Monday, 23 January 2012

Your boyfriend must love it that you're a pole dancer...

If I had a dollar for every time someone has said "your boyfriend must LOVE it that you're a pole dancer," I'd have.... well, probably only around 80 bucks, but that's still enough to put it up there as one of the most common things people say to pole dancers, along with the time-honoured classic "hey baby, you can dance on my pole!"

I'm sure people imagine that going out with a pole dancer guarantees you wild, contortionist sex and private dances on demand. Maybe it is like that for some pole dancers. Maybe other pole dancers don't drag themselves through the front door after a class or performance, limping, smelling a little sweaty, make up smudged, false eyelashes a bit wonky, and either demand a deep tissue massage or go straight to the freezer for an ice pack. Maybe other pole dancers come home and put their cute pole costumes to good use, by pouncing on their partner in a frenzy of sexual pole dancer energy.

But I'm going to come clean here, in the interest of honest blogging, and put it out there: my boyfriend hates pole dancing.

It's not that he's against what I do. He's very happy that I'm so happy doing what I love. And it's not a jealousy thing either. I honestly can't believe how lucky I am to have a boyfriend who lets me perform the way I do in public, and never hassles me for being too, umm... provocative in my performances. He has one rule: no stripping (as in, taking clothes off is fine, so long as I at least keep a top and bottom on at all times, no matter how small). Which is fine because I have no need or desire to strip anyway.

I think that in the beginning, he was pretty into the idea of his girlfriend being a pole dancer. But his interest has definitely waned over the past five years of coming to watch my shows, being made to watch clips of me performing variations of moves that only a trained eye would know were different from each other, listening to pole-itical discussions about who should have won which competition, and having to sit through hours of pole analysis every time a pole dancer comes to stay at my house. Now, the second someone mentions the word pole, his eyes glaze over.

To be really honest, the whole issue of pole has at times been a real source of conflict in our relationship. I guess it's because I want him to love it as much as I do, but at the end of the day he just doesn't. For me, pole dance is the most inspirational, sensual, beautiful, athletic display of strength, flexibility and emotion. For him, it's a bunch of people jumping around a pole in their undies.

I've asked myself many times over the years, why doesn't my boyfriend appreciate pole? I think about whether or not I could handle watching endless football games if he were a professional football player. Although I hate watching football, I think that if he were playing, I would learn to appreciate it. But then maybe I wouldn't (I really do hate football).

I can freely admit that pole dance is not just my passion, but also my obsession. I think that obsession can be a double-edged sword - it provides you with the drive you need to achieve your dreams, but at the same time, it can isolate and frustrate you. Being in a relationship with a non-pole dancer means you have to make a real effort to avoid being swallowed by your obsession, or else risk having nothing at all to talk about with normal people. As a pole instructor, I've actually seen the topic of pole dance cause relationship break-ups amongst my students. It's almost like their partners no longer recognise their new, confident, pole dancing girlfriends - and some of them decide they don't like what they see.

It's not just female pole dancers who deal with this issue. One of my male students (and incredible performer) David Helman has a partner who is not a pole dancer. David says: 

"It was particularly hard when we first met, because he didn't understand why pole came first, and why if I didn't do it I would get cranky/sad/mad. He's gotten better and he’s now more supportive, but he still feels left out if I'm with a group of pole people and we talk about tricks and moves and performances etc. He still finds it difficult to understand that I’d rather spin on a pole than go out to a party. Also it doesn't help that sometimes he’s scared to touch me because I'm always in pain in some way! Especially when I dislocated my shoulder.

To make it fair, I called David's partner, Steven, to get his view. Steven says:

"I appreciate the sport and his love for it, and I love that he loves it so much, but it definitely impacts on our relationship. If we’re out with a group of pole people, and they’re talking about pole, the conversation is often on a completely different level and I can’t understand a thing. They’ll be talking about pole tricks, and I’m thinking what the hell is a phoenix? Some kind of bird move? I don’t always want to ask what they’re talking about because then I feel like a kid sitting at the adult’s dinner table. Sometimes can deal with it, but other times I’ll throw a tanty and go home. David wants me to be involved, and I try, but I can’t always do it. It’s hard, but we find ways to make it work." 

