Pole pas de deux

Pole pas de deux

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ballet and Pole For the Bewildered

Some of my friends read my blog for the things I say that are not exactly related to dance. In all my endeavors I have found lessons that are more about living my life than the sport or hobby I am exploring. Competitive chess taught me planning and strategy. Similar lessons are in ice hockey with the added complication that you are responsible for other people when you play and coach. You can be a positive or negative force in your teammates and players lives. Dance and competitive long-range rifle shooting are lessons in Zen. You feel when the conditions are right to make your shot or execute a subtle gesture with your eyes. Sometimes you have to let your intuition take over. Not everything in the world works like a proof in advanced calculus.

The vocabulary of pole dance and ballet is filled with strange names. Ballet is almost entirely French and it takes a while before you just know that en croix means the combination will be done devant (to the front), a la seconde (to the side), and derriere (to the back). You guessed it, in the shape of a cross.

So I thought I would suggest a few books that might help people who know nothing about ballet or pole dance see past the language/jargon and into one of the worlds I inhabit. The first short read is Winter Season: A Dancers Journal by Toni Bently. Toni danced in the corp of the New York City Ballet during the last of the Balanchine years. The book is actually a journal she kept during a season she danced with NYCB. I'm warning you upfront that other searches of Toni's writing will lead you past her writing in Dance Magazine and Suzanne Farrell's biography. You might fall into the rabbit hole and find yourself looking at The Surrender, an Erotic Memoir. Toni is my age and not long after degeneration and arthritis in her hips took her out of ballet she wrote an entire book about self-discovery and anal sex. So don't say I didn't tell you that she is very in touch and comfortable with her sexuality. You don't have to pole dance to find your erotic self. Dancers are weird.

The second place to look is Pole Dance Dictionary Here you will find some of the moves I reference in my blog. There is no standardized language in pole dance. Be aware that some other dancer or studio might have a different name for the same move. I hate that but I'm a scientist and a "Feynmanist."

Pole Story: Essays on the Power of Erotic Dance by Claire Griffin Sterrett looks at the history of pole dance and she is a huge proponent of keeping pole dance sexy. Claire and I don't always agree. Nonetheless her book is for anyone who wants to know what makes pole dance attractive to so many women.

Happy reading. Dance is all about digging deep inside, coming to terms with your body and soul and showing it to the world. It is powerful and painful. Most dancers have to dance.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


It's dark when I get to work now. The summer passed so fast. Now I'm watching the leaves turn and planning work travel. I have always had to perform. When you are a research scientist the main way of communicating is presenting your research at conferences and meetings. I have two trips planned in the next six months. One to California and one to Austin, Texas.

The Austin trip is big. It's the annual American Meteorological Society (AMS) dog and pony show/annual meeting. The first time I presented my research was back at an AMS conference in Clearwater Beach, FL in June 1984. I was just a kid. A scared kid who had no idea what he didn't know. The last time I attended the annual meeting was 2009 and I suddenly realized that I wasn't the kid anymore. I was the guy on PhD dissertation committees "guiding" young scientists on their way to knowing what they don't know. I also became acutely aware of the passing of my mentors and how the field of meteorology had changed over the last thirty years. At the AMS in January I will be connecting with some of my favorite students from past years. It's really the only reason I'm going. I'm not a big fan of the meeting. It's huge and I hate commercial airline flights.

I find myself at a crossroad. It seems I'm surrounded by reminders that there are more years behind me than there are in front of me. On Saturday I was helping someone work through some pole moves that would get them out of an inverted crucifix and I realized that I was going to have to buy a chrome pole because I will no longer be dancing or performing on brass. Then I got another one of those creepy "What for?" moments. Like the last time I put new blades on my skates. The thought came to me that by the time the steel on the new blades could not be sharpened anymore I would probably not be able to play ice hockey.

