I am not sexy.
That could be the takeaway if you’d been a fly on the pole — er, the wall — at my first pole dancing class this weekend. There are a great many talents I have in this world. But strutting sexy and swirling around a pole are not some of those gifts.
My girlfriend Jenny* invited me to tag along to her pole dancing class on Saturday afternoon and, honestly, I don’t think I would have gone if she wasn’t a lesbian. If Amelia or some other straight woman was, like, “Girl, you have to try pole dancing!!!” I would have rolled my eyes at the patriarchal brainwashing. Pole dancing is not sexy if Miley Cyrus is doing it to appear “edgy,” I would have thought. But my Sapphic pal Jenny lives deep in the bowels of Brooklyn with her girlfriend and a menagerie of guinea pigs and cats. And hey, if she said pole dancing (typically the stuff of male fantasies) makes her feel good, I’d take her word for it.
I should fess up to something here: I am out of shape. I take beginner’s yoga classes and jog at my gym, but I only recently started lifting weights and, um, I need to do a little more work in the toning department. So I’ll admit that maybe I would have liked pole dancing a lot more if I actually had muscles.
Class began with “sexy stripper moves”: half an hour on a floor mat of sashaying our asses side to side, humping the floor, and gracefully lifting our arms to the beat of Top 40 pop music. I don’t usually get on my hands and knees and waggle my butt in the air to the Black Eyed Peas, but maybe I should try it more often. Jenny had told me to wear shorts and a T-shirt to class — and I swear to you, 10 minutes in, I wanted to take all my clothes off, I was sweating so much.
After the instructor — a dancer with a body like Britney Spears, circa 2001 — tired us all out, it was time to hit the pole. This is when it became clear to me that I am really, really uncoordinated. For the rest of class, she taught us progressively more difficult pole dancing moves. Jenny followed along like a champion: lifting herself up on the pole with one arm and kicking into the air, wrapping her legs around the pole and hanging upside down.
But I couldn’t get past “strutting sexy around the pole.”
It’s not that hard. It can’t be that hard. It’s walking around a stripper pole, for God’s sake. All a girl needs to do is keep her body and arms lax, while strutting around the pole, throwing her head back. I became increasingly self-conscious at my inability to master a “sexy” gait. This isn’t me. This isn’t what I do. My best moves are in bed, not swinging around a pole. I have a boyfriend who thinks I’m extremely sexy as is. Why was I doing this again?!
But I couldn’t just leave. So, we took turns on the pole, Jenny and I. But by the end of class, I let her have it all to herself. I guess you could say I “gave up.” Any looseness I’d shaken out in the first half of class tightened up; my body grew rigid with insecurity. I caught myself staring at the other women during class and comparing myself to their looks, their talent and their confidence. I wanted to watch the other women — professional dancers? professional strippers? — who were good on the pole, especially this one woman who looked just like the model Amber Rose. Their movements were so fluid and graceful that even a pole dancing cynic like me had to admit it’s beautiful to watch.
But the more I watched the sexy women do their thing, the worse I felt about myself. Some women in pole dancing class wore 6-inch-tall Lucite heels, while Jenny and I went barefoot. I have to say, I felt barefoot and everything that connotes it: grubby, dirty, not pulled together, unsexy. They looked like sexy, desirable women, women I wanted to have, women I wanted to be. And I wanted to lose 20 lbs, highlight my hair, and paint my face full of makeup before I even set a bare foot in the same room as them again.
After class, the instructor told me I did a good job — which was kind of her, but a total lie. I thanked Jenny for letting me tag along, but I knew in my heart pole dancing is not for me.
My boyfriend’s been hinting that he wants me to show him my “new moves,” but I can’t find it in myself to, um, hump the floor. I don’t have the confidence to do a sexy strut in a room full of women, let alone in front of him.
All weekend, I kinda thought that was my problem, like I must be more awkward than I thought. Then, this morning, I IMed my friend Chloe, who blogs at Feministing. I filled in Chloe about pole dancing class, and my doubts about my skills, and she made a good (albeit sarcastic) point: “Sexiness as a performance and not something that occurs naturally! What a novel idea!”
Sexiness as performance. How true. I was performing. It was fake, at least for me. Yeah, I’m not physically fit enough to do any of the “sexy” moves on the stripper pole; everything in my body just tightened up when I tried to hack it. I just don’t express myself sexually that way — it’s extremely inauthentic to me. No wonder I sucked at pole dancing: I was forcing myself to “be sexy” in a way that’s been defined by other people. And some of those other people — my guy, for example, and millions of other American men — do really think it’s hot. But I didn’t feel hot; I felt ridiculous.
With the help of Chloe’s analysis, pole dancing class confirmed some of my initial cynicism: It can be a pretty fake display of “sexiness” for some women who find the whole thing unnatural. But pole dancing class also gave me a newfound respect for the athleticism of the skill. Pole dancing is HARD. Pole dancers are athletes and I now wholeheartedly believe they deserve a place in the 2012 Olympics. The strength in their upper arms and core is incredible and making it look fluid, graceful and easy is not easy. Jenny can do this. I can’t. And that’s OK.
Did I feel “sexy” during any part of the class? The “sexy stripper moves” we learned at the beginning of class are something I could do without feeling ridiculous (mostly). I might incorporate them into my workout at home because they really did make me sweat! And perhaps I’ll try another pole class in a few months — after I’ve beefed up my biceps, of course. But I’ll probably just keep both feet on the ground because, honestly, I’ve felt pretty sexy here all along.
*Name has been changed