Bad Memes

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So, sometimes I like to use Pinterest to find new pole moves and combos. Most of the content on Pinterest isn’t great, but I’ll occasionally sift through it to try and find something pin-worthy. Anyway, more than once I’ve searched “Pole Fitness”, and seen this picture among the results:

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Pretty stupid, right? “What frustrated feminists think I do”… Seriously?
I actually just don’t understand it. What does it even mean to say about feminists? So we think your dancing is sexual? That’s supposed to frustrate us?

It does, however, say something about the popular perception of feminism. The uptight, anti-sex stereotype still exists, even in the age of Beyoncé. Images like this perpetuate the popular idea that feminist are, well, frustrated. There are plenty of people today who scoff at feminism while simultaneously having many feminist beliefs.

So, why don’t feminists just call themselves something else?– something with fewer negative connotations?
Personally, I think doing that would be separating ourselves from a movement with a deep history. Sure, feminism has historically had some serious flaws (especially when it comes to inclusion of women of color), but there are also some really great things that have come out of all of the “waves” of feminism. We can learn from the problems of the past as well as its victories. We need to understand where we came from in order to know where we’re going.

Additionally, what other term would we use? Egalitarian? That ignores the focus on gender issues. I can’t think of any other words that would fit the bill.

Feminism is a term that is being reclaimed. Some will always see it as a “dirty word”, but hopefully the public perception is gradually shifting.

Also, more accurately…
What society thinks I do: strip
What my friends think I do: graceful, sexy dancing and stunts
What I actually do: awkwardly lumber into a position and try to hold it without gritting my teeth long enough for someone to take a picture

 

Female Friendships

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Women have a reputation of being “catty” or “bitchy”. We gossip. We back-stab.
Or at least that’s the narrative we have.

You may be thinking, oh, but that’s just in movies like Mean Girls. It’s not like those stereotypes really affect how we form friendships.
But I really believe that they do. Does this sound familiar? “I just get along with guys way better than girls. They’re so much less bitchy.”

We are socialized to see other women as competition– primarily, competition for the affection of men.
I know that I can be very judgmental of other women that I see at parties or other social settings. In my head I’ll scrutinize their outfits or their make-up or even the way they are interacting with men. I might even make comments about them to my friends. It’s terrible, I know. I try to train myself not to make those judgements, but it’s hard.

I know that I’m not alone in having these feelings. I think it’s awful how common this hostility between women is.
That’s why I think it is important for women to spend time in settings that encourage female solidarity. That’s what the pole studio is for me.

Studio 7 is a very supportive environment. There are a couple of men who come regularly, but it is primarily women. We give each other advice, and clap and cheer when someone gets a new move. We share in each others victories and learn to laugh about the mistakes and encourage each other to keep trying. The studio is a judgement-free setting that breeds female friendships. I think that such places have a really positive impact on women’s lives.

We don’t have to accept the narrative of “bitchy”, “gossipy” women that we have been given. I’m learning to be less judgmental and more supportive of other women. I think that doing pole has really helped along the way.

F*** the patriarchy and keep poling.
-Gracie

You should see this routine

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Hey y’all! Sorry it’s been a while. I’ll post more, I swear.

Anyway, Amber showed us a great video today from a dancer named Shaina Cruea.

I think often times we forget that pole is just like any other form of dance– it can be raunchy or artistic.
Pole dancing in America has, until recent years, only really been done in the context of strip clubs– a very raunchy, objectifying setting. When we think pole dance, we automatically think booty popping and grinding.
Some feminist authors have this mindset, and are very critical of pole dancing in their writing (e.g. Jennifer Pozner in Reality Bites Back, and Ariel Levy in Female Chauvinist Pigs).

I wanted to post this video just to show the other side of the sport. I don’t think anyone could look at Shaina Cruea’s performance and call it “raunch culture”. It is artistic and athletic and pretty damn impressive.
Thanks to dancers like her, I think the public opinion of pole dance is slowly shifting.
Enjoy the video!

Twerk it!

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This month, the studio added a new class called “Twerk it!” where one can learn how to move his or her butt (and yes, I am a told a guy tried out the class… and Venom of course).

I’ve been hearing a lot of discussion about twerking and whether or not it qualifies as appropriation of Black culture. Since I am not a part of Black culture, I don’t think I’m qualified to speak on this issue.

I can, however, decode another concern about twerking– namely, whether or not it is “objectifying”.
First off, what is objectification, and why is it bad?
Objectification is when a human being is thought of or treated like an object. This is dangerous because if we deny a person’s humanity, it becomes very easy to justify violence against that person.

We tend to objectify women by turning them into sexual objects–things that exist primarily for us to have sex with. This way of thinking tends to manifest either as an obsession with purity (as discussed in previous posts) or in over-sexualization.

