Again, not my idea. My friend emailed me a coupon for pole dancing classes at a place called S factor, so I decided to at least give it a try. Pole dancing, according to the internet, is the new cool workout that is popping up in fitness centers across the country (www.wikihow.com/Learn-Pole-Dancing) that is supposedly fun and physically demanding. Hmm . . . no mention of the obvious connection to houses of ill repute. I did a little more research and found that these joints (well, the ones with websites, anyway) are actually legit. Like, yoga studio legit. And hey, I thought, if Miley Cirus can pole dance at the teen choice awards, how risque can it be? I would soon find out.
I ventured in to S factor on 23rd street on Monday at noon for an "intro to pole dancing" class. The elevator opened into a clean and bright waiting room decorated in warm pottery barn colors that smelled slightly of bubble gum. The sun was shining through the windows on the sweet looking receptionist that recognized me from our phone conversation earlier in the day. So far, so good. I filled out the appropriate paperwork, paid the $40 first-time-pole-dancer fee (apparently, I thought, pole maintenance must be pricey), and sat on the cushy sofa to further survey the situation. The room, like most dance or yoga studios in New York, was lined in wares for sale, but as I looked more closely, I realized it was an interesting mix of merchandise. Yoga pants and tank tops were interspersed with leather stilettos and cupcake panties (I have no idea what those are and did not endeavor to find out). I looked through a glass window and saw an immaculate office lined in signed headshots of Oprah and Tina Turner alongside family photos. Directly outside was a pair of black knee height leather boots with a side pocket where one might keep one's whip (handy?). What was this place? Three very nervous middle-aged pudgy women sat near me on the sofa to await the class. They looked at me, looked at one another, and one leaned over conspiratorially. "Are you here for the pole dancing?". I nodded. "We are too. Have you done it before?", she asked. I said I hadn't and all three women gave a collective sigh of relief. They proceeded to tell me that they had travelled to New York from rural Pennsylvania for this class and were very excited to participate. I realized this class was quickly going from PG-13 to G . . . and I was actually okay with it.
Soon after my loyal cohort, Erin B, arrived, we entered the studio and started our intro class. A word on the the studio. Pole dancing, according to our teacher, is taught in a dark room with no mirrors for the specific purpose of curtailing any judgement that might arise of oneself or others. As I had already done enough judging in the waiting room (bad, Michelle), I vowed to give the class my best open-minded effort. I sat down on my yoga mat and faced the teacher. Our teacher was a tanned, toned blonde with bangs, a raspy voice, and the shortest shorts I had ever seen. She sat at the center of a circle of yoga mats under the one (dim) light in the room and spent about fifteen minutes getting to know the pole dancing participants. Most of the people in the class were late twenties to early forties, timid, and visibly uncomfortable. Our lovely cellulite-free instructor explained that this class was about celebrating our female bodies and the way they move, embracing our curves, learning to be free with our movements, etc. Blah, blah, blah. When do I get to swing on the pole?, I wondered. I also wished she would put her legs together so we didn't have to embrace her curves.
We then did a REALLY long warm-up that was excruciatingly slow, "The slower it is, the sexier it is, ladies. Embrace the movement and don't be afraid to really touch your body." We did bridges, a little pilates, and a quad warm-up called "the hump" (Don't ask). When we FINALLY finished the warmup and stood up, I was really ready to do something. "Lemme swing on the pole!", my inner five year old screamed. Ah no, little grasshopper, you have to learn the stripper walk first. Well, they had coined it the "S" walk, but I mentally filled in the "tripper" for them. Basically, we walked around the room and did "step, drag your toe through, step, drag your toe through, step . . . " (you get the picture) for well over ten minutes. I started to improvise and then thought better of it. I didn't want to scare away the Pennsylvania ladies. FINALLY, we "S(tripper)" walked" to the poles. Now, we're cooking, I thought. We learned a thing called the "firefly". Hold the pole, swing your outside arm and leg around and swivel to the ground. Okay. I took turns with a giggly middle aged woman at the back pole. First swing, not so bad. It was a little tentative, so second swing, I went for it. Right into the pole. Okay, third time will be perfect . . . There was no third time. That was it. Two swings around the pole. What?!? We then learned, literally, under twenty seconds of choreography (if you could call it that). "Walk to the wall, put your hands against it, move your hips, pivot, slide down the wall, crawl on all fours to the center of the room and do "the hump". Yes, it was a routine that definitely was sexy, but we only spent a few minutes doing it. I wished I could steal back a half hour from "getting-to-know-the-elementary-school-teacher-to-my-right" and really build on to the routine. And swing on the $!#*@ pole, for goodness sakes!
Class ended with an improvised few minutes of dancing from our teacher and her shorts. This was the one thing that I really loved about the class. She was a fabulous dancer and did some amazingly beautiful things on the three poles positioned around the room (she told us later that she used to dance for Joffrey Ballet). She climbed to the top and slid upside down in a split to the floor, did backbends a good eight feet in the air, and generally, made me stop regretting spending my forty bucks. Next, they turned the lights on, someone came into the room from the front desk, and the sales pitch began. Ew. There are six levels and you can buy a package of classes for each level, everyone must complete the previous levels before moving up, and the classes are ridiculously expensive. I could buy an eight week one-class-per-week session for $480 and they wanted me to sign up on the spot. That's 60 bones per class, folks. I felt trapped. That's a lot of bucks to lay down after swinging around a pole twice. Was there an advanced fast track to get on? So, I couldn't just take the class whenever I wanted, I surmised, I had to commit to a package. I began to feel that I-want-to-hang-up-on-the-telemarketer itch. Luckily, I had to run to a costume fitting, so I hugged Erin B and tip toed out right as they were starting to talk about "your S factor journey".
I tried, folks. I really tried, but pole dancing is not my gig. I walked away thinking about the women in the class more than the actual subject matter. I was intrigued by these people Why would they come to this class before yoga or jazz? Why come all the way from Pennsylvania? I realized that most of them, unlike me, were not in the class to just swing on the pole and learn new cool acrobatic tricks. These women seemed to be genuinely making an attempt to explore sensual movement with their bodies. I had been doing that in theatre my whole life. Not to be crass, but I've played many a character that has done much more onstage than an S"tripper" walk. I played Girl in Green in Singin' in the Rain for goodness sakes. I danced Too Darn Hot in Kiss Me, Kate in a curly blonde wig, a corset and garters. And that's it. No wonder I was bored. Most normal people (hopefully) have never done that sort of thing. The elementary school teacher to my left had truly never learned how to do hip circles or stand in a bevel. Perhaps there was a legitimate place for this kind of class in our society. I suddenly saw pole dancing in a different light. There were going to be a lot of happy husbands in Pennsylvania.