Friday, September 17, 2010

When in doubt, stick it out or Hippos vs. Ballerinas



So, I've vacillated between posting this and only telling it to my friends in person, and obviously you can tell which side won that debate, and it's mostly because of phrases like "drunken monkey" and the need to for a public service announcement regarding physics.

Once upon a time in the not-too-distant past, I went to a bachelorette party for my dear friend Muffin*. Part of that party was a pole dancing class. Yep. Pole dancing. Like what some strippers do. So, in a room with 15 of Muffin's friends, we learned some basics of how to throw ourselves around this pole, slide about and walk on our buttocks. It was more silly than sexy, but it was really fun. It was fun because it made being sexy something that wasn't mysterious or unobtainable. It was a safe place to try moving our bodies in new ways, with someone who had insight to guide us. And you ain't seen nuthin' 'till you've seen a bunch of shy white girls (and me) trying to move like Beyonce. Seriously.

But we had fun, and it was a good workout. You use your arms & legs & abs & laugh a lot, so there were definitely calories burned.

Then, a year and change had passed when I saw an opportunity for further hilarity
--a Groupon** for pole dancing classes just down the street from my house. $30 for 3 classes! I signed up. I was prepared to go it alone, but my friends are awesome and like to dance and are usually up for an adventure, especially one involving a lot of silliness, so I didn't have to go alone. My Doppelganger*** came with me.

After much schedule coordination and missed connections we nailed down a time, and we boldly ventured to the dance studio for our pole dancing class. Two hippos**** in a room full of ballerinas. Yeah... this was gonna be great.

A word about pole dancing--get rid of your preconceived notions. These classes are just like most other dance classes--they show you moves, break them down into small steps and walk you through each one, moving from basic to more complex. They offer constructive feedback and help you with your form. One thing that makes pole dancing especially nice is the atmosphere. The instructors are whole-heartedly welcoming, accepting, and willing to help. They will laugh with you, but never at you. They are there to help you feel like an amazing woman who is in touch with herself as a sensual creature, but they take you as you are, at whatever level of comfort, and want you to be you--not anyone else--even if who you are is a semi-awkward, easily bruised white girl who can't get her spine to bend in anything resembling a fluid motion. No worries. Fun first, then fitness, then finesse.

I'm stuck at step 2, and that's ok. So, Doppelganger & I get there, introduce ourselves to our wonderful instructor, Ashley, and get ready to not take ourselves seriously. That's key. Don't take yourself seriously when you start learning something outlandish. You won't be good at it immediately, and trust me, I had plenty of opportunities to cheer my failure.

So we stretched and did a warm up and learned a couple of tricks. Ashley was patient and demonstrated each move with effortless grace and gave us lots of time to practice. And it looked simple enough at first. You just step, swing, and lift. That's all.

Step. Got it.
Swing--um, ok...
And lift... wait, lift what? Lift me? With my own arms? Are we operating with the same basic understanding of physics and anatomy?

Physics is actually really important in pole dancing. You have to build momentum to be able to move around the pole with grace. I never quite achieved grace, though I did get momentum. One of the things Ashley said that really made it easier was this: You have to trust the pole. It's not going anywhere. Very much easier said than done, but after hurling myself with abandon at the thing without bringing down the studio around our ears, I began to believe it. So there I was, throwing myself about, hoping to imitate these fancy moves, and while I could get my torso to move, my feet seemed reluctant to leave the ground. I would life leg 1, then swing, then lift leg 2 only to have both feet crash to the ground, which would have been fine had my torso not kept going 'round the bend. So my feet are right underneath my shoulders, which is good, only the rest of me is bent, pretzel-like around this pole... not graceful or visually appealing in any way.

With Doppelganger at my side to encourage me and laugh with me at the impossible tangle that I managed to make of my arms and legs, I continued to attempt various pole tricks with fancy names like "fireman," "warrior," and "firefly." Ashley was able to hold herself away from the pole, adding attitude and flair to her moves. I, on the other hand, was clinging to the pole much like a drunken monkey aboard a pirate ship would cling to one of those cross sections on the things the sails hang from...

