Pole dancing reminded me of what my body could do

Finding strength and home in your sensuality

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Illustration of a dancer beautifully leaning back from a pole.
ILLUSTRATION: Youngin Cho / The Peak

By: Kelly Chia, Humour Editor

I’ve wanted to try pole dancing for years. When I was 14, I watched a video of a pole dancer crushing a watermelon with her thighs alone and thought, “Man, I didn’t know they were that strong!” Since then, I’ve wanted to try pole, if only to become that strong. I had a fairly limited understanding of pole dancing, and had shied away from anything remotely erotic. I’ve taken a few dance classes, but always found myself second guessing, wondering what other people thought of me. Those thoughts would lock up my limbs, and I remembered feeling so uncomfortably awkward stroking up my body. I wasn’t sure if it was the performative aspect, or whether I couldn’t believe myself to be a sensual person.

Sensuality feels like an emerging extension of feeling good in my body — something I’m still not entirely sure how to navigate. I didn’t want to be attractive for anyone else’s sake, but I also found it hard to do things that would put me in that vulnerable position of reckoning with my own sensuality. For so long, it felt like something I needed to protect so others couldn’t take advantage of it. But, I’ve found the desire to feel safe in my body, for my sake. I wanted to push a bit harder, to find some strength in not only myself, but my pride in my sensuality as an adult woman.

As I stepped into AVA Fitness in New Westminster to try pole for the first time, thoughts and insecurities swam in my mind. 

My instructor, Shira, welcomed us into the studio cheerily. This was an introduction class, I reminded myself, so everyone around me had the same amount of experience and expectations. Still, I looked at the poles around the room and thought warily, “How am I going to get my body off the floor?!” 

We were surrounded by mirrors. It was hard not to be distracted with how little I could stretch during warm-ups, or how my body looked up close with so little clothes on — in pole, the more skin you bare, the easier it is to grip the pole. I knew this, but it didn’t make me feel any less self-conscious. At this point, I already felt the unease crawl through my skin. I tried to concentrate on my movements rather than the feelings. Strutting to the yawning beats of “Season of the Witch,” and stroking my hair as I watched myself in the mirror, I allowed myself to feel good about what I saw. 

Then, it was time to try spins. Shira showed us a backward spin, then broke it down to smaller steps, which I appreciated. You would extend your hips out so you would be triangular to the pole. Then, hook your knee into the pole and slide down, landing on your hips. I had some expectation that the pole would somehow be slick and it would be easy to just whirl myself down, but nope! I slid into the pole over and over, feeling my thigh slip. Concentrating on which part of my body to use, rather than thinking about who was watching, encouraged me to keep going. Each time I fell, I knew I was getting closer. 

By the time I landed the spin on my hips, I smiled proudly at my classmate. I joked with them that I finally understood why pole dancers end up with so many bruises on their legs: hooking your leg is hard! She laughed and told me the bruises were proof of our hard work. I really held onto this thought as Shira showed us our next move: a reverse showgirl spin, where we would finally get our legs off the floor. We all gasped as Shira twirled effortlessly around the pole, leg extended outward to kick out gracefully. 

This was hard for me to really commit to, because I simply didn’t believe I could do it. Then, I felt that magic click of understanding. I digged my thigh right into the pole and watched myself kick out in the mirror. It wasn’t nearly as fluid as Shira, but I had done it. I was so convinced I couldn’t, but as I watched myself go down the pole, I had the profound feeling that there was so much I didn’t understand about my body. It felt freeing to get off the ground that I was so nervous about leaving.

I felt strong, and honestly, so pretty — leg extended out, like a ballerina in a music box. I had known it took immense strength to do all the spins and twirls I admired on the pole, but in an hour, I comprehended the impossible idea that I was capable of this strength, too. I woke up the next morning feeling ALL sorts of soreness: the proof of my hard work. I also learned a new truth about myself; I’m capable of living and exploring my more sensual side, and playing with her made me feel damn powerful.