Tales of a pole-dancing feminist

As I write this, my inner thighs are bruised, my underarm muscles (who knew they exist?) are sore, and I’ve skinned the top of my left foot. These reminders of yesterday’s dance session, my first in two months, are uncomfortable, but I’m glad they’re there.  They’ve helped me get back inside my own body.

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These are just some of the locations and causes of pole dance bruises.

When I left my house for dance yesterday, I wasn’t feeling great. I knew I’d lost a lot of strength, since I had been away and not working out (I really REALLY hate to exercise outside of dance classes) for a while. Usually, my frustration with myself for my laziness quickly turns into determination to do better. However, this time the frustration felt like defeat. I eyed the pole warily as I warmed up, doubting that my muscles would remember what to do, or that they’d be strong enough to do it. (For the record, this post is not going to debate whether pole dancing is or is not feminist. Maybe I’ll address that in the future, but it’s not something I’m thinking about now).

It took me a while to figure out why I felt like I’d lost faith in my body. See, while I’d been away, visiting home for an extended stay over the holidays, I’d gone through a bunch of old photos with the intent of bringing them back and scanning them so that my Facebook friends and I could laugh at our 2003 hair and outfits.

But two things about the photos surprised me. One was how much thinner I looked ten years ago – while I knew I’d gained a bunch of weight, I didn’t FEEL like I looked much different – and the second was how insecure that made me feel about my body today. I knew that other girls could occasionally make me feel self-conscious about my thighs or my tummy pudge, but I felt kind of betrayed when those feelings came from my prior self.

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Me and my bff all gothed up in the early 2000s.

Since hitting 30, I’d come to a really nice kind of peace with my body and how it looks. I don’t know if it was just because of the age (countless people had told me that their 30s was when they really started to feel comfortable in their skin), or if all of the body-positive stuff I believed in was finally starting to sink in. But whatever it was, I’ve been feeling pretty good. I eat healthily because I enjoy it, don’t stress about what size jeans I buy, and am generally just not too concerned with my body size and shape. I’ve got better things to worry about. It’s ironic that the girl in the pictures, the one making me feel kind of crappy, probably felt WAY worse about her body than I actually do.

At this point, it really hit home for me that the process loving your body doesn’t look the same for everyone. The simile I worked out this morning as I was walking to work (and please forgive me in advance – it’s ridiculous) is that loving your body isn’t like a game of Candy Crush. You don’t defeat a level and then move up, never having to see that board again (unless you want to work on your personal high score). It’s more like a game of Words With Friends; each day is different, with a different opponent and different tiles. Some days you win, some days you lose. But every day your skills increase, you learn more two-letter words (seriously, WTF is a “ki”?), and you get just a little better at it.

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A super-scientific graph I made to show you what I mean.

So I tried to approach this first session back with an attitude of acceptance of my body and its limitations. I did a couple of basic pole holds, gauging my strength, and a few easy spins to reacclimate to the motion. Instead of trying to do more complicated moves, I focused on my form in the simpler ones: shoulders down, head straight, toes pointed. I let my body slowly remember what it was supposed to do, what the moves felt like. I did a few pole sits, holding through the pain (hence the inner-thigh bruises) and being grateful that I could tolerate it.

A few times I messed up and whacked a leg or arm against the pole. I had a hard time gaining momentum for a few spins and ended up dangling awkwardly, stopped mid-spin and mid-pole. I got completely confused on the footing for a left-handed back hook and tripped comically over my own feet. And each time I laughed at myself, dusted myself off, and gave it another go.

Near the end of the session, my instructor and I discussed which level classes I should take this term, since I’d missed so much time. She said that if I could still invert (a move where you hold the pole with your hands/arms and use your abs to lift your entire body over your head to wrap your legs around the pole) with good control, I’d be fine to move up to the next level.

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Yup, my thighs are kinda lumpy. But it’s hard to care about that when they’re holding me up so solidly!

So I invoked one of my top five rules; fake it ‘til you make it. I approached the pole nonchalantly, chatting with my instructor the whole time. I gripped the pole like I wasn’t worried or nervous, and positioned my hips in front of it. Since thinking about inverting is pretty much guaranteed to make me mess it up, I turned my brain off, and let my body do its thing. Next thing I knew, my legs were hooked surely around the pole, gripping it between my thighs. In a small moment of confidence, I let go with my hands, arching my back so my body curved away from the pole, arms outstretched triumphantly.

In that moment I knew that my small step backwards into body insecurity had passed. I was back inside my body, enjoying what it could do, not worried about what it looked like. I had faith that if I was kind to my body, it would be loyal to me.

What makes you feel confident about your body and its abilities? When do you most comfortably inhabit your body? What’s likely to trip you up?

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3 responses to “Tales of a pole-dancing feminist

  1. Pingback: Why I don’t love my body | I was a high-school feminist·

  2. Pingback: What “Why I Dance” gets wrong about pole | I was a high-school feminist·

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