It’s been a weird month for pole dancing: A week or so ago it emerged that Swansea University banned its Pole Dance Society from running any longer, claiming that it validated a career in sex work; furthermore, I have decided to master the art.
To expand upon the former: in a bid to eradicate sexist attitudes towards it, the University of Swansea’s decision to ban the Pole Dance Society, to me, seems utterly ridiculous. In banning the society, surely, the University have applied a negative connotation to pole dancing which will, now, inevitably filter through and damage people’s perspectives of the art form. Hence, the University could arguably create a sexist attitude which, perhaps, didn’t even exist initially. Furthermore, a more common name for the activity is “pole fitness”; is not the notion of banning something design to improve your core strength and physical well-being by using your body to make weird, wonderful, often muscle-pulling shapes totally ridiculous? It’s like banning gymnastics.
And the latter: as a bit of a feministy, wannabe eccentric with an enthusiastic Fresher Complex, it seemed apt to try it after the Swansea controversy. And at £2.50 for a taster which included a sure fire way to transform my body into a graceful, mysterious piece of empowering artwork (which is so far removed from the amateurish swinging on a greasy pole in a club with your knickers on show), I was well up for it.
So there we were, a merry band of woman adventurers dressed to impress in slobby gym wear and our sights set on throwing some epic pole shapes and bent on oozing some kind of sexy, freedom-fighting, self-owning, strong woman warrior kind of vibe thing – especially since some of my peers had attempted to chastise me for wanting to try it. They deemed it “unclassy”, “slutty” and intrinsically linked to sex work, to which I retorted “It’s pole FITNESS, and my body is UNATTAINABLE and BENDY” and promptly flounced off.
The studio, Twisted Pole, turned out to be very well hidden about four floors up in a sort of apartment block, which, admittedly, did kind of add to the sense that it was a slightly illicit and transgressive undertaking. Upshot: it was bloody exciting!
We arrived at the studio already quite red faced, sweating and heaving from clambering up about 500 or so spiralling stairs in heavy winter boots and found a fairly busy hive of activity in the studio itself. For someone like me – a total stranger to dance, lacking grace and the ability to move in time to music – being in a studio in the initial quarter of an hour was a fairly alien experience, particularly when confronted with a wall of mirrors depicting mercilessly the extent to which my bits of skin were bursting out of my skimpy pole shorts, but after growing accustomed to the unshakable presence of my flab it was a pretty relaxed environment. The instructor and experienced members of the society began to demonstrate some moves and we were all absolutely ASTOUNDED by how strong they all were being able to support themselves and sustain such complex, beautiful and awe inspiring routines, all on something so insubstantial as a rod of metal. On watching them, I found you quite forgot the pole and all the connotations imposed on it by the patriarchy, and just took in the art unfolding before your eyes – not to mention the burning desire to replicate the shapes yourself.
As it turns out, after an hour of launching myself at a rod of metal – and discovering I have no upper body strength and turning my inner thighs bright pink through vain attempts to grip – pole dancing is hard, man. Really hard. In fact, far from the sexy, empowered, you-don’t-own-me-bro image I was going for, I have never felt less sexy. The number of bruises I acquired is phenomenal, as were the aching I felt in various muscles the next morning. However, this did prove that pole dancing is an excellent and social way to tone. Plus, when I finally mastered the ‘fireman’ and the ‘sundial’, the sense of satisfaction and achievement was basically unparalleled.
Rather than being some kind of really serious, controversial, topical activity, it was just a huge laugh for all of us, and ignited a wave of determination within me to work at it until I am an impressive, amazing, watchable pole dancer. Watch this space.