Back in March I expressed some reservations to my former pole dance teacher about partnered pole dancing. There aren't many pole dancers my age, let alone ones who want to take ballet classes and work on pas de deux. When Balanchine started working with the great ballerina Suzanne Farrell he was in his 50's and Suzanne was nineteen. I was uncomfortable with the parallels. When I read about Balanchine dancing the role of  Don Quixote himself with Suzanne after leaving so many wives for his young new ballerinas/muses I felt sorry for him. When I see a guy in his 60's driving a Corvette with a woman half his age in the front seat I always hope it's his daughter. My teacher was comforting and told me that Rudolf Nureyev was much younger than Dame Margot Fonteyn and that she kept dancing because he inspired her. He extended her career and some of the greatest ballet ever performed came in the autumn of Margot Fonteyn's life. For them it was all about the art.

The question in my mind as I stand here at the crossroads is, When have you stayed too long? When do you start looking like a person trying desperately to turn back a clock that has already struck twelve?

Do I buy a new dance pole and start all over with a dancer who has wanted to partner with me for over a year? Do I rent the ice for next summer so that the old gang and I can play pick up ice hockey? Do I buy those books on technical writing and hydrology so that I can be a better scientist and communicator? Do I take on more new students? Do I just bag it, retire, and move on to a quieter life without competition and drama?

Picking a direction at this new crossroad is going to take some soul searching and courage. The way I see it both roads look rough.

"It's easy to get buried in the past. When you try to make a good thing last." from the song Ambulance Blues by Neil Young

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Who Owns It?

I found myself in a different place yesterday. I was helping a friend with choreography for a pole dance performance that she will be doing this winter. I'm a dancer and I'm still active. I stumbled into choreography because I wanted to go beyond freestyle in my dance and as far as pas de deux is concerned it is the only way. For two people to dance together they have to have a road map.

To help someone else in a non-professional situation and also not interfere with their mentor is difficult. Especially when some of my favorite things to dislike about pole dance performances come up and I see a way around the cliches that annoy me so much. I want to speak out. It's my nature.

I've been a head coach, senior scientist, dad, etc. I'm used to being on the pointy end. I guess you know that when a platoon walks in the jungle the guy in front is usually the first one to get blown up. I've been blown up a lot in my life and I'm sure that expressing my artistic choreography ideas might upset a few people but here are some of the things that I just think end up being cliche and or boring.

  • Too many tricks. Four minutes of music and twenty-five tricks. I'm a physics guy right? That is less than 10 seconds per trick. What happens to form when you rush? All the moves get short. If you aren't Amber Richard tall, short isn't good. Would you believe that Nureyev was 5' 8"? If you ever get the chance to watch some of his performances on YouTube I'm sure that you would never think he was under 5' 10". Baryshnikov is 5' 6". Lines are the illusion and you can't hit long lines in a hurry.
  • No story or insight into the music. It's in the background because the dancer likes it. It might as well be white noise to the audience. The music should inspire the movement. The interplay between the music and the body is what most of us think of when we think of dance. 
  • Too many camel toe shots. They can be so cliche. It is even worse if the feet are sickled, winged or flexed. The platforms aren't going to hide a bad line. It can end up looking like a thirteen-year old walking in her first pair of heels. If you dance barefoot a bad line is even more noticeable. The splay is a powerful, dramatic and sometimes sexual move. Don't over do it. I'm a guy and I'm totally comfortable doing a helicopter inversion when the music says it has to happen. If a woman blasts me her crotch six or seven times in a routine it is just over the top. 
  • Glued to the pole. Think about coming out of a move and not carrying it to the floor but being able to dance away from the pole. You are a dancer right? Steal some steps from Jazz, Modern, etc. Show some sexy that is just you. Put the focus on yourself away from the pole.
  • Trying to be sexy. Your audience knows, trust me. Refer back to the teenager and her first tube of lipstick. Sexy is in your spine and you will say it every time you move if you really feel it.
Now that I have put my top five pet pole dance bummers out there I have a few suggestions that have helped me move my dance in different directions.