On this topic, my sister Maddie has a pretty good perspective, I think. She says that just because you love two things doesn't mean that if you combine them they will work well together.  She says there's nothing wrong with keeping your loves separate. I think she's right about that. But obviously, it can be hard when you want to share your excitement with the person you love, only to find them staring blankly at you as though you were speaking a different language (which possibly we are).   

And then there's the Holy Grail of pole love - two pole dancers in love, training, performing, competing and instructing together... Can such a thing exist? It can, and it does, in Suzie Q and Toby J. Those of you who have seen their doubles pole or trapeze performances know what I'm talking about - it's so beautiful to see the trust, love and magic that they put in to every one of their performances. No doubt there's a lot of yelling and shouting that goes into their training sessions, but it must be worth it to share that thrilling moment onstage together when the crowd goes wild after a performance.

Suzie Q says: "I've dated pole dancers, and non-pole dancers. I definitely appreciate the fact that another pole dancer really "gets" what I do - because he does it too!"

And Toby J adds: "I like sharing performances together - I also think it enhances the trust levels in our relationship. Plus it makes for some cool party tricks when the two of us bust out something acrobatic!"

But if your boyfriend or girlfriend would sooner have their teeth extracted un-anaesthetised than consider performing on a pole in public, you're going to have to find some other way of making sure pole doesn't become the third wheel in your relationship. 

In the world beyond pole, it's often the case that women get a bit of a social status boost from the success of their husbands. In the UK and in Australia, cricket/football WAGs (the wives and girlfriends of cricket/football players) have their own status and celebrity, which they derive solely from how nice they look sitting on the sidelines while their other halves chase a ball around for large amounts of money. Although unfortunately it doesn't really work the other way around, I think pole boyfriends and husbands deserve their own title, just like the WAGs. Let's call them Polar-BAHs.

When I was at Worlds in 2011, I had a fair amount of time backstage to do nothing but stretch and wait.  During this time, I had a bit of a chat to Nic Judd, Zoraya's partner, who is possibly one of the most supportive Polar-BAHS in the pole industry (along with Suzie Q's partner Toby J, Jenyne's partner Andrew Ball, and probably a few others I don't know about). I asked him if he got sick of all the pole events he has had to go to. He surprised me by saying something along the lines of: 

"I don't care about pole dance. It's not my thing. It's her (Zoraya's) thing. But she's my passion, and pole dance is her passion, so I make it my thing."

I can't tell you how much what Nic said affected me. All I could think was, my God, I wish my boyfriend felt that way. 

But since then, I've come to realise that what works for others doesn't always work for everyone. My boyfriend doesn't enjoy attending pole dancing events, and I'm coming to accept that I can't, and shouldn't, try to force him. He may not love pole dance per se, but he's supportive of me, and he comes to all the big competitions to be there for me. Whenever he does compliment me on a performance, I know it means that I've really killed it, because he wouldn't say so otherwise. I remind myself that if he tried to drag me along to football games every weekend, I would probably explode. And I'm pretty certain that his aversion to pole dancing means I'll never bust him going to strip clubs with his boys. 

So, until the day comes when Polar-BAHs have their own special status as the privileged partners of pole dancers, I guess I will just have to accept that the reality of being a Polar-BAH is probably a bit of a drag for most of them, or at least my boyfriend. Having to share your lady with an inanimate metal rod must be pretty tough. Especially if he suspects that, judging by the amount of time she spends embracing it, she may be more devoted to the pole than she is to him!

To my boyfriend: I love you and thank you for the support you show me in my pole pursuits. I get that you don't get pole. That's ok. But darling, can't you just fake it a little bit from time to time? For me??? ;-)

Shimmy xx

PS As you can probably tell from this post, I'm still trying to work this topic out for myself. I'd be really interested in hearing how your Polar-BAHs cope with your love of pole - so please feel free to comment and share your own story/advice :-)

Monday, 16 January 2012

From corporate suits to hotpants...

I'm a pole dancer and a lawyer. There are a surprising number of pole dancer/lawyers around (I've had two working for me at the Pole Dance Academy so far, and many more train with us). It seems to be the case that the more boring and conservative a girl's regular life is, the more of a wildcat she is once she ditches the suit and gets on the pole. It's almost as though the raunchiness of your body rolls and back arches is directly proportional to the amount of tedious paperwork you've had to do before you get to class. One thing that never fails to make me smile is watching my students arrive for class dressed neatly in their jackets, blouses and knee length skirts, only to wriggle out of their clothes and go crazy on the pole. Then at the end, they get dressed, smooth their hair and head out the door, and no one would suspect a thing (if it weren't for the tell-tale bruises, that is).

