Originally written 9/15/14.
All photos from Flicker used in accordance with the Creative Commons license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode
Tease Studio: www.teasestudio.com
I teach Irish stepdancing. If you’re not familiar with Irish dance, it’s a traditional art form where the feet perform fast, intricate steps while the upper body stays completely still. Dancers hold their arms down by their sides, and there’s no movement of the hips, shoulders, or head. You can check it out on YouTube. When I was six, I took a year of jazz/tap/ballet, but the whole rest of my life I’ve done stepdancing. I love it.
Photo credit: John Benson, https://www.flickr.com/photos/j_benson/
A couple years ago, my group performed as part of the halftime entertainment at a ballroom dance competition. There were a number of different kinds of dancers at this show, including swing dancers, a Broadway-type chorus line, and someone advertised in the program as Arielle the Pole Dancer.
Pole dancer? We were all fascinated to see what her act would be like, since for us “pole dancing” conjured up images of strippers in R-rated movies. All of the acts shared the same backstage, and while we were warming up, we looked out of the corners of our eyes at the other dancers, wondering which one was Arielle.
She wasn’t hard to spot once she showed up. For one thing, she was the only solo act, but I think we would have picked her out anyway. Her hair was short, bright blond, and slicked back from her face, and she was wearing a long silk dressing gown decorated in peacock colors, like something out of the roaring twenties. Unlike all the other dancers, she was barefoot. She warmed up with a kind of yoga routine by herself in the corner, every movement poised and deliberate. Her attention was completely focused on her preparations, as though she were the only person in the room. She had a confidence, a magnetism, that drew my eye even though she was only warming up.
When it was time for her act, we crowded into the wings to watch her. Right before she went on, she peeled off the silk dressing gown, revealing a pair of very short dark shorts and a gold handkerchief-like halter top that left her midriff bare. Her body was short, compact, and muscular, much more like an acrobat than a movie stripper. The routine, too, was like something you might see in Cirque du Soleil: she climbed up the pole (a feat in itself); did splits, backbends, and handstands in the air while holding on to it; and spun around the pole while gripping it with hands, ankles, and knees. Every move had a sensual grace to it, and in every way the routine was the opposite of Irish dance (being upper-body intensive, acrobatic, and slow in pace, not to mention unembarrassed about showing some skin), but there was nothing risqué about it. When my thirteen-year-old student said, “Well! I just saw my first pole dancer!”, I didn’t need to worry that I’d let her watch something inappropriate (although I did wonder if I’d need to explain to her mom). It was athletic and beautiful.
Photo credit: Christian Lendl, https://www.flickr.com/photos/_dchris/
So, when my friend Abbey suggested that we try a pole dancing class as one of my adventures, I jumped at the chance.
The studio Abbey found was called Tease Studio, and it was offering new students a special deal for three introductory classes. I looked through their online “class menu” to see what kinds of classes they taught. Besides different levels of pole dancing, from 101 to 401, they offered a number of different exercise classes. Most of them looked to be pretty standard aerobic-style classes, but there were a few more, um, titillating offerings:
Look Good Naked
use your own body resistance to melt away in this slow & sensual toning class. slow style sexy music & movements throughout class will have you feeling the burn. look and feel confident both naked and fully clothed.
learn to strut with the power of seduction. this feminine class will empower you as a sexual animal, dancer and women. class will begin with warm up in your heels, targeting your ankles and flexibility. choreography to follow warm up will focus on burning, sculpting and tempting as you sway to the music. grab hold of your womanhood.
Good grief, there were a lot of grammatical and punctuation errors in these class descriptions. Maybe I should offer my services as an editor. And “grab hold of your womanhood”? In front of everybody?
not your average cardio workout. get ready to sweat, sculpt and melt those curves away with today’s most popular movements. get the sexy booty you’ve always wanted and have fun while doing it. this class will start with a hip hop dance warm-up that will have you moving to today’s hottest beats. get ready to drop it like its hot!!! sneakers required.
