I was inverted.

The next time I pole danced, my dance belt went on before the boy shorts. No more bulge and I could still get the right amount of skin on the dance pole.

The downside of this story is that a dance belt  is the male ballet dancers penance. The women have pointe shoes and bloody toes. The guys are all being cut in half by the g-string that is stuck up you know where. I can't speak for Steven, Dominic or male strippers but this middle aged guy wears a dance belt. When in doubt, less is more.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Erotic Dance

There is a lot of controversy over the link between pole dancing and erotic dance. I touched on this in an earlier post where I made the contrast between aggressive and assertive. In economics there is a saying, "There are no free lunches." Guess what? The same goes for pole dancing in our culture.

If you make your dance overtly sexual you are going to have to be ready to pay the price. No one is going to erase the Judeo-Christian ethic from Western Civilization by the use of the words "female empowerment". In fact if you talk to the men who pole dance at the gay clubs you will find that they are just as victimized by the "slut" word as the women who pole dance.

Let's face it, there are two ways that we can move our bodies on the pole. Articulation is uni-sexual. If you doubt me go to a gay club and watch the men dance. When women and men dance our movements can be a super set of the natural movements that we make in our every day lives flowing to music. On the other hand our movements can emphasize our genitals and mimic the movements of intercourse.

Baryshnikov isn't sexy because he grinds his hips. He is sexy because he has a beautiful body and the way he moves accentuates the power and grace that makes men sexually attractive. The same is true for some of the great hockey players. If you ever get a chance to watch video of former Boston Bruins defensemen Ray Bourque skate you will also see the power of testosterone in full hockey pads. On the female side of the fence look at the way JK dances.

I'm not a prude. I'm a recovering Catholic *smile* who embraces his inner slut. I am a sexual being. I am also a realist. If I put Eric Clapton's "I Wanna Make Love To You" on and really rub and rock the pole I can guarantee that someone who sees me is going to call me a slut or worse. If I swing it a little over the top I am going for the shock value. I am testing limits. I might get burned or I might have a great time. It is my choice as a dancer to reveal as much or as little about myself as I want. I am a consenting adult. I have to take responsibility for my actions and be prepared for a response that I may not like.

I have had many compliments about my legs. Simple inverts, sits, layouts and getting long on the floor bring my legs out. No one sees my legs if I focus my movements on my hips. I've got decent traps and biceps. I have to dance with my shoulders back. Once again the choice is sexy or sexual.

There is a huge difference between sexy and sexual. Sometimes all it takes is for a woman to sit down in Starbucks and open up her laptop to stir something up inside of me. It could be the way she carries herself, the intensity in her eyes, or her mannerisms. She could be wearing baggy jeans and a sweatshirt and be sexier than all hell. The last time I spent time a in strip club was during a hockey coach's workshop in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I just felt exploited.

Erotic equals sexual stimulation for either the audience, the dancer or both. Some pole dancers and sections of our society are going to have a problem with it. Let's not kid ourselves. There are no free lunches.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Dance Music

I just checked my birth certificate and sure enough it says that I am in my early fifties. So it's no wonder that the music I choose to pole dance to is a little dated. I have been making up playlists for a year now and every time I add a song I figure that someone is going to laugh and when I watch the best of the best on YouTube I sure as hell don't expect to see my favorites being danced to by Althea Austin and Karol Helms.

My first WTF came about four months ago. I'm a total Seether fan and I had just added "The Gift" to a playlist and planned to bring it in to the studio for freestyle. Next day my friend posts an awesome interpretation of the song on her Facebook page. She wasn't happy with it and deleted it but I saw it and I loved her dance. There goes The Gift. Last year I danced to Mazzy Star's "Five String Serenade" at a Showcase and had "Fade Into You" on all my playlists. In early January I got a notice on YouTube that REDKE71 (Karol Helms) had posted a new clip. You guessed it.. Fade Into You. Gorgeous. I posted a link to her YouTube video on my Facebook page.

About a month ago I created a playlist for a private lesson. On that playlist I had the Cowboy Junkies cover of Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane". I've been doing that song for at least two months. About half an hour ago I was checking out Althea Austin's YouTube Channel. I clicked on one of her recent clips and guess what? Yup. Sweet Jane.

Just when you figure that you are so old that you are once again original you find yourself wondering, WTF? I did Mazzy Star's "Fade Into You" at this years open house. When I get the clip posted on YouTube I will make sure that everyone knows that the best version belongs to Karol.

Keep Dancing (Published on the Pole Dance Shop Blog)

Pole dancing is for women. Men who dance outside of social situations are gay.

