Pole pas de deux

Pole pas de deux

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.