And my personal favorite:
The Naughty Hour
a tease signature combo class that begins with an intensive sensual style body resistance warm up to tone and learn sexy transitions. the warm up is followed by lap dance and striptease technique and combos. NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART: the end of class will include performing a routine on a fellow student. be sure to bring heels and layers (i.e. hoodies, button downs, extra tank tops, bikini tops, etc). a new choreographed routine begins at the start of each month but anyone is welcome and encouraged to attend any week of the month!
Yeah. Nothing on Earth could have made me sign up for The Naughty Hour class.
When we arrived at Tease Studio for our Pole Dancing 101 class, we walked through the front door into a tiny, chicly decorated space that was part reception area, part store. Apparently, you could enhance your pole dancing experience by purchasing super-tall spike heels, since they had more than a dozen different styles for sale around the walls. In the background, we could hear the thumping beat of a nearby classroom’s bass, topped by the shouting of the teacher: “Come ON, ladies–move it! Higher! HIGHER!”
We checked in with a perky receptionist who crossed our names off a list written on notebook paper (surprisingly low-tech given that we’d signed up online). She told us that if we went through the doorway behind us, we would find the dance studio, locker room, bathroom, and “glow bar,” where we could treat ourselves to a spray tan for an extra fee. In the meantime, though, our class would be in the pole studio upstairs.
The upstairs room was directly over the reception area, but to get there you had to go back outside, walk to the next doorway down the sidewalk, and head through that doorway up a steep flight of stairs. It made me wonder what the businesses in the building had been originally; it looked like the building might be from the early twentieth century.
There was a landing at the top of the stairs, and a door on the left led into the pole studio. The room was medium-sized and rectangular, with a small strip of waiting area off to one side. Most of the space was taken up by the dance floor, which was made of polished wood and had two rows of shiny silver poles sticking out of it. The poles were anchored into the ceiling somehow, disappearing through square holes hacked in the plaster. I wondered where you bought poles, and who you got to install them so they didn’t fall on top of you when you tried to use them.
As we came in, the class before ours was finishing up. I had noticed on the schedule that it was a 201 class, the next level above ours, and I watched with interest. There seemed to be two students and a teacher. The teacher was a curvy woman in her mid to late twenties, I would guess, wearing Capri-length leggings and a tank top. She had a friendly face and long blond hair pulled into a ponytail. The student she was working with was older–in her forties, I guessed–with the square, weatherbeaten look of a serious outdoor athlete (like triathlons). She had dark hair chopped off short, the only person I saw at Tease besides my friend Abbey with short hair.
The teacher was showing the student how to do a particular spin on the pole. The student grabbed the pole between both hands, jumped up with her legs bent, squeezed her knees on either side of the pole, and twirled around. I thought she looked great, except for her expression: she was grimacing the whole time as though she was in horrible pain. The teacher corrected her form and had her do it several more times. Every time, she set her jaw and gritted her teeth like she was going into battle.
Photo credit: Andrew Campbell, https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewcampbell1/
This was the spin the student was doing, but not the expression on her face.
Between repetitions, both teacher and student would sometimes grab small face towels, squirt something on them, and clean the poles. I wondered what they were doing. The poles certainly looked shinier afterward, but no one was there to admire them except for Abbey and me.
Meanwhile, the other student seemed to be doing her own thing. She was in her early twenties, fit but curvy, with long blond hair hanging loose down her back. She was wearing a pair of black briefs and a sports bra that made me blink in surprise, mostly because Irish dancers go in more for the shorts-and-t-shirt look, so I’m not used to women exercising in their underwear.
It seemed to me that this woman was more advanced than the other student. Much more advanced. She would reach up, take a grip on the pole, and then casually lift herself up to hook one leg behind the knee so she could spin and then turn herself upside down. Then she would gracefully right herself and land on one foot. After a breather, she would go through the series of moves again.
