I know what rug burn is, but never until now concerned myself with pole burn. That’s what happens when, while pole dancing, you do a pole sit with your back pressed too tightly against the pole. My instructor—a 41-year-old step-mom of two who goes by the stage-name Leesi—suggests we shift our spines to the side. That way our vertebrae won’t take a beating during this theoretically erotic move involving a long chrome phallus.
In my youth, I thought pole dancing was for sluts only. It didn’t occur to me that a woman hanging upside down with her legs wrapped around a pole might be an acrobat worthy of Cirque du Soleil. Now that I’m over 40, taking a pole dancing class seems like a last chance to recapture my youth, now that I would be proud to be considered sexy enough to qualify as a slut.
I’ll admit I could do without all the mirrors—when did my body turn so lumpy? But years of dance classes (ballet, jazz, lindy hop, west coast swing, even tap) feel like they’re paying off, as I swing one leg around the pole in a suggestive move known as a pole round: I am a sex goddess. Then I try one while looking in the mirror: I am a geek who will cause erectile dysfunction wherever I dance.
For this beginner class, the moves are all at floor level. Simply walking sexy with my toes pointed is challenge enough. “Your steps are too big,” Leesi says. And here I thought I looked sleek and catlike. The pole frisk with the hip wag is easier, as is the booty round—your basic butt-wagging moves to set customers’ tongues lolling. Not that I’m planning on customers…I’m just saying.
When we get to the knee hold and raise our hips, I feel very jazzy. Wrong. “Let me help you,” Leesi says, and sits cross-legged so she’s facing my derriere. “You’re audience is down here. Think about what I’m seeing,” she says, grinning with expectant lechery. “Ohhhh!” I tilt my right butt-cheek higher. This is about showing off my naughty bits—which would be barely covered by a g-string if I were doing this at a nightclub.
I’m not wearing a g-string, but black workout pants, because black is slimming. Not that anyone cares how slim I am. This class is for women-only, 10 of us trying to look sexy while sliming poles with sweaty hands, falling into uncontrolled slides, and slamming our asses into the floor.
I’ve felt sexier doing squats with dumbbells. But this is much more fun. By the end of class, we’ve learned a routine, which we perform to Usher’s Yeah. After doing it several times, my shoulders and back are sore and I have rug burn on my foot—you see, there’s this move in which I kneel facing the pole and rise into a squat, and I keep dragging my foot across the carpet.
By the next morning, when I return for the pole dance perfection class, my foot is turning red.
“I keep getting rug burn on my foot,” I tell Leesi.
“Don’t do that,” she says.
Grinning, she shows me that I have to lift my leg more, which is more of a workout for my thighs, which is good news, I guess.
In this class, most of the women are advanced. So during their harder routines I make up my own moves. Each routine only lasts half a song; for the rest of the song Leesi expects us to self-express. That’s how it’s done in the clubs because “you can never be sure what the DJ is going to play.” No one taught Leesi the moves she teaches. “I learned them by watching people, and by playing around on my own and trying new things.”
My self-expression repertoire is limited, so I try one of the harder moves the other women are practicing. It’s a kick-slide: with your back to the pole and hands overhead, you’re supposed to kick your legs out and slide. I kick my legs out, and slam into the pole.
“I banged my back,” I tell Leesi.
“Don’t do that,” she says.
This time there’s no other explanation forthcoming. So I go back to the beginner version, in which only one foot kicks out. But someday…
The advanced dancers know how to hang upside down and scissor their legs. One girl stands on her head and spreads her legs open into a wide V. It looks impressive, and I can’t wait to learn it. Although at this point in life I’m not sure how wide my V will be.
Then again, Leesi is 41 and can still do things that would earn a 9.0 at the Olympics. But she’s been erotic dancing and circus performing for years. After every class she practices a trick (not that kind of trick, the other kind). She nonchalantly climbs the pole, grabs hold with her hands and stretches her body and legs out horizontally from the pole, defying gravity. “I’m not that strong, really. You just have to learn to trust yourself—and practice.” Just who is she trying to kid with her knotty little biceps and calves?
After that, I want a pole for the basement. Leesi warns that my basement’s low ceiling of six-and-a-half feet will prohibit upside down moves hanging from the pole. “You’ll kick the ceiling.” As if I could shimmy high enough for that to be a concern.
When I tell my girlfriends about my pole-dancing class, they predict I’ll get me more action from my husband. For now, it simply gives me free reign to fantasize about another kind of life, minus cigarette smoke and drunks, but complete with the sensuality of one of the world’s most erotic dance forms…and several hundred-dollar bills in my g-string.
My friends and I giggle over what it would be like if men learned to pole dance. We picture a man making a wrong move, only to collide crotch-first into the pole. Talk about pole burn.