In the last month I have witnessed a few examples of this kind of thinking. There are many pole dance studios here in the United States that right up front exclude men. A man recently commented on a friend's Facebook page that pole dancing is a style of dance that is for women. He went on to say that it doesn't matter how well men can execute the moves. They will never look good on the pole. My dance teacher taught in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico recently and also found that men are not allowed in pole dance classes.

Male pole dancers face some interesting challenges. We find ourselves excluded by the same people who want to show the world that pole dancing is a sensual, athletic dance form that is not about stripping. I also find it interesting that when it becomes known that a man dances artistically, questions about his sexual preference are more often than not raised. In a search of Amazon.com I found books that examine the relationship between a man's sexuality and dance in a few keystrokes.

Prejudice. What is it that makes people uncomfortable when men dance outside of social situations? The best dancers put it all on the line when they dance. As Baryshnikov once said, "Dancers are stripped enough onstage. You don't have to know more about them than they've given you already." When a man dances he opens himself up and shows you his body, and his emotions. The feminist movement redefined the roles women can play in our society. What about men? Are we still dealing with a dominant/submissive power dynamic? Is showing the world our emotions and bodies submissive and effeminate? I think the key to understanding the prejudice aimed toward men who dance depends on the answers to these questions.

A man crosses a lot of boundaries when he steps up and grabs a dance pole. As a society we seem incapable of seeing men as emotional and sensual beings. Men are stereotyped as providers and defenders of the nest. We are football, basketball, soccer, baseball, ice hockey, testosterone, snails and puppy dog tails. If you are male and want to pole dance you have to be totally at peace with your sexuality and masculinity because you are going to see some raised eyebrows when some of your family and friends find out that you love swinging around a "stripper pole".

Men can pole dance. The way we express ourselves at the pole enhances the breadth and beauty of the dance. It also brings us in touch with a side of ourselves that we repress because we do not question the rigid roles men are expected to play in our society. As I see it the only way past the prejudice is to keep dancing.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Male Pole Dancers With Female Significant Others

How many male pole dancers out there have a female significant other in their life? I probably don't have to tell you that it takes a special woman to let you go out and dance in a studio full of female pole dancers. I am married to one of those special women. After seventeen years of marriage I'm sure that my wife figured that she had seen it all. Then one Saturday afternoon I had a conversation with a pole dance instructor and scheduled a pole dancing lesson. Her only words were, "You really are going to do it aren't you?"

You don't have to think real hard about how the most secure woman in the world could become a little intimidated by the thought of her SO swinging around a dance pole in a studio full of women. There aren't many male pole dancers in my hometown. How many guys? One. Like it or not I am the odd one. Every dancer in the studio knows about Bob the pole dancer even if they haven't danced with me.

In a typical class at my studio we do a warm up to get our bodies ready for the pole maneuvers we are going to learn, a demonstration/practice period, and at the end of the lesson a time is set aside for freestyle dance. We pick dance music, find a pole and dance. We do what ever we want once the music starts. The only thing that Bob doesn't do is hip circles during warm up and I will not dance to Pink's "U + Ur Hand". *grin*

I go to the studio to learn how to dance. The women I dance with are wonderful. They are fun loving, supportive and respectful. I have never felt uncomfortable and no matter how expressive a dancer may be during freestyle, what happens during freestyle stays at the studio. What bonds the dancers together is the love of the dance.

Pole dancing is artistic, sensual and sometimes erotic. What are some of the things that the male pole dancer can do to keep his SO's imagination from running away at warp speed? If your studio has an open house and she is brave like my wife, bring her along. Meeting the real women you dance with will help put to rest the perception that she might have about all the perfect runway models that dance with you. Try to get her on the pole. I have failed miserably at all my attempts to get my wife on the pole but it is worth a try. Learn to send text messages or call if the class runs late or you get caught up in a good conversation after dance class. I had a near death experience one night and have learned the pick up the phone tip the hard way.

Finally, have some understanding and listen carefully to the things she is saying to you if she has an insecure moment. It is not easy being in a relationship with a male pole dancer.


So I'm sitting here with the Arnica thinking to myself that today's dance lesson was a tough one. I spent a lot of time inverting on my weak side and I have the bruises to prove it. :)

My teacher has encouraged me to keep on writing about pole dancing and what I learn from dancing. Right now I am coming to realize that men can also be effected by the sexual side of the dance (or at least I am). There is a body acceptance, feeling attractive side of the dance that I have been ignoring but I can't keep ignoring it. Fellow dancer planted the seed, another teacher made the comment that men can be sexy when they pole dance, (My wife drools on Baryshnikov in old episodes of Sex in the City) and a funny thing happened at the dentists office last week.

The wallpaper on my Blackberry is also my current FB profile picture of me on the pole. When I was sitting in the dentists chair waiting for the dentist to check me out after my cleaning last week I was sitting there with my phone wondering if I had time to send a text message to my wife about dinner. The female dental hygienist came up behind me and saw the picture on my phone.