So, because twerking is a very sexual act, is it automatically objectifying? Not necessarily.
I personally don’t think that any action is by nature objectifying, but rather how it is framed. We have to look at the context, what is intended and what is perceived. In the case of the Twerk it! class, I don’t believe the participants are objectifying themselves. They are not performing for anyone, but rather learning how to better control their bodies and movement. They work on things like butt isolations, which I can’t help but be impressed by sometimes. The participants can have fun and feel sexy while also working on more controlled movements which makes them better dancers.

There is an a concept called “self-objectification” which I still struggle to fully understand. The idea is that when a person behaves a certain way in order to be seen as an object of desire, she is objectifying herself. Taking a class in private at a fitness studio, however, isn’t exactly begging the general public to think of you as a sex doll.

In other contexts, yes, I think twerking can be objectifying– but we can’t generalize one judgement to all contexts.

I’m not planning to attend twerk class, mostly because I’m sure if I’m entirely comfortable with it.
However, if y’all think I need to for the sake of this blog, let me know.

F*** the patriarchy, and keep poling
-Gracie

Progress is neat

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Time for pole progress pics! This move is called a butterfly:

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Believe it or not, learning to extend outward after learning the basic move is hella difficult. If feels less stable, so pushing the calf off takes more courage than strength (at least for me–someone who was scared of flipping upside down until I started pole).
Also, in the photo on the left you can see how my entire calf is on the pole, providing lots of skin contact to help hold me up. In the picture on the right, my leg doesn’t hold any weight, and is pretty much just providing stability. In theory, I have enough arm strength to hold myself in a hand spring position, but I can’t find my balance in it just yet.
For now, I guess that will just have to be a pole goal.

F*** the patriarchy and keep poling
-Gracie

 

 

Moms

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Pole studios have an interesting dynamic, probably because people take up pole for all kinds of different reasons. When I tell people about the studio, they tend to assume that primarily fit, sexy women in their twenties go there.
Sure, many polers fit this description, but not as many as you may think. There aren’t even that many students–just regular, boring grown-ups.
When I first started going, however, what surprised me the most is that the owner of the studio, Amber, has a teenage son. First off, it’s hard to believe she’s even old enough to have a son that age, but also, I didn’t think of my pole dancing instructor as someone’s mom. I wondered how her son felt about her job at the studio. I wondered if his friends knew what she did. I wondered if they ever made lewd or offensive jokes about her pole dancing.

And then I stopped worrying.

The more time I spent in a pole studio, the less taboo any of it seemed. Pole is just another kind of workout. It’s just as much for moms as anyone else.
I started to wonder why I ever cared about what Amber’s son or her friends thought. Would I have even asked those questions if Amber had a daughter? I don’t know.

Deep down, I have these hard-wired associations of what a mother should be– pure and altruistic. It’s goofy. Being a pole dancer does not affect one’s parenting abilities. Even if Amber’s son or his friends had a beef with her pole dancing, I’d encourage her to keep doing it anyway. After all, when has bringing embarrassment to their children ever been a deterrent for parents?

“Pole dancing mom” seems contradictory to us because we aren’t comfortable with female sexuality. The idea of a woman dancing in a sexual way clashes with the image of motherhood that we have put on a pedestal.
Additionally, the belief that a mother shouldn’t engage in an activity because her son or his friends may think negatively of it sends the message that their beliefs hold more weight than her own.
We already tell women to modify their behavior for others all the time. For example, when a couple has a child, we would expect the mother to stay home and care for it, possibly sacrificing her career. We don’t ask this of fathers. In many ways, we prevent women from being the primary agents in their own lives. That’s not cool.

So f*** the patriarchy and don’t worry about how others may interpret your poling.

“But, there are no guys there, right?”

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When people find out that I pole dance, they usually have a lot of questions. Pole isn’t exactly a mainstream workout just yet, so they tend to be pretty curious about the studio, which is fair. They also tend to ask a lot of the same questions, one of the biggest being, “But there are no guys there, right?”

A: Of course there are.

I understand why people ask it. Pole dancing has a long, rich history of strip clubs. But try separating pole from the culture it came out of. Advanced pole requires a TON of arm and shoulder strength. I mean, look at this:

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That smize…

That’s a picture of the incredibly impressive Jesse, who also does parkour.

As you can see, men’s muscles actually give them a big advantage in a lot of pole moves. Yes, pole is a type of dance, and it is sexy, but the men who can overcome their fear of femininity and give it a shot find out that it’s also a lot of strength training. Seriously. The instructors are beasts.

And once you get comfortable with some basic pole moves, the sexy, dancey stuff doesn’t seem so funny or embarrassing anymore. My studio even has a male instructor, Venom. He doesn’t teach the conditioning classes. He teaches floor work (which is ultra-sexy) and flexibility. He’s also incredible on pole. You should really check him out.

Really, it’s silly to let gender roles get in the way of doing things we might really enjoy.
Pole is a lot of fun. It increases strength and flexibility, and it’s a lot of cardio. It is ridiculous that we would arbitrarily limit this great activity to only women. Yet, we do this all the time (e.g. Lifting weights is for men, Pilates is for women).