Due to an astounding lack of upper-body strength, it was all I could do to cling to the pole for dear life as I haphazardly spun towards the ground. Gravity was indeed on my side. Friction, however, was not. One, I don't actually own workout shorts of any kind, so what I had were some cropped yoga pants pulled up to imitate shorts. Two, while you need skin on the pole to gain a secure grip so you don't fall off, you don't want so much skin that you have such a secure grip that instead of sliding down the pole you sort of skip like a record in an earthquake. Also, just a side note for the interested, when swinging your arm across your body to grab the pole, do not also accidentally pinch an inch of your own chubby under-arm dingle dangle. It hurts, and leaves a really ugly bruise. Just sayin'...

However, I did leave with one piece of advice: "When in doubt, stick it out."

The "it" in this situation is your derriere. The thought being something similar to what every performer, no matter the media, learns: when you make a mistake, cover it with confidence. Only you know how bad it really was, and if you start strong & end strong, hopefully they'll forget that wibbly bit in the middle. Wonderful advice, and I cling to it in all my other performance outlets, however there is something just not right about me trying to "stick it out." Ashley made it look sassy and fun. I think I looked a bit like an epileptic rhino. My spine lacks the fluidity necessary to make that kind of move appealing. My Doppelganger, with her years of dance training, especially belly dance, was perfect at this. When we worked a transition move called "Flaunt and Hunt" she was perfect. Stylish, sleek, beautiful. It was truly impressive.

Thankfully, the dance studio is equipped with the ubiquitous wall-o-mirrors, so you can see what you're doing to make adjustments. This allowed me to be keenly aware of the fact that while my head was moving in the right direction, the rest of me was not following. Sinuous and snake-like were not the adjectives I would use to describe what I was doing. In fact, I am at a loss to adequately describe the particular awkward that I discovered at that moment. I won't even begin to describe what happened when we did our end-of-class cool down floor work. No, no I won't.


At the end of the class I was sweaty, sore, and happy. I laughed and learned some stuff--mostly that I'm not cut out to be a true pole dancer, but that I can fake just about anything. And a word on the pastiness of me: purple. Yes, purple. Not only my favorite color, but also the color my skin turns as evidence of my klutzery. In addition to a lovely bruise from a blood-donation incident that left me looking like a junkie (and an inept one at that!), I walked away with a collection of bruises from my ankles to my shoulders. Lovely, purple, red, green, yellow bruises. They don't really hurt, but it made clothing choices even more frustrating than usual as I tried to avoid explaining why I looked like I'd lost a 3-to-1 fight against a burlap sack of rocks.

All in all, being willing to laugh at myself is a skill I'm very glad I've honed over the years. I'm good enough at that to attempt another class tonight...




*Yes, her name is Muffin. No, it's not the name on her birth certificate, but no one, not even her parents, ever called her that name. Her wedding invitations, favors, and minister all said Muffin, so Muffin it is. Ask her about her tattoo!

**If you don't know what a Groupon is, get thee to the internet and participate in the wonders of not having to know 50 people who all like the same stuff as you to get a group rate discount at fun stuff.

***Yep, I'm her Stunt Double, she's my Doppelganger. While no one would ever confuse us for
identical twins or anything, we're both 6' redheads of a similar shade of red, which is unusual in and of itself, but we also have similar shapes and levels of pastiness covered with freckles...

****I don't find my Doppelganger particularly hippo-like, even if I consider myself hippo like, which I know makes no logical sense, unless you're a girl, and then it totally does... but anyway, she made the comment as we were driving to class that she was glad she'd have a fellow hippo in class, so I feel ok putting this on the internet...

5 comments:

dleighb said...

Two comments:
1. I can't believe you didn't invite me to your first class.
2. I am going to DIE at your second one!

Mindy said...

Keep up the bravery! Poling is absolutely addicting, and I promise you will LOVE the results. It took me about a month to get comfortable with it, but now I can't get enough!

Linnea said...

Two more classes conqured! And soon, 3 more... Maybe I'll get myself a membership for Christmas, and try the other classes too!

Erica said...

I do love "when in doubt, stick it out". Usually these little lessons apply to life in a greater sense but I'm not so sure in this case. I probably won't use it in a sticky situation but you can bet I'll think it.

HereWeGoAJen said...

That sounds like so much fun! Will you be providing a demonstration? ;)

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