Hygienist: Is that you?

Me: Yes it is.

Hygienist: Nice legs.

Pole dancing comes in layers. There is the dance that you see at clubs, the dance you see that is almost entirely pole tricks, and then there is the dance that women like Karol Helms, Amber Richard, JK, Althea Austin, etc do.

I have just unpeeled another layer and I'm still processing it along with the bruises that came with me adjusting my angel and reverse angel and trying to hold it as long as I could.

The next song I freestyle to is going to be Eric Clapton's "I Wanna Make Love to You" I've done it for my wife. It felt good. My teacher wants me to make up a new playlist of more suggestive stuff. What the hell. I'm not getting any younger.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Things That I Didn't Consider When I Decided to Pole Dance

There are some distinct challenges that a male pole dancer faces. Some of them are serious and some of them are funny.

One of the first things I became aware of when I started dancing was the way some of the women I dance with always added, "and he's straight" when they talked about me. There is an implicit assumption operating that only a gay guy would pole dance. It's a cultural thing. The only thing a male pole dancer can do about any kind of labeling is to keep on dancing. Men who really want to pole dance need to understand "Sticks and Stones". One of my favorite Baryshnikov quotes is, "I am not the first straight dancer or the last."

My next challenge was the impact it had on my relationship with my wife. You don't have to think real hard about how the most secure woman in the world could become a little intimidated by the thought of her significant other swinging around a dance pole in a studio full of women. I had a near death experience the first time I was late getting home from the studio and I didn't call to let my wife know that class was running late. There were a couple of things that came together that helped ease the tension between my wife and I. She attended the studio open house and met the wonderful women that dance with me. Watching the women dance, getting a chance to meet with them and getting to know them really made a difference. I also learned to call home sooner rather than later. I think that helped the most.

The family challenge. I mentioned in an earlier blog post here that the wallpaper on my Blackberry is a picture of me on the pole. Last year my dad got sick and I was sitting next to my brother in the emergency room. Without thinking I pulled out my phone and started to feed my Facebook addiction. The next words I heard were, "WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?" I put my phone back in my pocket and said, "Whatever you thought it was." The subject has never come up again. I'm not about to try and explain why a middle aged man would want to pole dance to my family. I'm sure my Mom and Dad don't know and I would like to keep it that way. I dealt with the family challenge by not dealing with it. Sorry. I know I caved.

Finally, to shave or not to shave. There is a funny YouTube video where a guy is doing tricks on his girlfriends pole and they decide that his hairy legs are causing him problems. So off they go to the bathroom and he shaves his legs. My experience is that bare legs work better. The more bare skin I get on the pole the better I stay up. My only secret is that I have my legs waxed. Please don't tell my mom or my brother.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Tyranny of the Mirror

"The mirror shows the impossibility of perfection. And thus a curious intimacy was born: I was constantly sharping, changing, improving, and restyling myself, while the mirror - cold and constant sat in judgement, like God." ~ Toni Bentley - The Surrender

Eventually you look up and see yourself. My pole dance studio doesn't have mirrors but my ballet studio does. The first thing you notice is the unforgiving, floor to ceiling oracle. The video camera becomes the mirror for me on the pole. There is this strange disconnect in dance. We are told not to think about it. Be free. Dance. Empowerment.  Discover our inner self. Get in touch with our bodies.

But then there are the corrections, bruises, slipping, and practicing the same moves over and over again trying to get it perfect. When you move on the pole never have a flexed foot. Ballet... "When the foot leaves the floor it is pointed." Don't wing. Don't sickle. There isn't enough Lithium or Invega on the planet to fix this bipolar tug of war over a dancers heart.  There is even more anxiety hidden in the polished quartz. When we look beyond technique we also peer deeper into the darkness. We see the extra weight, extra wrinkles, a bit of grey, big thighs, skinny calves, funny hair.

The truth of the matter is that we are all looking for something when we come to dance whether we know it or not. In the last year I have come to understand Claire Griffin Sterrett and George Balanchine. There are times when the Zen is right and you know you look good in that God-like mirror. And then there are the times when you hurt and the mirror kicks you when you are down. It is then that Claire and George's appeals to beauty, sexuality and art come up wanting.

We dance in anger. We dance in pain, We dance in joy. Dance is like life. Thinking otherwise is to live in denial because we cannot dance forever.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Studio Open House 2011

Last night I danced in my third open house recital. Every May the pole dance studio where I dance has an open house where every level from beginner to advanced gets a chance to show their family and friends what the dance is all about. The first two years have been semi-traumatic for me. I’m the lone guy among thirty or so wonderful women.