But in my experience, the pole community is a very accepting one. Seriously men, don’t be afraid to try Studio 7. It’s normal to have guys in class. I think it’s great when men decide to try pole, and I think most of the people at the studio would share this sentiment.

We really just need to get over the idea that there are activities that are “for women” or “for men”. When we limit the spectrum of options available to a person, we rob them of a lot of wonderful opportunities.

F*** the patriarchy and keep poling
-Gracie

 

Bruises

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Ahhhh, summer is finally here. You know what that means– afternoons lounging by the pool, fruity frozen drinks, barbecues, and people staring in disgust at your grotesque bruises. Okay, maybe that last one doesn’t apply to everyone.
But for those of you who are thinking about starting pole classes, here’s a fair warning: you will get bruises. Lots of them.

Like these:

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Which are mostly from inside leg hangs.
Or this one:

CAM00729Inner thigh, from attempting superman rolls.
Or this one:

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from about 10 minutes of shoulder-mounting

Now that it’s shorts and tank top weather, there’s really no hiding them… but I don’t really want to. This may seem weird considering the strange looks you get when your legs are black and blue, but I actually like my bruises. They’re a physical reminder that I performed an athletic feat. It takes a long time for your muscles to get visibly bigger or for you to notice a difference in your splits, but bruises show up quick. It’s nice to have visual proof that I actually accomplished something in pole class.

I know they’re unattractive, but who cares? All too often women are discouraged from physical activity out of a fear that it may make their bodies “unattractive”.

Don’t lift weights, you’ll get too big.
Aren’t you afraid you’ll lose your curves?
Really muscular girls are gross.

When it comes to women, we value their beauty over their athletic ability. It’s a skewed priority.
So don’t let the bruises stop you from poling. Be proud of them, wear them like a badge of honor. Trust me, the sense of accomplishment you get from getting a new move for the first time definitely outweighs the ugliness of the bruises.

F*** the patriarchy and keep poling
-Gracie

Why Emma Haslam is fantastic

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Recently this video of pole dancer, Emma Haslam, auditioning for Britain’s Got Talent (BGT) has gone viral with over 8 million views. Haslam’s fun and athletic routine earned her an enthusiastic “yes!” from each of the four judges.

I love it anytime a pole dancer is acknowledged in the media as a talented athlete and performer rather than a part of “raunch culture”. As a poler, I really enjoyed Haslam’s performance and was excited to see her advance to the next round. As a feminist, however, I didn’t love the way the media framed her performance.

If you google “Emma Haslam”, you’ll find several headlines referring to her as “Size 18 Pole Dancer” or “15 stone Pole Dancer”. In the video of her performance, it is Haslam herself who first mentions her size, saying, “I’m trying to promote pole fitness as not for the usual sizes. Obviously, I’m a bigger lady,” but the editing of the video makes me wonder if she was prompted to comment on her weight.

Don’t get me wrong– I love that Haslam is challenging our perceptions of what a dancer looks like. I think we need more images in the media of dancers of different sizes. It is, however, problematic that her size is her primary identifier rather than her talent. We would never see the headline “Size 4 Pole Dancer Gives Stunning Performance”. So why should Haslam be compelled to give us some kind of explanation for her weight before she even starts dancing?

I have this theory that Britain’s Got Talent likes Emma Haslam because she has the Susan Boyle effect. When she steps on stage, we size her up, and assume she will be bad, because only thin, beautiful people are talented. However, we politely hold our tongues and wait for her to bomb. It’s no wonder we think this way when reality talent shows air performances like this just so we can play “laugh at the fatty.” When, however, Susan Boyle and Emma Haslam turn out to be great performers, we praise them and then pat ourselves on the back for being so accepting of all kinds of beauty.
Reality shows frame acts like Haslam as novelties rather than the serious, talented performers they are.

That’s really a shame. Imagine if Emma Haslam performed on BGT with absolutely no mention of her size. What if BGT challenged us to judge how good she is as a pole dancer, not how good she is for a “fat girl”? (…and she is good. I’m hella jealous of that Ayesha.) In Emma Haslam, BGT had the opportunity to normalize talent, grace, and athleticism in a plus-sized woman. One could argue that the show did that, but I’m not convinced.

The media constantly reinforces the idea that thin = healthy, but it’s not true (Notice how studies always say that health issues are correlated with or associated with being overweight, not caused by it). At my studio at least, women with many different body types pole dance really well.  Fitness comes in many different sizes. At the same time, plenty of thin people live unhealthy, sedentary lifestyles, but we let them off the health-shaming hook because they’re nicer to look at. We need more images of women like Emma Haslam, who are larger yet still fit.

As the web comic Pole Dancing Adventures reminds us:
polebodyacceptance

F*** the patriarchy and keep poling.
-Gracie