Pole pas de deux

Pole pas de deux

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.