How Pole Dancing Changed My Life

I sat on a purple mat wearing black yoga pants and a long-sleeved shirt across from 10 other women whose faces I couldn’t quite make out. The studio was dark, except for a few fake flickering candles lining the walls and two red-lit lamps. I looked around and counted four armchairs and fives poles. What had I gotten myself into? As a “liberated” 21st century professional woman, what was I doing in a room filled with a bunch of lap dance chairs and stripper poles? I reminded myself that I was there to help my friend Jennifer win a pole, but I was starting to reconsider. I could just leave, duck out quietly. Then I heard the teacher say, “Let’s start on our backs, and feel your breath.” There was no way out now. I took a deep inhale and exhaled slowly and felt my body sink into the floor. I was used to this kind of thing from yoga classes throughout the years, but then she told us to feel our curves. I’m sorry, what? My chest seized. Even though I had been likened to a woman who would fit perfectly on the set of “Mad Men“—5’8, a size 10/12 depending, a 36DD chest— there were still parts of my body I didn’t like to touch. But here she was telling us to feel our curves, so I reached the palm of my hand down and felt my stomach and a rogue roll of fat. Then she said, “Notice where you’re not touching yourself, where you feel uncomfortable.” With that, my eyes welled up and I started to cry. This class wasn’t supposed to make me cry. What the hell was going on?

I flashed back to standing across the room from my ex-fiancé, my feet turned inward, my hands covering my stomach, wearing a little white nightie with polka dots on it that I had bought from Victoria’s Secret, thinking it would make him want me. He sat on the couch in the living room, working on his laptop, his head down in concentration. It took him a good two minutes to notice me. When he finally looked up, he burst into laughter, and then quickly recovered, saying, “I’m sorry, it’s just that…” My whole body flushed with shame as I covered my cleavage with my hands, shut the door and put on a pair of sweats.

Now, four months later—four months after I called off the engagement—writhing around on the floor with tears in my eyes, something clicked. I was a 35-year-old woman, still raw and beaten up from a five-year relationship that left me feeling undesired and unlovable, but I didn’t have to feel those things. It wasn’t about a man finding me hot in a nightie; it was about me finding me hot. I signed up for an eight-week session that day and started to explore what Sheila Kelly, the founder of S Factor, calls my “Erotic Creature.”

What turns ME on? What music transports ME and brings ME to life? What clothes make ME happy? What drops ME into MY body and out of MY head? What makes ME feel sexy from the inside out? These were all questions I had never asked myself. And each week, I would discover a little more. Find a new and surprising answer.

For the first year of classes, I stuck with yoga pants and long sleeved shirts, but then slowly, as my teachers walked me through leg splays and hip circles and told me to “slow down and feel everything,” and “be where you’re at,” and “you’re beautiful just the way you are,” I moved onto shorts and tank tops. Then finally, one day, I brought in a black crinoline skirt and danced to “Crash Into Me” by The Dave Mathews Band. As the music seeped into me, I slid across the wall and stepped out into the middle of the room, bending over and lifting the crinoline up from behind, exposing my black cotton underwear and bare legs. When the song was over, my teacher ran over to me, and said, “Wow, your Erotic Creature sure likes layers, hiding and exposing. Your body totally came to life. You were out of your head and completely unselfconscious. That was hot.” I was out of breath and sweaty, smiling so hard that tears started to well up, again, but this time from happiness. I was hot. At least my teacher thought so.

It took me another year to know for myself.

I was wearing a hot pink T-shirt that had the word “fierce” scrawled across my chest and frilly pink panties on. Madonna’s song, “Like it or Not,” started to play and I felt energy pulse throughout my body, a strength and power I had not yet felt. I had felt vulnerable in my dances before, curling up into a ball in the corner and barely moving. I had felt anger in my dances, climbing to the top of the pole and spinning down with force, clutching onto the floor with a vengeance, as if I wanted to climb right through it and break it into pieces, but I had never felt this. This was calm. My feet were planted. I dropped to the floor and crawled to the empty lap dance chair. My eyes were open. My movement was slow and sure. I wasn’t crawling toward anyone. I didn’t need anyone’s approval. I didn’t care who was watching. I just liked being. Being in my body. Feeling it bend and sway. My tummy. My breasts. My long legs. Madonna sang what I wished I could have said to my ex-fiancé, what I knew I would say to anyone in the future: “This is who I am. You can like it or not. You can love me or leave me cause I’m never gonna stop.”

Photo: iStockphoto

The “Love Your Body” section and all articles within it are sponsored by Crystal Light; however, the articles are all independently produced by The Frisky and the opinions and views expressed by the writers and experts are their own.