Recently I've done a couple of interviews for other blogs and youtube videos, and people always ask me how I got started with pole. My standard line is that I took a class 5 years ago and was hooked instantly, and then I usually make a joke about working in a law firm to put myself through pole school. The full story is actually a little more involved. And seeing as how this is my blog and I can write whatever I like, I'm going to write the story of how I went from being a corporate lawyer at a big city firm to being a pole dancer.

Although it had a couple of good moments, overall I hated working in a corporate environment. It was so restrictive, and I always felt like I was pretending to be someone I wasn't. I was taking pole classes in the evening after work, and sometimes even running to the studio on my lunch break for practice time. Pole dance was such a release for me, and it felt like a secret I carried around with me, a reminder that I still had something interesting going on in my life outside the office. All the while, I was terrified that people at work would find out about my secret hobby, so I never told a soul.

In 2008, I went to watch Miss Pole Dance Australia. Sitting in the audience, I thought to myself, I would love to be up on that stage one day, dancing with those amazing women. Immediately, another thought followed - don't be ridiculous. Imagine what would happen at work if people saw photos in the newspaper of your half-naked body wrapped around a pole onstage at the Enmore Theatre. But then I thought - why is it that I'm afraid to pursue something I love, in order to ensure I can keep doing something I hate? It didn't seem to make much sense at all.

Six months later, it was time for my performance review at work, and I was sitting in the office of one of the partners. She was in the middle of telling me that people were questioning whether or not I was 110% committed to working at the firm, because of my attitude. I thought back to the 12 to 14 hour days I'd been working, and the weekends spent at the office. I thought to myself, "You're quite right. I am not 110% committed to working here. Screw you guys - I'm opening a pole studio."

So I resigned. I found another job with better hours at an amazing community legal centre that offers free legal advice to disadvantaged people (where I still work part-time). I convinced my sister that opening a pole studio together was a brilliant idea. We found a space, and with a lot of hard work, turned it into the beautiful Pole Dance Academy. I love teaching pole, and I'm so happy that I took the plunge and did it. A lot of people have since said to me that it must have taken courage to turn my back on a career as a corporate lawyer to become a professional pole dancer. But it wasn't courage. It was simply that I was so unhappy that I had no choice but to do something drastic. It's entirely possible that if I hadn't been so miserable, I would have kept on keeping on for a lot longer, and turned into one of the people I worked for.

Although I now work longer hours than ever (what with my part-time job at the legal centre, teaching pole, training, doing studio admin, competing, organising amateur competitions etc), I couldn't be happier. I work with my sister (also my best friend) Maddie, and a bunch of incredibly talented girls that I'm lucky enough to call my staff of teachers. And don't get me started on my students - they're the best part of going to work. Watching them grow as dancers (and seeing their confidence and self-esteem increase at the same rate as their muscles and flexibility) is just so much more rewarding than advising companies on corporate takeovers.

I had another moment of truth a couple of months ago. My sister Maddie and I had been booked to do a show at a 50th birthday party (the guy's girlfriend booked us - what an cool girlfriend!). I was setting up the X-Stage when I noticed the stage needed adjusting. I turned to the lady standing next to me and said "Excuse me, would you mind holding my pole for a moment?' She looked a little familiar, but I couldn't place her, so I didn't give it another thought.

It was only when I was in my red sequin bikini and stripper heels, about to head out into the middle of the party to do my thing on the pole, that I suddenly realised who she was. She was the former head partner at the law firm I used to work at. Oh God. The old me wanted to grab my clothes and hustle my ass outta there like my pants were on fire. But the new me just smiled, took a deep breath, and strutted on out there to bust out some awesome moves on the pole.

I figured she would understand - I'm just a much better pole dancer than I am a corporate lawyer.

Shimmy xx

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

First Blog Ever: Thick Skin

I've been wanting to create a blog about pole dance for a long time now, but I've been so busy with training and the studio that I've been putting it off. But now it's the new year, and so no more excuses. Blog time.

