Sunday, September 22, 2013

Why Walk When You Can Pole Dance?

I have always loved to dance and prefer it overall to walking. I mean, why walk somewhere when you can dance there? I don't even care that I often resemble a drunk stroke victim when I am bustin' a move and I generally shake it whenever the opportunity presents itself. When I am cleaning, I usually crank up the music super loud and dance around with my dust rag and vacuum. Its just plain fun and makes what ever I am doing - my hair, driving (seat dancing - mostly arm action), folding laundry or waiting in line at Target much more enjoyable. When I was five, my mom enrolled my sister and I in tap and ballet classes. Unfortunately, we only got to do it for one session but I remember really enjoying my first taste of the amateur dance world. 

Then, when I was in second grade, our class had a little talent show and everyone was welcome to preform their own special talent. I think we were given roughly two weeks to work on our act before the show. Unaware of any sort of "real talent" I possessed like juggling, singing or magic tricks, I opted to do a dance to my favorite song at the time, "La Bamba.' 

Even at eight years old, my procrastination was very well developed. Each day passed and the talent show drew closer and closer. I knew this but I guess wasn't too concerned about it because I didn't practice once. In fact, I didn't even plan out a routine. I think I just figured I would get up there and wing it. And wing it I did. On the day of the talent show, I arrived at school with my cassette tape in hand. We were given about twenty minutes of rehearsal time to get ready for the show. During this twenty minutes I bounced around, flinging my arms in random directions and even threw in a few twirls for some dramatic flare. I had no idea what the hell I was doing and I was 100% aware of it.

I watched all of my classmates get up to play the piano, present artwork and demonstrate super sweet karate skills. I became more and more anxious as I realized my little improv dance was not going to measure up to my peers. I don't know why I didn't just fake a stomach ache or just say I didn't want to do it anymore, but when it was my turn, I got up there anyway.

I struck a random pose and waited for the music to start. "Lalalalala Bamba, lalalalala bamba!" I jumped into my spastic limb-flailing a few beats behind. I remember kicking my leg up in the air and spinning around a few times before my little brain went blank. I froze, standing there looking out at my classmates looking back at me. I felt the hot tingle of shame creep up through my body, showing up on my bright red face. I followed my next impulse, which was to run out of the classroom and down the hall to the bathroom.

I locked the stall door behind me, plopped down on the toilet and buried my face in my hands. My teacher came in to check on me, "Are you OK, Stefany?" She asked me. "Yes," I replied, a horrible liar even at that age, "I just really had to go to the bathroom." I stayed in there for a few minutes before being able to psych myself up enough to go back into my classroom. When I finally did, no one said a word to me about it - thank God!! I remember just wanting the whole thing to just fade away. It pretty much did until 1994 when the band Blind Melon decided to put out a video that essentially portrayed my second grade talent show trauma. The only difference between the little girl in the video and myself was a bumble bee costume. The very beginning of this video below nearly gave me a post traumatic response the first time I saw it:

I did gymnastics in high school but that was mostly acrobatics with a bit of dancing sprinkled in, so I was pretty much able to avoid reliving my childhood trauma in any dance-related way. Then I graduated high school and decided that since I was in my first year of college, I was ready to get on the horse and actually learn how to do this dancing thing for real. The fall of 1998, I enrolled myself in jazz dance class my first semester at the University of Minnesota Duluth. I was excited but a bit intimidated because I was pretty much the worst dancer in the class. I could do the skills: leaps, jumps and I was really flexible from my gymnastic experience. However, the actual dancing and moving to the beat while remembering what the hell to do with all my body parts was a huge challenge for me. In any case, I showed up: enthusiastic and ready to learn

My excitement swiftly turned to discouragement when I began to feel like my teacher wasn't very fond of me. I had no idea why because I showed up and tried my hardest - I even went to the studio during non-class times to practice. My suspicions were confirmed when I received at D+ on my midterm. Yes, a D+. I had to preform a group routine for our midterm and I put a good amount of practice in, feeling really ready for it. As luck would have it, I came down with pneumonia the week of midterms. I literally couldn't walk more than twenty feet without stopping to hack up one of my lungs. I was exhausted and feverish but showed up to my dance midterm anyway. I was visibly not well, sweaty and pale, but I sucked up every last bit of gumption I had within me and danced my ass off. It wasn't perfect by any means but I actually made it through the three minute routine before collapsing on the floor in a gasping heap. My efforts earned me every last bit of that lovely D+ and when I approached my teacher about it, she basically shrugged blandly and said something to the effect of "Better luck next time." I am sorry but that woman was such a bitch. I didn't miss a day of class, put in extra studio time and almost died during the midterm. She graciously gave me a solid C- for my final grade.