Photo credit: Kyle Nishioka, https://www.flickr.com/photos/madmarv/
Good grief. Was this woman only level 2? I hoped not, because that meant that level 1 was going to be a lot harder than I thought. But the teacher never actually talked to this other person, so maybe she was an advanced student practicing a routine on her own.
The class finished, and the teacher moved off toward the restroom. The first student, the older one, came over to the waiting area to get a drink and put on her shoes.
“Hello,” I said, as she stopped near me. “You looked great.”
She gave me a toothy grin. “I was terrified,” she confided. “Those spins are scary. I was just trying to hold on for dear life.”
Well, that explained the grimace. “It looks like fun,” I said.
“Oh, it is, but I don’t know how much more advanced I can get. I’m sixty-three, and I don’t really want to slip and fall on my head.”
Sixty-three? Under the dim, recessed lights of the studio, I had seriously thought she was ten to twenty years younger. She’s my new adventure idol. I want to still be trying out new stuff like pole dancing when I’m sixty-three.
There was a short break before our class started, and Abbey and I waited for our teacher to come back and introduce herself. I was feeling pretty jazzed by the glimpse we’d gotten of level 2. Small class, lots of individual attention, and presumably much easier moves. This was going to be fun.
The second student, the more advanced one, had finished her practice and disappeared toward the bathroom. She came back a few minutes later with a pair of shorts tied over her briefs, and she unrolled a mat and laid it out on the floor.
Hmm. The next class was an introductory class, and this woman clearly wasn’t a beginner. Maybe she was the teacher. I looked at her, trying to see if she was showing any signs of coming over and introducing herself, but she wasn’t. She pulled a beauty magazine out from somewhere, stretched out on her stomach, and began to read.
Another woman came in from the landing. This one had long black hair and was wearing booty shorts and a really tight t-shirt. She also spread out a mat, but rather than sitting down on it she started practicing spins on one of the poles. The spins looked very polished, at least to my untrained eye.
Photo credit: Andrew Campbell, https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewcampbell1/
I was starting to get worried. Were we in the wrong place? Why were all these advanced people sitting here? And where was the teacher?
More and more women came in and spread out mats. There was a variety of heights and body types, but I was amazed to see that most of them:
- Had long hair, either worn loose or wrapped up in artistically disheveled buns
- Were obviously familiar with the pole or were incredibly flexible or both
- Were in their twenties, making me feel a little old
- Wore skimpy booty shorts and/or tank tops, making me, in my baggy shorts and t-shirt, feel more than a little overdressed and frumpy
So many people came in that Abbey finally asked if we should go ahead and spread out our mats, too. We headed to the far corner and set up camp, self-consciously doing some warmup stretches like the other ladies were doing. I’m not particularly flexible (especially for a dance teacher), so doing my stretches in that crowd of athletic women felt a bit like a tin soldier trying to do yoga with Gumby. No one said anything to us, and only a few people were even talking to each other. Not a particularly friendly atmosphere. There was no teacher in sight. All my jazz from watching the earlier class was gone.
Photo credit: Fernando de Sousa, https://www.flickr.com/photos/fernando/
Or maybe like Gollum stretching with Gumby?
When the room was full to bursting, the teacher arrived from downstairs, where she’d been leading a class on the first floor.
“Hi!” she said enthusiastically, grinning at us. “Big crowd tonight!”
She was a woman of semi-Amazonian proportions, tallish and big-busted, with powerful legs that were still somehow ultra-feminine. There was a little of a Picabo Street look to her, if you remember the US Olympic skier from the 90’s. She had long blond hair (of course) and was wearing brightly-colored capris and a tank top. She was confident and sexy and brimming over with energy. Her name was Becca.
“Let’s start with some warmups!” she exclaimed, putting on some bass-thumping dance music and cranking the volume until the windows buzzed. “Neck rolls!”
Becca started rolling her head side to side across her chest and then across her back, expecting us to follow. I did some kind of half-hearted imitation, having heard in a seminar once that neck rolls aren’t so good for you. When she started doing full neck rolls at double speed, I gave up and just watched everybody else flipping their hair around.