  1. Dance to music that is just not you. Pick something you hate even if you have to stand there because it  does nothing for you but pisses you off. Poker Face (Lady Gaga version). It makes my skin crawl. I used to share a semi-private lesson with a woman who loved blues. I'm not big on blues but I found myself moving differently. I never imagined I would dance to Eric Clapton or Robert Johnson.
  2. Put a piece of tape on the pole. I learned that from Estee Zakar. Don't go below it. It will keep you off the floor or aware that you need to climb above and transition standing up so you can dance away.
  3. Steal. Steal from other dance forms. Balanchine is a ballet legend and he openly told people he stole stuff. 
  4. Dance to express not impress. You don't have to do any move because someone tells you it has to be there. 
  5. Listen to your music and just freestyle it at first. Don't write down a move unless you feel it.
  6. Don't let a choreographer use you like a robot. A good choreographer lets you be on the pointy end a lot of the time. Your body, your dance. You own it.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Twelve Hour Days and Coffee

The entire month has been mostly twelve hour days and coffee. I've had my brain consumed by two scientific papers that I'm writing. I haven't worked on a dance pole since late August. I fixed that today. Ballet and pole dance. My pole and ballet work have benefited from the distance. Why? Because I breathe science like I breathe dance.

My work makes me happy too. Actually calling it work is wrong. I am lucky enough to have been paid to do something I love doing.

Kirbyville, Texas July 2006. Texas Air Quality Experiment. Real meteorology deep in East Texas.

Poledancerdiaries: Can You See Me?

Driving home from my Saturday morning ballet class I noticed that a new Tweet had arrived from Studio Veena. The message: Did you see Charley's new blog? As soon as I got home I read it and it is stunning. It is also here on her Blogger page. Poledancerdiaries.

Charley Crystal wrote something that touched me deeply. Can You See Me? is the title of her post. I just wanted to say that if she could write something so brutally honest about her journey as a dancer in words I cannot imagine what it must be like to see her perform. Next summer I am going to attend the Midwest Pole Dancing Championship. I hope she is there.

There are so many things I would like to share about dancers from both my dance worlds. I added Charley's blog along with some other blogs I follow to my main page. I also have two of my favorite places in the world linked to my page.

I would probably write even more about ballet but I always worry about web searches that associate a pole dance blog with the elegant world of ballet. But enough about ballet and the dual worlds some of us inhabit.

This blog entry is about Charley Crystal.

I can see her.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Black and Orange to Bittersweet

A few days ago I was thinking about watching the ballet In the Night by Jerome Robbins in Vail, CO last summer. It was this crazy collage of Chopin, the difficult partnering, and that beautiful black and orange dress that meant the final pas was staged true to the original.

I was going to write about watching that ballet the first time. Then came a whole bunch of publication deadlines. I'm supposed to be a research scientist and that means publish or perish. So I've been writing research articles.

Then came Pole Pride Day 2012.

Then a few minutes ago this popped up on my Facebook Wall:

Tonight Wendy and Tyler are doing it for the first time on their home stage at NYCB.

But while a voice within me cries
I know heaven will answer my call
And this bitter earth
Ooh, may not be so bitter after all

I've decided to teach the choreography that goes with the pole dance version of This Bitter Earth to my new partner. It's just too beautiful. It belongs with hope and joy.

Black and Orange to Sweet

Pole Pride Day 2012

Pole Pride Day 2012. I guess I was a little early with the blog post I made a few weeks ago. I was talking about the pole dance closet and a few days later I found that someone actually picked September 20 as the official day for people to openly declare that they are part of the complex and misunderstood world of pole dance.

I differentiate between pole dance and pole fitness because the dynamics change when you put the Y-chromosome with a "stripper pole." For some groups especially men, "fitness" is a step up on the evolutionary (stripper, dancer, athlete) pole ladder. I am a male "dancer". I think coming out is much harder for male dancers than female dancers.

The "fitness" thing bypasses the sexy issue. In my book, fitness for men means that you need to hold the Flagpole or Iron-X pole moves for 5 minutes and when you are done with that you need to pummel that pole with a total display of upper body strength and testosterone. If you get more than four inches away from the pole you are going to disappear in a puff of smoke.

