The Disney movies of the 90s were inarguably some of the greatest animated masterpieces to ever grace impressionable eyeballs. You had Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, The Lion King, Toy Story, Mulan, and all three of the The Mighty Ducks movies (not animated, but are probably the most important thing to ever happen to any of us, period).
We memorized the songs, spouted off the one-liners, bought the action figures, and dressed like our favorite characters for Halloween. We also reenacted our favorite scenes at recess.
My elementary school playground had a swingset supported by three long poles at either end. Esmeralda swung around a pole in a scene in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and every recess in second grade was dedicated to emulating her gracefulness. I logged serious hours on that baby.
I distinctly remember a teacher warily eyeing me and saying, “Maybe you shouldn’t...play on the pole like that.” A seven year old doesn’t understand the stripper-like implications of their playtime activity of choice, obviously, so I just thought, “You idiot. I’m a gypsy!” and kept at it.
It’s taken twenty years, but all of that practice finally paid off when I recently decided to take a pole dancing class.
I never got poor enough in college to turn to exotic dancing (thanks, Mom and Dad!), so when I found out this dream could still be realized without any moral or financial stipulation, I was so down. (Nothing against strippers at all. If you want to tell your dad that you afforded his birthday gift by giving some greasy man named Chaz a lap dance, you do you, girl)
I roped a friend into attending the Intro to Pole class with me. If it went well, we shared a fun evening. If I embarrassed myself by twirling too enthusiastically and landing directly on my tailbone, we could laugh together as she helped me limp home. I’m a planner.
Upon walking into the studio, I was surprised to discover the absence of a stage. Also, no one asked what I wanted my stripper name to be (Lola Glitterthighs). Was I in the right place? There were, however, seven poles attached to the ceiling and yoga mats placed all around.
The instructor came out looking like someone who could potentially get fake-eyelashed up and be a great dancer, but would get extremely and feministically offended if you told her so. She also looked like Piper Perabo and I am a huge Coyote Ugly fan. I liked her immediately.
We started off by stretching as Violet Sanford told us what to expect from class.
“Don’t worry if you’re not flexible, or a great dancer, or sexy, or anything like that.”
Triple check. Excellent.
Finally, we moved to the pole. Each pole had two ladies on it, and as fate would have it, my friend and I got split up. We’re not co-dependent by any means (I, personally, don’t even like going to the bathroom with other girls), but the amount of emotional support I require whilst hip swiveling is indefinite, and now I was going to have to depend on a stranger for that encouragement.
Jersey demonstrated how to walk around the pole. Arm high, lean out, feet close to the base of the pole, taking smooth, toe-dragging steps. “As you get comfortable with the placement of your body, you can add in things like running your other hand through your hair or down your body.” Yeah, that’s not where I shine, so I decided to just stick to the basics.
Next, we all faced the pole and learned how to body roll onto it. Need I remind you that I’m sharing this pole with a girl I don’t know. Now, we were basically grinding on each other. Women supporting women, amirite? My spine and legs were wet noodling independently from one another and I can apparently only snake from side to side, not front to back. The studio recommends taking at least three of these 90-minute intro classes before moving to the next level, and while I initially thought that was extreme, I realized that devoting 270 minutes just to body rolling might not be a bad idea.
Then we got down to the biz: spinning. The air in the room immediately electrified. This is what we had all signed up for.
First, we learned the Front Spin (side note: these all had technical names, but I was too preoccupied with how great my butt looked in these shorts to pay attention. Seriously, do your squats, gals).
Grasping the pole with both hands in sort of an isosceles triangle, you point your outer foot to the side, then with some added momentum, spin to the front. After making one rotation, the outer leg switches with the inner one, and the inner one wraps around the pole all seductive-like.
This was it. This was my Esmeralda moment. My body instinctively knew what to do, and my muscle memory kicked in to bring me back to the playground. I just needed a bojanglin’ belt and poofy blouse and my seven-year-old self could finally be proud of the person I had become. I spun like my rent depended on it. I spun like I had just bought a new tube of body glitter. I spun like every shoe in my closet was a 7-inch platform heel. It was awesome.
Oh but wait IT GOT BETTER.
We got to spin backwards.
For this one, the outer arm reached overhead to grab the pole while the inner one wrapped around it. Again, we pointed the outer foot, but this time our momentum made us trust fall to the back. As we spun, the inner leg wrapped around the pole as we spiraled to the ground and landed on our knees.
I thought I was excited by the first spin move, but this one was an instant favorite. I was already planning on backwards-spinning around every scaffolding pole I came across between this studio and the F train. My knees were getting demolished and I didn’t even care.
I glanced back at my friend, who was effortlessly spinning around the pole like an elegant goddess. What a natural. So proud.
Piper announced that we would now combine everything we learned together into a mini routine, and my game face has never been more on. She turned on Rihanna, because this was a classy place. No “Cherry Pie” by Warrant here!
After my partner (romantic or platonic? Unclear) took her turn, I grabbed the pole and commenced the walk. We seamlessly transitioned into the body roll, then the front and backward spins, finishing by flawlessly pulling ourselves up from our knees without making ugly grunting noises or climbing the pole like we were in the final stretch of the American Ninja Warrior course (harder than it sounds).
You guys. You GUYS. I didn’t look heinous! I would’ve had at least $1.50 thrown at me from a crowd, and probably not all in nickels.
Would I go back? Absolutely. And I plan to. I have to at least get up to the level where they let you slide down the pole, or else all of my years listening to T-Pain have been a complete and utter waste.
I also want to gain back some flexibility, because losing my 16-year-old self’s ability to drop into a split whenever I pleased has been a tougher pill to swallow than I care to admit.
Ultimately, it was just really fun to be in an environment where throwing a hip swivel into every movement is highly encouraged. I tried it in the office the next day as I sauntered over to refill my water bottle, and reactions were mixed. Just wait until I bust out a trust fall spin around the legs of my standing desk.