Photo credit: Ashley Webb, https://www.flickr.com/photos/xlordashx/
Yeah, I didn’t look glamorous like this.
We did side bends, rib cage circles, and hip circles, me squinting through the dim lighting to see Becca and straining my ears to try to catch her enthusiastic instructions over the mind-numbing volume of the music. Just like with aerobics classes (which I’ve taken a number of in my time), there wasn’t any real explanation; you just watched and imitated and hoped you were doing it right.
“Down on your mats!” Becca shouted, and most of the women did some kind of fancy handstand into a crosslegged position to get to the floor. My eyes nearly popped out of my head. Seriously, this was the INTRO class? I got down on my mat gingerly by squatting and putting my hands down.
Next we did an exercise where we started from a kneeling position, our bottoms touching our heels. Then we sat up, lifting our hips until we were still on our knees, but now in a vertical line from shoulders to knees. We repeated this for more than a minute.
“Use your arms, ladies!” Becca yelled, and most of the women started making these sexy, graceful movements with their upper bodies as they continued the exercise. The woman in front of me, who looked about nineteen and had (guess what?) long blond hair, began to run her hands up her torso in a way that would get a guy slapped if he tried it on a first date.
Um. OK. I felt awkward, but I had, after all, signed up for this. I decided to try adding some arm movements. But did I mention that I’m an Irish dancer, and Irish dancers don’t use their arms? I ended up sticking my arms straight into the air over my head and lowering them down again every time like I was practicing surrendering.
Photo credit: Jan Fredrik Frantzen, https://www.flickr.com/photos/janfredrikf/
“Hands and knees!” Becca instructed, and we got down on our hands and knees and started to do some Angry Cats. I’ve taken a few yoga classes, so I was familiar with Angry Cats: you tuck your head between your shoulders and arch your back, and then you lift up your head and sway your stomach toward the floor. What a relief. I could do this exercise, and I didn’t have to try to move my arms.
Um, what? I looked up. Everyone else had started doing the Angry Cat motion faster, turning it from a restful, introspective yoga exercise into this weird kind of kneeling bump and grind. Well, OK. I sped up, too, feeling silly.
“Even faster!” Becca cried.
The woman in front of me began to do this sort of shimmy with her back and hips, as though she were an electric appliance that had been turned from Medium to High. It looked bizarre, but it didn’t seem to be hard for her, so I gave it a try, too. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirrors at the front of the room. I looked like I was having convulsions.
Photo credit: Steven Depolo, https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo/
This is what I felt like.
“Now we’re going to bend your elbows and take your chest to the floor!” Becca shouted over the music. She demonstrated. From the kneeling position, you bent your arms, touched your chest to the floor, and then pushed forward until you were stretched out your stomach. Then you lifted your hips to come back on to your knees, all in one fluid motion.
We tried it. The woman in front of me looked like an extra in a glam rock video from the 90’s. She slithered onto the floor with sexy slowness, one pointed toe lifting coyly behind her, and then her hips came back up with a little sway that would probably have gotten her video banned from VH1.
I, on the other hand, looked stiff, jerky, and awkward, as though a robot programmed to do push-ups had experienced a horrible mechanical failure.
Photo credit: Doctor Popular, https://www.flickr.com/photos/docpopular/
“Now put your hands on the floor and jump into the splits!” Becca hollered.
She had to be kidding.
Warmup over, Becca turned the music down a little and told us to grab a drink of water, a towel, and a pole. There were so many of us that we were going to be 2 or 3 to a pole. Thank goodness I had Abbey to share with; I don’t think I would have enjoyed sharing a pole with one of the advanced students. I felt awkward enough as it was.
No one told us where the towels were or what they were for, but by following the herd I managed to find them. They were gray hand towels. Aha! I thought. These were the same towels I’d seen the previous class using to clean the poles. Other students were squirting something clear from a bottle onto their towels, so I did that, too. Monkey see, monkey do. I think it was rubbing alcohol.
