What I Learned Pole Dancing
For the past few months, I’ve been training with a woman we call J. She’s an accomplished athlete, dancer, performer and business owner, and every time I see her, she pushes me out of my comfort zone.
Last fall, I agreed to dance burlesque and pole with her troupe. Two weeks before the show, right before I knew she was delivering the program to print, I came to my senses and realized I wasn’t ready. I spent hours drafting the perfect text message, apologizing to her for inconveniencing her, assuring her that she could take me off the program and adjust the performance timing to accommodate this beneficial change, thanking her for taking a risk on me, and then apologizing three more times, in different ways, to assure her I knew I had been delusional when I had initially agreed to do this.
I pressed “send” right before I taught my regularly scheduled vinyasa flow yoga class, relieved I had done the right thing, realizing I had jumped in over my head, and was now safely exiting the metaphorical pool before I drowned.
I taught my class, secure in the rhythms of language and instruction, sequenced to my well-rehearsed musical playlist.
After class, I looked at my phone. There was a text message that read, “This isn’t a decision to make through text. I’ll be at the studio at noon. See you there.”
I stared at my phone is disbelief. I became mildly angry. I had done the right thing. How dare she make me question myself. Did she need an apology in person? Why? And how dare she make me any more uncomfortable than I already was.
I typed, “I’m sorry I’m not available. I hope you’ll forgive me for wasting your time. I’ll see you after the show.”
I sat with that for a moment. I looked at my phone. I didn’t press send. Instead, I looked at the time. 10:30. I had plenty of time to figure out a better way to say that. I set the phone down and packed up my things. I changed my clothes. I walked to my car.
I looked at my phone. 11:00. I didn’t press send.
I put my bags and yoga mat in my car and walked to a cafe. I ordered tea and sat down. I looked at my phone. 11:22.
I deleted the text message. I told myself that I respected her as a person and I should be courteous and face her. I decided to apologize in person.
I drove to the studio.
She looked at me casually when I walked in and told me to get dressed, that we needed to go through the routine a couple more times to see what changes we should make.
She told me to warm up.
I fought the urge to argue and didn’t respond. Instead, I walked out.
I stood outside the studio, shaking.
Then I went back to my car, grabbed my pole shorts and changed in the bathroom. She had turned on the music by the time I walked back in and I grabbed a mat from the stack and began to stretch. She adjusted the lights and the tempo and said, “Ok, just let me see a quick run-through so I can gauge where we are.”
Two weeks later, I put on high black boots, a camisole, and short shorts. I let the girls adorn me with tribal make-up and symbols. I was still shaking, but I performed with the troupe, two nights in a row, to loud applause.
As Sri Aurobindo says, “In order to see, you have to stop being in the middle of the picture.”
J has never mentioned my text message. Neither have I.
Who marches to the beat of their own drummer? Who is the marcher? Who is the drummer?
Whose judgment was I afraid of? And why did I let that the fear of that judgment infringe on my attempt to challenge myself and do something outside of my comfort zone, something I had obviously felt compelled to try?
I worried that the other women in the troupe thought I was embarrassing. I worried about other women in my social spheres who might find out I was doing something inappropriate for my age. I worried I was being self-indulgent and ridiculous.
We still have subtle punishments for women who insist on who they are and what they want. Kate Manne argues that misogyny is not about hating women, but rather about controlling and punishing women who challenge male dominance. Misogyny rewards women who reinforce the status quo and punishes those who don’t. We are all complicit.
I judged myself for playing whore in a world in which I had previously chosen to play madonna. I didn’t agree with this unilateral bifurcation, but here I was, afraid to upset the status quo by switching roles.
So how do we pay attention to what we want, and listen to our own intuition? How do we support other women in doing the same?
We can consider the space of ajna, the sixth chakra, which engages inner and outer seeing. The sixth chakra is found in the cone-shaped pineal gland, located in the geometric center of the head at approximately eye level, derived from a third eye, which begins to develop early in the embryo and later degenerates. The pineal gland acts as a light meter for the body and is sometimes called the “seat of the soul.” To develop a more intuitive form of seeing, we need to look at fields of energy, not at objects themselves, reaching with our minds to see beyond what we’re accustomed to looking for, developing a wider lens to capture what is outside our ordinary field of vision.
One way we can learn to listen to ourselves and develop clairvoyance is by embracing an art form. At its fundamental core, art provides a vehicle for resistance. While our practice will undoubtedly include supporting professional artists and the work we admire, we must also join the conversation by creating art ourselves.
Oppression exists in so many forms, many of which are not easily detected. Art does the difficult work of identifying those things.
Jeanette Winterson reminds us that “the process of art is a series of jolts, or perhaps I mean volts, for art is an extraordinarily faithful transmitter. Our job is to keep our receiving equipment in good working order.”
J chose to be an artist because it was the only career she knew of that would allow her to speak her truth at all times. Some people wear their hearts on their sleeves. She wears hers in the spotlight.
I don’t make a living performing with my body, but I have made a career out of performing with my mind. There’s something empowering about stepping out of that comfort zone, widening the definition of what I think I can do, who I am, how I see and let myself be seen.
I’ve decided to inject myself with the unpredictable, and this new way of moving in the world is a lifestyle I seek and often regret seeking. This tension is part of the discomfort.
The healing power of art is not a rhetorical fantasy. Art opens the wound to clean it, and then gradually teaches it to heal itself.
As Beth Pickens says, “You have something to contribute to anything to which you feel committed. Right now, as you are, with what you already have, you can contribute…. Have a clear view of your relative vulnerability and risk level in the world. Feeling scared does not equal being unsafe. Feeling fearless does not equal safety…”
In the past four months, I have engaged in arenas I didn’t think were possible for me to enter.
I spent my young adulthood thinking I wanted to be with an artist. It’s taken me a long time to realize, I am an artist.