This year was different. When my time to perform came up I was nervous to be sure but I wasn’t on the edge of panic. Strangely enough I have ballet dance to thank for that. It all started near the end of last summer when my pole dance teacher took my Mazzy Star and Tori Amos away from me and played Shubert’s Ave Maria and told me to do something with it. I think she has a bit of Jerome Robbins hidden in her somewhere. :-)

I’m sure it was awkward as hell to look at but inside it moved something. Somewhere deep inside I have this great need for structure and order and somehow my guts got connected with my legs and arms. After I finished the song my teacher and I talked and she suggested that I look at companies in Denver where I could learn modern or ballet. The mere thought of ballet scared the crap out of me. The thought of a fifty-four year old slightly gray haired guy walking into the world of Gelsey Kirkland, George Balanchine and Dancing on My Grave, gave me chills. I did the polite nod and shake my head knowing that I wanted my Mazzy Star back as soon as I could get my Ipod plugged back into the studio sound system.

The end of summer also marks the end of summer ice hockey and while I was getting the mandatory deep tissue massage that keeps a guy my age playing I mentioned that my pole dance teacher wanted me to “cross-train” and that ballet was one of her suggestions. My massage therapist just lit up. Her daughter is a “bunhead” and she told me about a local company in Broomfield, Colorado that had a professional company, a student company, and beginning adult classes. Ballet Nouveau. If you have read my earlier account of my: will I, won’t I, call the pole dance studio and talk with someone you probably know how this story played out.

In mid October I found myself standing at the barre not knowing a plié from a waltz step. I’m a hockey player. I skate like I walk, probably better. I was so lost. It was worse than the pole studio. My first pole lessons were in private and now I was surrounded by women. The class was supposed to be Fundamentals of Ballet but nearly every woman in that class had at one time or another taken ballet lessons. They were coming back to something that they knew and I can tell you that once you are a ballet dancer the steps live in you forever. Even the language is a killer. My second language is Spanish and “de” isn’t “duh”. I was learning a whole new terminology along with a trip back in time to a place that according to Jennifer Holmans author of Apollo’s Angels, no longer exists.

Thank God for my teacher. She is a former professional ballet dancer. She knows the steps, the mental anguish, the physical pain, and how to sew the elastic straps into a ballet shoe. She also understands the sheer beauty and peace that comes with the dance. By November I had given up the sweats and made the transition to a dance belt and tights. The male company members were all so kind and helpful. The little girls still always greet me with a bit of a quizzical look but I am just as home at the barre as I am at the pole.

I’m terrible at ballet but getting better. I tend to over think it and my fifth looks like fourth but it has given me a way to move and transition at the pole that is truly mine. I don’t do pole fitness. I’m a pole dancer and ballet has given me a way to connect the dots in a way that most men won’t touch. I’m tracing the lines of Elena Gibson, Amber Richard, and my teacher without pointe shoes.

You are never really sure if something is going to work until an audience sees it and this past weekend was it. For weeks I had been playing with choreography to Patti Scialfa’s song Spanish Dancer. As much as I like the song I was burning out on it and probably most important my wife really doesn’t like Patti’s singing. Carol was going to be at the Open House. I wanted my dance to have music she liked.

So I fell back on a song that I love but deemed too long for the program. Hans Zimmer’s A Way of Life from the Last Samurai movie soundtrack. The closer I got to May 14, 2011 the more I wanted to back out. I was working between static pole and spinning pole in my routine and trying to make it flow. My moves seemed too simple and Amber Richard had only finished introducing me to spinning pole in March. The only new move I had was the “jade” and spinning a sideways climb on a static pole. What I didn’t know I had was arabesque, balancé, degagé, shoulders open, a decent support leg, and knowing the count.

Open house rehearsal was Friday the 13th. How perfect. I have never felt so good about my dance. It was about the pole but I wasn’t glued to it like I would fall down if it went away. I loved having the space between the poles. I also had a story to tell. A story about warriors, kata, mind set, humility, duty, honor and accepting the sword. Accepting a way of life that the ancient samurai understood just as well as the soldier stationed with the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan understands today.

The reception I got from the women at rehearsal was awesome. It was genuine. The best compliment I received was, "You told a story." Last night all the way up until I stepped up to the pole and let the music wash over me I was calmer than I have ever been before a performance. I started with my feet in third, and held my arms in preparation. From there I danced on the floor away from the poles and then came back to them. The poles weren’t slippery, I seemed to be able to hold my inversions just the right amount of time before I hooked and I landed a jade that felt pretty damn good. I hope that muscle memory kept my lines elegant and the “ugly” foot (as Amber calls it) out of sight. The applause and comments afterward made it one of those nights that will live forever. After every recital I always say never again. This time I’m just going to shut up about it and dance until next May.

People have 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