I'm out and very proud. So when I tell people I pole dance it means:
  • I don't care what assumptions you might make about my sexuality.
  • I don't go from trick to trick with the music in the background like elevator music.
  • I can get fifteen feet away from the pole and say something without ever uttering a word.
  • Music is everything. I know how to dance under it, with it and count it.
  • I know that you can't fake sexy. Sexy is being yourself and saying it without pretense.
  • There is motion in stillness.
  • A move comes from deep inside and it goes out with your breath.
  • I study lines. I think Vagonova "Russian" school of ballet every time I move a leg or arm. When you are 5' 11" you can make even the simplest move look awesome with length and grace.
  • Telling a story with my body.
  • Being vulnerable
  • Taking risks
  • I'm not always sure of myself.
  • I see more than brass, stainless steel and sex.
  • I am ok with sexy and I like being part of it. I want to be desired. I'm not afraid to admit it.
  • I like performing. Dancers are meant to be seen.
  • Passion is more important than technical ability.
  • I don't want to dance. I need to dance.
Happy coming out day if you are going there. I hope today some guy decides to take a chance and tells the "You gotta do this if you are a manly man" voice in his head to fuck off and pole dances.

P.S. I'm not really big on these so called special days but today I'm going with the flow.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Last Dance: Time and Space

I picked Ludovico Einaudi's Divenire for what turned out to be a farewell dance. I was introduced to his music this past July when the adult dancers at my ballet studio gave their showcase performance. The Modern class picked two Einaudi pieces and I was hooked. About an hour after the end of the Ballet Nouveau Colorado "Dance Found" performance I was downloading the entire album that is also entitled Divenire.

In the music I could feel the magic of being a defensemen. Defense is the position I play in ice hockey. The position is all about speed and destroying the scoring chances of the other team. Like dance, being a defensemen comes down to time and space. Take away the opposing team's time and space. Make them turn over the puck and get it to your forwards so they can take the battle to the opposite side of the ice. Dance is taking up space and dividing the time. I felt something else in Divenire. The music switches from deep emotion to a beautiful fast tempo that you feel when you are hunting down the puck with everything in your heart. If you are still playing at my age it is 98% passion.

I'm running out of time and space as an athlete. I've been playing ice hockey since I was thirteen. I am now fifty-six and I don't play beer league hockey anymore. In fact my former pole dance teacher was at my last game where there was a running clock and referee's. Now I play pickup summer hockey from May to August with some very good friends. Dance has changed the way I play. My balance is better and pole dance helps maintain the upper body and core strength that hockey players share with dancers. But it cannot turn back the clock. I am very familiar with the hospital emergency and operating rooms. Ice hockey is both elegant and brutal. I know in my heart the time is nearing when I will have to say goodbye to my skates.

So my battered skates and a green jersey I wore with the big white "C" for captain for so many seasons came with me to my dance lesson on that hot August afternoon. For some reason that day I didn't feel much like working on pole moves. I had something I just couldn't wait to say. My teacher had no idea what I was up to when I walked in with my skates and jersey. This was going to be the first time that I had ever danced with props. But there is more to those two pieces of hockey "stuff". The jersey has small tears in it, black marks from the other teams stick tape, and places where the puck has left a bit of itself and a bruise on my body. The skates are cut everywhere by the other teams skate blades and they too have multiple puck marks where the other teams shots have made their presence known.

I stood on the edge of the studio hardwood floor and counted the introduction to Divenire with my jersey over my dance clothes and my skates in my right hand. I didn't ballet walk to the center pole of the studio. I walked like a player coming down the tunnel from the locker room to the rink gate with a stick in hand. At the center studio pole I set my skates on the floor and slowly pulled my jersey off with the wistfulness I felt after my last league game. Like someone who just can't take it off and leave. Then I ballet walked to the far side of the studio and looked out the window at the southwest Denver skyline.

