women

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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Girl Crush

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When I first created my blog, I had no idea what to expect. I’d been writing essays for months, sometimes sending them to my mom, or a friend or two, without ever any intention of sharing them publically. But when a girlfriend told me to publish one of them after reading it back in May, I decided I’d just go for it. Why not? I thought, who knows what might happen. Well, for one, Kara has happened.

I met Kara almost ten months ago at a New Year’s party. It was a fairly small gathering considering the occasion – no more than 25 people – at a beautiful house in the Hollywood Hills. The host had been very precise about attire, commitment, and start time, so I was surprised to see two empty seats at our table set for 8 when we sat down. As promised, the dinner started promptly at 9:30, with a hearty soup dish served first. The servers had just cleared our bowls when she and her friend arrived. I nearly choked on my champagne. She was achingly beautiful.

We didn’t speak at all during dinner. For one thing, the dimensions of the table and the acoustics of the room simply did not allow for it, unless we wanted to shout our conversation. The seating chart had also been strategically designed to ensure men would be talking with women, and women with men (it went boy girl boy girl). Thus, I spent most of the dinner speaking with the older guy to my left, and occasionally with the enviably dressed couple to my right, who kept disappearing presumably to do drugs. The only discussion involving her was when the older guy whispered to me “who brought the 18 year old?” I smiled politely, resisting the urge to blurt back “you mean the stunningly gorgeous chick I want to simultaneously strangle and know everything about?” It’s strange the effect beauty can have, attracting and repulsing, inspiring both admiration and envy.

After dinner ended, one of the tables was removed and a “dance floor” created. The area couldn’t have been more than 10 feet squared, but I’d start grinding in an airplane bathroom if they played the right song. The iPod deejay worked his magic, and soon enough I was tearing it up. A few glasses of champagne and months of pole dancing classes ensured some pretty, uh, sexy moves (“You were f***ing the furniture” one male friend later commented. Pretty hilarious, if not a bit embarrassing). Luckily, most of the men had migrated downstairs to the pool and hot tub, so my numbers were performed for the ladies. Midnight came and went, and shortly thereafter I left, never having spoken to the beautiful girl.

A couple of months later, I ran into her at another party. This time, we actually talked. She remembered me from New Year’s, and commented on my dancing – “My friends thought you were weird and annoying, but I thought you were awesome.” This thrilled me. Firstly, because within seconds of her opening her mouth I could tell she was different from 90% of the girls who attend parties in the Hills. Secondly, she appreciated my femininity and the freedom I’d been experiencing in expressing it. “What’s your name, I’ll find you on Facebook,” I probed. “Kara Degas.” And with that we became friends. At least according to social media.

Over the next few months, we saw each other at one more party and liked each other’s statuses two or three times. Once she private messaged me with a link to a KCRW podcast in response to an article I had posted about pollution. A couple of times I just stared at photos of her that popped up in my news feed and thought there’s no way this girl can be cool. She was just too flawless to be deep and interesting. I remember at USC having a friend who was impossibly beautiful, rich, smart, perfect. Myself being fragile and insecure, I cried to my mom about her one day, and she responded that her beauty probably works against her sometimes, with people not being able to see beyond her exterior. “Everyone has their cross to bear.” Right, I thought, poor perfect-looking people. What could they possibly understand about the real world?

Turns out everything. Kara reached out to me after my first blog post with a touching private message. Within a couple of entries, she was my biggest fan. I felt beyond flattered, as if the coolest girl in school had just made me part of her court. I suggested a drink, and a few days later she dropped by my house. I was nervous waiting for her to arrive, like a first date from Match.com. What was she going to be like? Would we get along? Would she like me? Well, she had enjoyed my essays enough to reach out, and those were pretty personal. I took a deep breath and opened the door.

We talked for 5 hours. It was one of those conversations where you have so much to say to each other that a single story never gets told. One idea branches into another and another, and soon you’re both spiraling and crisscrossing and jumping backwards and forwards. The more she revealed about her heart-breaking upbringing, her failed relationships, her obsession with reading and neuroscience, the more I was falling in love. It was the kind of spark I’d felt when I met my writing partner – an instant soul connection. I’d only experienced this a handful of times, all with women, and it had always floored me. How could intimacy be this easy?

A couple of months ago over dinner my dad started talking about male bonding. “It seems so much easier to connect with [his tennis and golf buddies], like being in a relationship with a guy would somehow make more sense.” My mom and I looked at each other knowingly. We’d had the same conversation before about women. My parents have been married for 30 years, closer to each other than anyone in the world, and yet, there was still something about that bond between same-sex friends that could not be replicated. I felt it with Martha, with Katelyn, with Ally, and now with Kara. It’s a special form of love, one that moves past the physical and sexual, beyond even the mental and emotional, to a sort of understanding of core being.

That first night I’d seen Kara on New Year’s I’d mistaken my attraction towards her as a girl crush. I had assumed the draw I felt towards her was a result of her beauty, the way it had been for so many of the men who had “known” her without ever knowing her. Now, months into our friendship after that intimate night at my house, I realize I was being pulled to her by something else, by this special chemistry between women. And if nothing else ever comes from my blog but this, well, it will all have been worth it.