I’m well into my fifties now, so when I look back at how worried I was at forty that I was losing my mojo — all I can do is laugh. Oh, to be 40 again! At the time however, I was feeling youth slipping away. I’m sure there’s a lesson in there about perspective but darn if I can’t figure out what it is.
When I turned forty-five, feeling like I needed to reaffirm my sexiness, I decided that a pole dancing class was just the ticket. Because as everyone knows, nothing says sexy like a 45 year old woman swinging from a pole.
The pole dancing studio was on the second floor of a non-descript building in Chelsea. I found it comforting that the class would take place in what was then the gayest neighborhood in the universe. The beautiful boys of Chelsea couldn’t have cared less if I was hanging from a pole.
Had the studio been on the Upper West Side, it might have been named “The Playground Workout,” given the neighborhood’s demographics, casting me not as a sexy siren, but as either a harried mom or a suspect lurker. Times Square might have seemed the obvious choice, but the Disney-fied district hadn’t been sexy since Robin Byrd left the Show Palace. (If I wanted to date myself, that Robin Byrd reference is just the ticket!) Chelsea was perfect.
Candy, unaware that her name has doomed her to a life of work in the sex trade, checks me in. Candy looks like she could be a nursery school teacher — fresh faced and smiling — but for the fact that she is wearing six inch black patent leather stilettos with her terry cloth sweatsuit.
The studio’s brochure tells me that Candy is not a receptionist, she is a Desk Ambassador. What does that even mean? Does she travel the world, looking for desks in distress? Is she from a place called Desk, like the French Ambassador, the Italian Ambassador? Welcome to Desk, on your right, please notice the paper clip collection, on your left, a half eaten salad that, let’s be honest here, has more calories than a cheeseburger with fries.
I check out the sparkling clean locker room, the tastefully decorated lounge area, an assortment of g-strings for sale. Ah. That’s different. Perhaps a daring gym might sell a thong to wear under the assorted lycra gym shorts on the rack, but these G-strings are tasseled and bejeweled, fringed and frilly.
They aren’t meant to go under anything. I hope that something more than G-strings are worn in class as I had been told that there could be as many as five women to a pole, depending on the size of the group. I’m not overly squeamish, but the thought of sliding down a pole lubricated by another woman’s sweat’s bad enough.
I don’t want to think about other bodily fluids on my way down. In addition to the G-strings there is a selection of six inch stilettos like the ones Candy has on.
There are strappy red patent leather ones, for the woman thinking of the fire department as she shimmies down the pole, lucite heeled stilettos, for women even older than I who remember the 70’s with reverence, black studded heels for someone capable of ripping the pole out of the floor and flailing some unsuspecting man with it.
“Those aren’t mandatory until the second class.” Says Candy.
Mandatory? Heels that would make Barbie keel over are mandatory? Toto, I don’t think we’re in Lucille Roberts anymore.
I am relieved to see that the other women who have signed up for class don’t look like they’re there to perfect their technique for their regular gigs gyrating for dollars. Susan, an attractive blond, is also celebrating a birthday — her fiftieth.
She tells me that the pole dancing class is only part of her birthday celebration; she has just come back from a weekend at Race Car Driving camp. It occurs to me that Susan, rather than suffering from midlife crisis, just has a death wish.
Still, I’m happy to know that at least someone there is older than I am. Shari and Beth are two friends wearing understated but expensive looking jewelry, and high-end exercise clothes.
They look as if their usual fitness routine includes personal trainers, free towels, and regular colonics. Two others, who decline to give their names, are Canadian tourists. Evidently, Canadians are too nice to pole dance — perhaps the pole’s feelings would be hurt if it were treated as a sex object — and they had to travel all this way just to gyrate. There are several other women, too, ranging in age from their late twenties to, well, Susan the race car driver.
Mandi (with an i), another Desk ambassador, (perhaps Desk is a larger country than I first thought.) tells us that we should all go to studio two for class. Our teacher asks us each to take a mat, find a space, and get ready for the warm-up.
Her name, somewhat disappointingly, is Barbara. I had hoped for an Amber, a Tiffany, or be still my heart, a Brandi. Barbara seems like the name of a mousy book editor who spends her days clutching a red pen and cursing the less talented writers whose books get published, while hers stays unread on the USB drive she always wears around her neck.
Barbara is the furthest thing from mousy. Blond, beautiful, and possessing of what might possibly be the best body I’ve ever seen up close, she is somehow all muscle and sinew while still being curvy. Her skin — much of it exposed in her cropped tank top and ultra short lycra shorts — is flawless. Either she has never spent a moment in the sun or she is the only living, breathing airbrushed human being in existence. Barbara explains that Pole Dancing is all about empowering women, making them feel safe and in control of their bodies and their sexuality.
The warm up begins simply enough — stretches, sit ups, the requisite hip circles. Barbara tells us that throughout the warm up we should touch our “bodies and discover something new about” them. I find it hard not to giggle.
My body has been around for 45 years. With the possible exception of my stomach — which has been off limits to all human contact since 1977, I’d say it’s all been discovered. Still, I am here, so I “explore” myself. Though, something tells me I’m not supposed to discover (or pay attention to) the newly acquired fleshy inner-tube around my middle, or the sudden crepe-i-ness of my arms. I’m exploring, but I’m tempted to abandon ship and mutiny against Captain Age-a-lot.
Once we finish the warm up, we move to the poles where the actual pole dancing will begin. Pole dancing is more than just self-loving in public. Pole Dancing, Barbara tells us, is an art. You need skill, guidance, and expertise. You have to writhe just so, to stick out your butt… a lot. We start with the walk.
“Approaching the pole is key,” Barbara explains. “You want your dance to start the minute you’re on the floor. Walk towards the pole like you love it, like you’re teasing it.”
I’m game…but how, exactly, do you tease a pole? “Hey pole, your momma was a pogo stick!” I did my best. Barbara started by teaching us how to walk. In pole dancing, even walking requires instruction.
For the pole dance walk, on your tip toes (simulating the not yet required heels), you thrust your chest forward as you walk moving your legs not in a straight line, but on the diagonal, so that with each step, your hips sway and you make an X with your legs. Think little kid walking while trying to hold it in, only sexier, and you’ve got an idea of what it looks like.
Of course I’m only guessing it looks sexier since, in a stroke of brilliance, the studios are all mirror free. Maybe we all look sexy, sashaying around the room like living Barbies, or maybe we look like a bunch of women with bladder control issues. Sans mirrors, we’ll never have to know.
I did the very loosely choreographed free-dance, which included rubbing myself up against a wall and then sliding down it, crawling across the floor, and standing up — butt first — from a squat position. I even learned my first pole trick: The Firefly. But I can’t tell you what it is, because Sheila Kelley Students have to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
Had I been able to see myself, I no doubt would have run from the room in horror. But as it was, I felt the teeniest bit sexy, swung on the pole, and had fun. (Though the bruises on my legs lasted a week.) Would I sign up for more? Barbara gave the sales pitch after class: if we signed up for the series we’d learn more tricks! We’d feel sexier! We’d hang upside down from the pole! We’d learn lap-dancing! Wait! You have to LEARN how to lap dance? Perhaps for my 60th.