pole dancing

Why I Dance

Pole dancing has changed my life. From the outside, this may sound like an exaggerated claim, or a preposterous one, or a shallow one. But it is anything but. From my very first intro class at S Factor to the dance I did on Valentine’s Day to Damien Rice’s “Delicate,” my journey with pole dancing has been one of letting go, opening up, expressing myself, and love. And it continues to evolve, even since the last time I wrote about it, which, not coincidentally, was my very first blog entry.

As I talked about in my previous post, my initial encounter with pole allowed me to explore and appreciate my sexuality and sensuality as a woman in a way I never had before. It felt like I was shedding my dry, scaly, battered skin, and emerging as a soft, strong, beautiful, feminine creature. My old belief system had constantly been focused on what was wrong with my body- the missing gap between my thighs, my too small breasts, my shapeless hips. But through S Factor I began to see what was right. Which was, quite simply, me. I was already enough as I was.

As soon as I became comfortable enough in my own skin to look out across the dark room and see the other women owning themselves, I experienced another wave of shock. One that literally sent chills through my entire body. My long held belief that only women who looked like Giselle and Miranda Kerr and Megan Fox were sexy evaporated before my eyes. Here were  women of all shapes and sizes, from all different backgrounds, from ivory skin to ebony, whose beauty literally made me cry. I wanted to hug and praise each and every one of them for just being who they were and sharing their most intimate selves with me week after week. It was a feeling I couldn’t quite put into words, although I tried: on this blog, to the guys I was dating, to my mom, to my friends. But I never quite succeeded. Talking about it, writing about it – it couldn’t capture it.

Which was why I made a film about it. Or more accurately, why we made a film about it. Because it was truly the work of an entire community. From the amazing director, to my fellow producers, to the incredible, courageous dancers, to the crew and the supporters of our kickstarter, to the viewers.

My original idea for the film was one I had been kicking around in my head for several months. Not long after I started anactressmuses.com, I approached Sascha Alexander (she was one of the reasons I’d come to S Factor in the first place) with the concept: What if we made a short film intercutting different women all doing the same dance? The message I wanted to convey was so basic: how beautiful every woman is, and how interconnected we all are. I envisioned us shooting it in an afternoon, perhaps needing a budget of no more than $500- for some basic craft services, a light kit, and a location cost.

So much for that. Sascha responded with her usual incredible enthusiasm, telling me she had actually been talking to her friend Melanie Zoey about doing a similar thing. We all got together one afternoon at Sascha’s place, with fresh blueberries and chips and salsa, and began discussing our vision. What we wanted to say, how we wanted to say it, why we wanted to say it. I left that first meeting feeling like I had just dropped three tabs of molly. This was going to be awesome.

We met up a couple of more times before I left for Europe for a month, and when I came back, the girls had elevated the project to a new level. Suddenly I felt like I was being swept up by some massive wave, and all I could do was improvise knowing how to surf.

The new vision for the film required a much heftier budget than $500, so we decided to launch a kickstarter campaign. This was my first real experience with crowd-funding (my previous effort on indiegogo for a short film I shot a few years ago was rather lackluster), and the results were overwhelming. We made a great video we all felt proud of, decided to set our ask at $3150, and within two days we had reached our goal. WHAT?!?! None of us had anticipated the amount of support that would flood our campaign, and by the end of the month we had raised over $5000. We were speechless and humbled.

But that was nothing compared to how I felt during the actual filming. Those two days in November were amongst the greatest I’ve ever had on a set. Or anywhere. The energy from the other women, the vulnerability and support and compassion – something special happened that weekend. Even if the actual video didn’t come together just as we wanted it, or if nobody watched it but us, or if it totally blew up in our faces, it was already a success.

Fortunately, the film did come together as we had envisioned, it’s received almost 50,000 views in four days, we threw a fantastic launch party, and the only thing that’s blown up is my level of gratitude. I just feel so blessed to have gotten to be a part of this project. I’m so proud of what we’ve done, women. It’s changed my life. THANK YOU.

Watch the film here!

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What I Talk about when I Talk about Pole Dancing

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Exercise has always held an important place in my life. The reasons for its necessity continually change over time (health, meditation, weight loss, enjoyment), but it has been a constant for as long as I can remember. When I think of my childhood, I think of practicing handsprings in the grass of our front yard, doing back flips off of my best friend Mikie’s couch, running up and down Willamette Blvd, biking around the lush campus of the University of Portland. When I recount favorite moments in my life to friends, inevitably they involve some sort of physical activity – the time I ran 18 miles in Paris one morning because I couldn’t stop, the exchange I had with a wild dog in a Costa Rican rainforest during a mid-day jog, the joy of making that winning basket or home run.