While I was doing that, Becca and several of the other women put on spike heels. Becca wore leg warmers, too, taking me back to my 80’s childhood. Abbey and I were barefoot, which seemed to be fine–thank goodness, since dancing around in spike heels on a polished wood floor sounded to me like a recipe for a broken ankle. Becca seemed used to it, though. She told us that her three-inch stilettos were her “kitten heels,” the shortest pair of heels she owned.
Photo credit: Francisco Osorio, https://www.flickr.com/photos/francisco_osorio/
“Since we have some new ladies with us today,” Becca said, looking at us and the giggling pair of college students at the next pole over, “we’re going to start with the basics. Let’s do The Walk.”
Becca grabbed a pole and demonstrated The Walk. Holding the pole at a point above her head, she straightened her arm and walked slowly around, pointing her toes behind her whenever she lifted her foot off the floor. When she’d made one circle, she planted her outside foot, turned toward the pole, switched hands, and walked the other way. Simple.
But, instead of letting us try that right away, she showed us another move: The Vixen. Starting from The Walk, she planted her outside foot, turned toward the pole, and pivoted completely around on the one foot until she was facing the same way again. She made it look easy, flirty, and fun.
Photo credit: Christian Lendl, https://www.flickr.com/photos/_dchris/
“Now you try,” she said, and turned the music back up to eardrum-bursting levels so we could all enjoy it while experimenting with The Walk and The Vixen. “Advanced students, I need you to just work on those two moves just like our new ladies, OK?”
The Walk wasn’t too hard, but The Vixen was not as easy as Becca made it look. Pivoting around on one foot while switching grips on the pole was hard to do without losing your balance, and even harder to do with any kind of grace. Abbey and I took turns, but even so, both of us were getting dizzy long before we had mastered the one-footed spin. Becca was making a tour of the room and eventually got to us to offer some advice, but before that, Abbey and I had to try to help each other. Talk about the blind leading the blind.
Since most of the students were more advanced, and since there were so many of us, people got bored before Becca finished looking at everybody. It wasn’t long before several people were hanging upside down from their poles and spinning around.
“You girls are being so naughty!” Becca said when she turned down the music to demonstrate our next move. That was the extent of the chiding. I thought about what I would say to my dancers if I caught beginners trying out advanced moves in class. My sister calls the glare I have for such occasions The Look of Death. Of course, I don’t let my advanced dancers take the beginner class, either. That’s just asking for trouble.
One hazard of taking dance/exercise classes when you’re a professional teacher yourself is that it’s hard not to think about how YOU would run the class. It sometimes makes us teachers pains-in-the-rear as students.
The next move Becca showed us was the Fireman Spin. Starting from The Walk, she planted her inside foot, swung her outside leg around the pole, grabbed the pole with her free hand as well, and jumped up, wrapping her second leg behind the pole and squeezing the pole with both thighs. The momentum from the jump spun her around the pole, and when her feet touched the ground, the rest of her momentum helped her unwind her legs and stand up. It looked super cool and sexy when she did it.
Photo credit: Christian Lendl, https://www.flickr.com/photos/_dchris/
She then demonstrated a harder version, the Reverse Fireman, but I pretty much tuned that out. I knew I was going to have my hands full with the ordinary version.
And I did. There was nothing cool or sexy about the move when I did it. Although I managed to actually spin around the pole with my feet off the ground, I could only do it by clinging to the pole for dear life, when I guess I was supposed to extend my arms and relax. That did not happen. Abbey never managed to do the complete spin at all, since every time she tried to get her second foot off the floor her hands would slip, dumping her back down. Both of us ended up with a kind of “pole burn” on our thighs from friction and bruises on our shins from whacking our legs against the pole.