The first thing I want to write about is: Developing A Thick Skin. And I'm not talking about callouses (although I could - and I know we all have them - and not just on our hands... personally I think the back of the left knee is the worst place to have that calloused elephant skin ugghh). But back to the point. Developing a thick skin is something that all performers have to put a little effort into, sooner or later. As a dancer and a performer, you put everything into your performances. All your heart, emotion and energy. The thrill you get from a wildly applauding and appreciative audience is like nourishment for your soul - and part of the reason why performing is so addictive.

The flip side is of course the fact that not everybody will go wild for your performances. Some people may be left feeling nonplussed, and some may even go out of their way to let you know how much they disliked it. And let's not forget that although pole dance has come a long way in recent times and become more acceptable in polite society, it's still a fringe activity (part of the appeal, right?). Watching a pole performance can be very confronting for some people, especially if they don't feel comfortable with the sexual element of a pole performance.

I recently did a solo and a doubles performance with Matty Shields, my dance partner, in Dubbo at a festival. It was a family affair, and so I made sure to keep my show strictly G-rated and more acrobatic/circus style. After the show, we had kids asking us for our autographs (well, to be honest - they were asking Matty, after all, he's the Australia's Got Talent star - they only asked me because I was standing next to him!). A whole bunch of people approached us to tell us how awesome they thought the show was, and how surprised they were to learn that pole was so acrobatic and strength-based. All this positive feedback made us really happy, until I found out that after the show a couple of women had complained that my performance was inappropriate and shouldn't have been allowed. No one complained about Matty's performance. Double standard, maybe?

Similarly, a couple of friends of mine were recently very upset to find some extremely derogatory comments made about one of their doubles performances on Facebook. Now, most people understand that a performance is a performance, and that just because you dress up like a pirate or a monkey onstage doesn't mean that in real life you carry on like a pirate or a monkey. But people don't always get that when it comes to a sexy pole performance. To be clear - there was nothing vulgar or dirty about their doubles performance. It was an impressive doubles performance that saw them place in the competition. But someone posted on the video that it was "slutty". Pretty harsh, and very uncalled for.

All the more reason to retreat into our happy, loving, pole community, right? Maybe not. I've noticed over the years that pole dancers are becoming more critical of each other. But I don't necessarily see criticism as a bad thing in itself. As more styles of pole dance develop, people will have different views on what they like and what they don't like. That's fine. So long as people take care to express their views in a way that won't make the pole dancer in question want to cry and hang up her stilettos for good.

But you can't control what people say or think. And you can't please everyone. And nor should you try to. Think of your favourite pole dancer - the one from whom you draw inspiration and motivation. The one who sends your heart aflutter whenever she posts a new video. I bet you can name at least one or two of your pole friends who don't like her style at all. But that doesn't change the fact that you think she's amazing. Or the fact that she is amazing.

Which is where the Thick Skin comes in. It's completely normal that not everyone will like what you do. As the pole movement gains momentum, and new skills are created, it's going to get harder and harder to impress people. People will become more discerning, and competitive. Sometimes, people will comment on other people's style of dance as a way of defining their own style. An example of this is a traditional "sexy" pole dancer saying she doesn't like contemporary pole, or a former ballerina saying she hates body rolls and hair flicks. What they're really saying is that they've adopted a particular style as their favourite way to pole dance, to the exclusion of other styles. That's ok too - there's room enough in the pole world for many different ways of pole dancing, and it's quite exciting to see new styles develop and change.

So: whenever you cop an insult or a bit of negativity, just try to suck it up and remember all the gasps and smiles that you've drawn from your audience in the past - even if your only audience is your cat or your mum ;-). Don't let a snide comment or backhanded compliment ruin your passion for the pole. If you're like me, pole means way too much for you to let yourself be put off by anything.

Remember that what we do as pole dancers is exceptional. There's not many people you pass in the street who can lift their entire body weight over their head and hang from one leg. So keep at it. Shrug off the useless negativity, or if you can, take valid criticism constructively and learn from it. And surround yourself with pole dancers you respect and admire, because there's loads of them around. At the end of the day, one thing we pole dancers all have in common is that we are a pretty amazing bunch, in my view :-)

Shimmy xx