Until last year, my favorite form of exercise was, without a doubt, running. Growing up it had been gymnastics, but anyone who has ever watched the Olympics or tried to do a cartwheel beyond their teens knows the career-expectancy of that particular sport. Running, on the other hand, can be practiced well into old age, as many an elderly marathoner can testify. Not only is it sustainable over one’s lifetime, it’s one of the simplest things you can do. One foot in front of the other. Repeat. Not much to it, beyond a good pair of running shoes and a sports bra (and those aren’t even actually required!)

In many ways, running has been one of the most essential things in my life. It has gotten me through breakups, writer’s block, finals weeks, anger, sadness, holidays, family vacations. It’s like a medicine for me, a shot of endorphins to ease the pain, lift my spirit, pump my blood, keep me alive. Some of my most creative thoughts have come on mile 5 of a morning jog, moments in which the clutter in my brain gets sorted and the heart of the matter just seems to burst forth – AHA! Now I understand what Bergman was getting at in Persona, now I see the missing piece in my screenplay. It’s incredible the way running can set up a routine for your life, one that teaches you how to function better in the world. It’s what Murakami talked about in “What I Talk about When I Talk about Running.”

Which brings me to pole dancing. I encountered pole (and Murakami’s semi-memoir) last summer, when I’d been cast in a play as an ex-stripper. As coquettish of a person as I was (I once got fired from a restaurant for flirting), I felt compelled to take my sexuality a step further, and enrolled in classes at S-Factor. I’d heard of pole fitness from my ex-boyfriend’s ex-lover, but it had never occurred to me to actually try it until attempting to tap into my inner “Billie.” Little did I know it was going to rock my physical, sexual, and emotional world.

My first class I cried. Not from the inevitable bruising of slamming one’s body against a metal pole, but from the sudden awareness of the damage done by over a decade of body dysmorphia. “Let your hands run over your curves, sending love and adoration into them,” the teacher cooed. What?! Caress my body and enjoy it?! Years of living in Los Angeles had taught me I was too fat, too flat, too not Victoria Secret enough. It felt strange, borderline criminal, to worship my body for what it was – feminine, beautiful, sexy, mine. As the class continued, I found other emotions welling up inside of me. This part of me had been caged for so long, trapped by societal conventions, possessed by other people’s ideals, restricted by my own self-image, reinforced by casual (un)sexual encounters, ripped and shredded over and over again by this perfect body, that perfect body, never my perfect body. And now it was being summoned forth, beckoned to come out, to play, to explore, to let go.

And it did. That part of me, that deep femininity, that innate sensuality, that natural womanly sexuality, just burst out. I tore at my clothes, touched my breasts, felt the curve of my back and the way my hair brushed over my shoulders. Every inch of my skin felt alive, more alive then it had ever been, like that moment right after an orgasm, when the slightest touch sends shivers down your spine. How could I have neglected myself for so long? How could I not have recognized who I was? I remembered a novel I studied in high school – Gabriella, Clove, and Cinnamon. Gabriella. The caged bird. The juxtaposition of her sexuality and society. Intellectual concepts now fully realized. I let it sweep over me. Relax, left brain, just FEEL.

I walked out of my first class and signed up for a year. I had never spent money on fitness (my mom covered my $50 a year 24 hour fitness membership), but I didn’t even flinch as I lay down my credit card for $200 a month. How could you put a price tag on finding yourself? Money didn’t matter. This mattered. My body mattered. I mattered.

From the outside, I know it looks crass. Learning to strip, giving lap dances, grinding my center into a long, hard pole. And sometimes I do feel dirty. Really dirty. But I love it. Because it’s mine, and it’s for me, and it’s what I want. Forget the male gaze. It has nothing to do with men. It’s about women. Our bodies. Our erotic creatures. Our sex.

Almost a year after joining S Factor, I feel better than I ever have in my life. I don’t attribute all of it to pole dancing – other things have opened up for me creatively, intellectually, socially – but I know it’s been integral in my development in the same way as running. If I walk into a class feeling down, anxious, upset, I inevitably come out joyful, calm, and ready to conquer.  Plus, my arms have never looked better.