Speaking of pole burn, I found out what the towels and rubbing alcohol were for. After a while, the pole would start to get a little sticky, and that made it really hard to spin. So you cleaned it with the towel and alcohol, and then your skin would slide over the surface of the pole instead of sticking to it and getting pole burn. Aha! I was glad that I’d seen the 201 class using the towels, since no one ever told us what to do with them.
The last move Becca showed us was the Backslide. You leaned your upper back against the pole, grabbed the pole above your head with your left hand, planted your right foot out in front of you, and then kicked your left foot off the floor. When Becca did that, she slid quickly and gracefully along the pole to the floor, one leg up in the air like a can-can dancer.
“Then you roll over onto your hands and knees,” she said, demonstrating, “and do a Sexy Up.”
A Sexy Up involved putting your right foot on the floor and doing a kind of lunge toward it, twisting your hips as you came up onto your left foot and then swaying into a standing position.
Becca looked sultry and confident as she showed us the move. “Now you try!” she said.
Abbey turned out to be really good at the Backslide, dropping fast and fearlessly to the floor and doing the Sexy Up with attitude. I was (for whatever reason) a lot more nervous about the Backslide than I’d been about the Fireman Spin; planting my right foot so far out in front of my body seemed wrong, probably because if you do that in Irish dance you fall on your butt.
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/eatants/
I eventually convinced myself to stop being a weeny and kick my left leg up in the air, and I slid to the floor slowly but safely. That wasn’t so bad. Now for the Sexy Up.
Unlike the pole moves, the Sexy Up was easy, but it really needed a slinky confidence to pull it off. Having spent the last 30 years stepdancing (possibly the least sexy kind of dancing in the history of mankind), I just don’t have any slinkiness in me. A ballet teacher once told me during a workshop that I did barre exercises like a soulless robot, and that’s about what I felt like getting off the floor. Or maybe like a plumber climbing to his feet after spending twenty minutes looking at the leak under your sink. Oy. I practiced the Backslide and Sexy Up a bunch more times, but they never got any better.
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/matchfitskills/
This is exactly what I looked like doing the Sexy Up.
The last five minutes of class were devoted to “free dance,” where Becca put on a special tune (still at a volume that registered on the Richter Scale) and we got to make up our own choreography on the pole. “Express yourself!” Becca exclaimed. “Let yourself go with the music!”
Abbey and I expressed ourselves by trying to string together the few moves we’d learned and studiously avoiding looking at the advanced students doing their routines on the other side of the room. I was proud of myself for remembering everything, but it wasn’t either graceful or in any way related to the music. My bruised shins kept knocking against the pole every time I tried The Fireman, and I was started to get a headache that pounded in time with the bass.
All in all, I was ready for class to be over when Becca finally turned off the music.
When we got back in the car afterward, I turned to Abbey. “What did you think?” I asked.
“It was…interesting,” she said. “I’m really glad we tried it for your blog, but…would you mind if we tried a different class next week?”
I did not mind.
I don’t think I have as a future as a pole dancer. Which is probably ok, because I’m not sure how I’d explain my second career to my Irish dance students.
I had a doctor’s appointment about a week later with my back doctor, who is very skilled but doesn’t exactly have an engaging bedside manner. I was wearing shorts and lying on my back on the examining table, and he was standing near my feet. Suddenly he stopped and looked at my shins, which were covered with green, yellow, and purple bruises from ankle to knee.
Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/magic_bee/
Something like this
“You have extensive contusions here,” he said. “What happened?”
“I, uh, tried a pole dancing class,” I said, with a little laugh. “I kept smacking my shin on the pole.”
He looked at me. Then he looked at my legs. Then, without another word, he went on with his examination.
I could feel my face burning bright tomato red.
Yeah, I definitely don’t have a future career as a pole dancer. I think I’ll just stick to my soulless robot dancing instead. 🙂
Photo credit: Abul Hussain, https://www.flickr.com/photos/abulhussain/
Although I guess you never know…
Photo credit: William Murphy, https://www.flickr.com/photos/infomatique/