And then I danced. I left everything I felt in those moments on the hardwood and brass that afternoon. You would be interested to know that changing direction from skating backward to forward while driving an opposing player away from the prime scoring area is what a ballet dancer calls a pas de bourrée step. The balancé step is nothing more that getting your feet set so that you can shove someone out of the goaltenders line of sight. I danced around my hockey stuff. I was a hockey player, and now I'm a dancer. I have to let go. I can't let go. I ran, I climbed and I made my spins long and fast.

I inverted on the pole that my skates were at the base of and stretched my arms out to them in the best Balanchine line I could find in my heart. At one point near mid song I ran to the window and looked out at the setting sun and I couldn't find my breath because I was trying not to cry. When the count told me it was almost over I stopped and walked over to my skates. I pulled my jersey back on and grabbed my skates. As I walked back to the end of the hardwood for my exit I noticed that my teacher had red eyes.

I told my story. I divided the time and space. My last dance looking into the Denver skyline. Balanchine was right you know. He admonished every dancer who held back. Never save anything. Never wait. There are no other times. The time is now. Live in the moment. Every dance is fragile. It might be your last.

Ludovico Einaudi "Divenire"

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Line From the Heart With a Breath From the Soul

Every now and then a person crosses your path that changes your life in a profound way. It's not the stuff of Star Trek or Nicolas Cage in the movie Family Man. In my life these are people I remember every time I submit a manuscript to a research journal, lace up my skates, or grab a tool. They are my cherished mentors, coaches and teachers.

I said goodbye to the teacher I hear every time I invert, ron de jambe, ballet walk, or forget to work a line with a breath that comes from my soul. Before I started this post I could hear For a Dancer by Jackson Browne. But at this point I'm hearing a line from Everything Changes by Stained. I'm posting both. There is a bit of our journey together in both of them. She will be with me every time I dance.

Lyrics from the song For a Dancer by Jackson Browne
Into a dancer you have grown
From a seed somebody else has thrown
Go on ahead and throw some seeds of your own
And somewhere between the time you arrive
And the time you go
May lie a reason you were alive
But you'll never know 

Lyrics from the song Everything Changes by Staind
I am the mess you chose
The closet you can not close
The devil in you, I suppose
'Cause the wounds never heal

Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost

Today's ballet class was interesting. We had four dancers. Two first time dancers, someone that can dance, and moi. Wow! I feel bad. I'm  doing center work and cross floor. That poor newbie. I would look in the mirror, try to fix my screw-up and notice that she was following me and screwing up. I needed a sign that said, "Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost."

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Revisting Pas de Deux

Before you go on to read this post I would like to ask you to go here and read this article. What did you think? Here is a blog post that led me to the previous read. A few weeks back I was trying to address a few of these issues and it turned into what we now call, "An Epic Fail."

I pursued learning classical ballet pas de deux and tried to blend it into pole dance because I love to dance and I love ballet. I remember the first time I watched Baryshnikov dance the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux with Patrica McBride on a Balanchine choreography DVD. I told myself, "I want to do that!"

I like the part in the magazine article where she talks about hitting your partner with an elbow and giving them a bloody nose, "All you can do is say you are sorry. Don't beat yourself up about it."

I really don't have a lot more to say. I leave you with two famous quotes:

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be. ~ Douglas Adams
To hold, you must first open your hand. Let go. ~ Lao Tzu

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Pole Dancer Closet

You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be. And one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid…. You refuse to do it because you want to live longer…. You’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you’re afraid that somebody will stab you, or shoot at you or bomb your house; so you refuse to take the stand.
Well, you may go on and live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.

Martin Luther King Jr.

I saw this quote posted on real life friend's Facebook page about a week ago. Like many things you find on the Internet I wanted to verify the accuracy and origin before I posted it. It resonated with me because I don't always see empowerment or creative self-expression in pole dance. Sometimes I just see pole dance as a form of socially stigmatized self-indulgence. The analogy that comes to mind is having sex in a public place where you might get caught. It's thrilling but not exactly something that you are going to discuss with your boss. It's rebellious and totally outside polite societies boundaries. You keep doing it because the adrenaline rush is addictive. Indulging in that drug is giving your Sunday school teacher and the ex that said you were boring in bed the finger.