That was my last formal venture into the dance world until recently. Yes, this is where it gets good. Several weeks back, I was browsing Netflix for interesting documentaries when I stumbled upon one called "A Wink and a Smile: The Art of Burlesque." It piqued my interest, so I watched it. The movie follows ten women from all walks of life, who take a workshop and learn the art of burlesque. I was totally captivated and inspired by these everyday women doing this fun, playful, sexy dance style. It was amazing to see how empowered they felt, how much they grew from the experience and to also learn what burlesque dancing is really all about.

As I was reflecting on the documentary, I remembered that I actually know someone who does burlesque classes. I immediately contacted her and asked all kinds of questions about it. The timing was perfect because the coming weekend was her showcase - essentially the recital at the end of her class session. She invited me to check it out, so I did. BOOM! I was blown out of the freaking water!! I sat there for like two hours with my mouth hanging open. The studio where she takes burlesque classes also offers belly dance, pole dance, ariel silks, acobalance, chair dance and go-go fly. I got to see all the different classes preform their routines and it was incredible. This video is from the BurlesqueMN website shows what the heck each of those classes actually are:

I was so impressed with how these women (and even a guy!!) of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds were out there doing their thing! I found all of the different dance styles and performances super fascinating but I was actually the most draw in by the pole dance. Now, when the average person reads the words "pole dance," images of skanky, strung out, naked chicks humping a pole on a stage at some seedy "gentleman's club" likely come to mind. This was NOT at all what I witnessed that night at the showcase. What I saw was regular gals (wearing shorts and a tank top) having a great time and learning a really impressive, artistic and acrobatic form of dance. I was in awe as they glided beautifully around the pole. They looked like graceful fairies without wings. If you still don't believe that pole dance can be anything but a trashy mess, I challenge you to try this on your eyeballs:

Once the showcase was over, they let audience members play around on the silks, ropes and poles. It was like someone had opened the gates to the big girl playground and I was free: I didn't hesitate a second before trying out all the different apparatuses. They were all really fun to try but again, I found myself favoring the pole. I had someone show me how to climb and then shimmied myself right up that pole! This is me that night, my first time ever up close and personal with a pole:

I left the showcase with a renewed sense excitement and inspiration. There was no question about it, I knew I had to try this for myself. The thought of being able to use some of my gymnastics know-how while learning something totally new seemed like a perfect fit for me. I wanted to fly like a graceful fairy too and the only way to do that was to sign up for a class. So, I did. Now, I am currently starting my third week of Beginning Pole class at BurlesqueMN and I couldn't be more bruised, sore as all hell and bubbling with glee.

My shin after week one from learning to climb
My instructor, Misty is fantastic and I am learning so much from her. She is encouraging, fun, has a great sense of humor and her instruction already has me on my way to gliding like a fairy. I am learning spins, tricks and EVEN how to actually dance! The other women in my class are as cool as they are varied in their personalities, physicality, and life experience. There is everyone from suburban moms to tattooed twenty-somethings but we all have the common goal of having a blast while learning something new. Let me tell you, these are some really, really awesome chicks!!

So there it is: I am learning how to pole dance and I couldn't be having more fun - and talk about a workout!! Whew! My body is already changing and becoming stronger than ever. I have met and am getting to know some incredibly awesome people. Aaaaaaand yes, I will be taking part in the showcase at the end of this session as well. I will be doing two group routines with my class. I am not going to lie, I've had a few traumatic second grade flashbacks when I think about doing the showcase performance. I even had a dream that I showed up to the showcase wearing a bumble bee costume. However, I have decided that November 9th will be all about fun. If I slip off the pole mid spin and land on my face - well, I am going to have a damn good time doing it. And this time, I am going to give myself the A+ for effort I that deserve!

Here are a few of my favorite routines from the pros:

Pole dance is not just for chicks anymore! The man is absolutely amazing!!