So many of us have learned that pole dance whether it be sexy, athletic, or simply raunchy is like any art. The beauty lies in the soul of the person who dances. However, many of us are living in the shadows. I will probably never coach an ice hockey team again. After my retirement it is unlikely that I will get a part time professorship teaching meteorology here in my part of the country. My son removed me from his Facebook friends list about five minutes after he sent me a friend request. Why? The reason was a picture of me doing something I love on a brass dance pole.  My militant Catholic sister-in-law and my nieces look at me, my home dance pole, and pretend that we are not related. All of this over a socially questionable dance form and being public about it.

I can't ignore the facts. A simple Google search that turns up a picture of you upside down on a dance pole can change your future. The pole world is full of respected lawyers, teachers, doctors, mothers, fathers, graduate students etc. People from every walk of life that you can imagine. So many of us have locked ourselves in the pole dance closet. Drawing a parallel between coming out as gay might be a little over the top but there are some connections. Once you choose to be a pole dancer, you have a decision to make. I made my decision. The existence of this blog with my legal name on it says it all.

I hear a lot of talk. I've seen a statement about how dance heals the spirit written on a wall over fourteen feet high. I don't know about you but if you pole dance and you live looking around the corner for some phantom to ruin your reputation, how healed can your spirit get? Don't get me wrong. I do understand how the real world works. It's a world where a school teacher or youth hockey coach gets dumped out on the street because of something they do on their personal time that has absolutely no bearing on their integrity, values, knowledge of subject or ability to teach and inspire their students.

I'm over three years into my pole dance odyssey and I can tell you that healing my spirit with pole dancing has just not happened. I understand myself in much more depth but it hasn't all been joyful. At times dancing has been downright painful for me. The mirrors, the self judgement, the difficulty and the vulnerability that goes with dance can kick your ass pretty hard.  In fact I'm beginning to conclude that I'm an emotional, expressive dancer because I'm a little odd or just plain fucked up. I'm not sure I would be able to dance worth a damn if I got "healed". Your can't feel the pain that inspired Vincent van Gogh on Prozac. I don't want to be healed. I just want to say things that I feel without words.

If you want cheap and easy go learn ballroom or tango (Especially if you are male and into women). Being a pole dancer is like being the 1000 lb white gorilla in the middle of the zoo. Exposing your soul to the world ballet dancing is tough enough. Why add in that "stripper" pole? The only way the public perception of pole dance is going to change is if enough apparently sane, everyday people are willing to be open about their "dance" preference. You might lose some "friends". You might lose some family. You might lose a job or business opportunity. I know from experience that some people think that there is something really awesome about men pole dancing. I really enjoy being around those people. I only have so many seconds on this planet and I want to spend the time I have in the company of people who accept a guy who pole dances.

Nothing in this world is free. Especially personal freedom. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Pictures In a Scrapbook

For me pole dance is all about dance. It is all about expressing the emotions I feel with my body. The majority of my life on the planet has revolved around science, logic and being able to prove a point with hard numbers. I didn't dance until I was in my early fifties. I only learned a few months ago that if I looked somewhere into my dance space while I was dancing that I needed to really "see" before the line was complete.

I have loved music since I was very young. I can tell you the exact place I was in my hometown the very first time I heard Johnny Cash sing Ring of Fire in 1963. Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Tori Amos, Mazzy Star, Debussy, Tchaikovsky, and Neil Young are vivid examples of music that moves me from deep inside.

Each song is a picture in a scrapbook. When I open the scrapbook of my life sometimes a picture falls out on the floor. Some are triumphant. They will live forever as signs of happiness, contentment, and sometimes accomplishment. Others like the picture my mother took of me and the girl I lost my innocence with are bittersweet and wistful. There is this huge playlist of mine that has turned bittersweet and wistful.

I won't stop dancing to those songs. But they will be changed forever. Pictures in a scrapbook.