In March 2019, one of Husband’s colleagues talked me into attending a pole dancing class with her.
She and I have slightly different memories of how we ended up in this situation. I maintain that she suggested an aerial hoop or silks class and pole dancing was a complete bolt out of the blue. She’s convinced pole dancing was on the table from the get-go. To be fair, she may be absolutely right and my prudish brain simply chose to ignore something that would involve me displaying so much flesh in public.
Despite my initial reluctance, pole dancing turned out to be an absolute hoot. My time on the pole was cut short by the pandemic and an international house move but I had a great time during my brief stint as a part-time pole dancer. In this post I will share some of the lessons I learned while spinning right round baby, right round.
1. The more skin you can get in contact with the pole the better
I turned up to my first pole dancing lesson absolutely adamant that I wouldn’t be taking my top off or wearing tiny shorts. What an idiot I was.
It’s not always been the case, but by the time I took up pole dancing I was extremely comfortable with and proud of my body. I’d spent a good few years beating it into shape on the climbing wall and had gotten quite used to being the palest creature for miles around while living in Spain. However, my choice of clothing has rarely involved showing a lot of skin. I like to get my guns out (why wouldn’t I, they’ve taken a lot of work!) and happily wear shorts when the weather demands it, but I feel more at home in clothing that leaves plenty to the imagination.
I want to stress that this has no bearing on how I think others should dress. I’m very much an each-to-their-own kind of person when it comes to how people dress and live their lives in general. My choices are mainly based on my desire to preserve my knees, which I tend to bash into everything within a 2m radius, and protect my fragile pasty skin.
I soon learned there is no room for my usual attitude to clothing in pole dancing classes. Midway through my first class I accepted defeat, rolled my shorts up shorter and jettisoned my vest top leaving my sports bra to go it alone.
The aim of the game is to get as much exposed skin in contact with the pole as possible and harness every iota of friction it provides. Any bit of skin will do. Hands. Feet. Backs of the knees. Inner thighs. Armpits. Stomach. Whack it on there and hope it’s not too sweaty!
2. Pole dancing and rock climbing are pretty similar . . .
This may seem fairly obvious but it came as a total shock to me.
Rock climbing and pole dancing both involve a lot of pulling and gripping very hard. The angles and the holds are a little different but the principle of hold on tight and move around in funny positions transfers very nicely between the two disciplines.
My foundation in climbing also meant that learning to pole dance was a very different experience to learning to climb. I took up climbing without any previous experience in a similar sport and gradually built up my strength and technique together. With pole dancing, I began not only with a lot more strength but also a higher level of confidence and resilience thanks to three years of falling off boulders and not dying.
That being said, I wouldn’t let a lack of upper body strength put you off giving pole dancing a go. As I mentioned in a previous post about taking up rock climbing you don’t need to be strong from the get-go. You don’t generally start a brand-new activity already in possession of the qualities required to be good at it. You’ll build your strength simply by practicing pole dancing and you’ll improve your technique at the same time.
3. . . . . but they’re not that similar
My three years on the wall/rock served me really well when it came to holding on tight but they did nothing for my grace and elegance. I’ve never thought of myself as the most majestic of movers and this really showed when it came to finessing my pole dancing skills.
I was really happy when it came to holding poses. I could hang upside down in an inversion for ages or keep my core solid as a rock in plank poses but getting in between each position was a totally different matter.
My instructor was constantly telling me to point my toes or relax and let my limbs flow a little rather than rigidly jolting my way between positions as quickly as possible. Clearly whatever I learned about moving gracefully in dance classes as a child was long gone.
4. Sometimes poles spin and sometimes they don’t
It turns out that sometimes it’s the pole that spins and sometimes it’s the pole dancer. A few swift turns of an Allen key can transform the pole from a stoic static object to a rotating whirling dervish of delights.
Our classes alternated weekly between static and spinning. They turned out to be quite different crafts, both of which had their own challenges. Somewhat counter-intuitively, I would liken static pole to dynamic and jumpy climbing moves and spinning pole to static climbing moves that involve pulling hard between positions.
Personally, I preferred spinning pole. As I mentioned above, being able to hold static poses was my main strength on the pole. This seemed to come into play most often when the pole took care of the rotation for me and I could just focus on finding and holding the shapes.
Static pole ironically felt more dynamic and involved using my own momentum to generate the movements, which is not something I excel at. Everything felt more committing when the pole was static. I felt like I really had to throw myself into the moves and create the rotation with my own body.
In this sense, my pole dancing and climbing styles are very similar.
5. Chalk works on poles as well as rocks
I think my instructor was slightly horrified by the amount of chalk I used in class. As a climber I think I use a fairly average amount of chalk. As a pole dancer I use a ridiculous amount of chalk.
Using chalk while pole dancing seems to be fairly common but I always used more than my classmates and my instructor never used any. Even in the middle of summer in Madrid when I was permanently coated in a visible layer of slimy sweat, my instructor seemed to remain as dry as a Jacob’s cream cracker.
Seeing as I never intended to publicly perform any of my pole dancing skills I decided not to give a shit about the amount of chalk I used! I wanted pole dancing to be nothing more than an enjoyable form of exercise, so it didn’t matter how often I stopped to slather myself in chalk. It wasn’t disturbing the rhythm of a beautiful routine or shattering any illusions that I was a sweat-free pole dancing wizard.
I had to clean the pole more often but it made me feel safer and have more faith in hands while spinning around at high speeds so I have no regrets about my excessive chalk consumption.
6. You can experience motion sickness on a spinning pole
Although I preferred working with a spinning pole, there was always a risk of getting a nasty bout of motion sickness when it got up to speed.
Usually I wouldn’t start to feel queasy until later in the class as the number of trips around the pole started to add up. Although occasionally I would take an unexpectedly speedy rotation or seventeen and need to sit down with my head between my legs taking deep breaths for at least ten minutes before getting back on the pole.
Heartburn was also an issue if I spent too much time upside down on the pole. I made sure to eat my dinner especially early on pole dancing days in order to avoid this problem or, god forbid, throwing up all over the studio floor. But if the class involved a lot of inversions it was common to see me reaching for the Rennies afterwards.
7. Pole dancing hurts
As a reasonably clumsy rock climber I’ve had my fair share of bumps, scrapes, and bruises. Pole dancing introduced me to worlds of pain I’d never experienced before.
The most obvious trauma is something I refer to as ‘pole burn’. The act of repeatedly rubbing, squeezing, and sliding various bits of my flesh and skin against the pole for an hour and half left me with some bright red and extremely tender areas. The inner thighs, obliques, and backs of the knees generally suffered the most when it came to pole burn.
Bruises were also common in some unexpected places. As with climbing, my knees and elbows often took quite a pounding. My most consistent and painful pole dancing bruise was on the top of my right foot just below my second smallest toe. In order to climb the pole, you have to clamp it between your knees and press the shin of one leg on the back of the pole and the calf of the other leg on the front of the pole. My right foot was the one that tucked behind the pole when I climbed meaning that the top of my right foot was always pressing (sometimes clunking) against the pole when I performed this move. As with most humans (I imagine!) I don’t have a lot of padding on the top of my foot so wearing shoes, especially climbing shoes, was pretty painful the day after a pole dancing session.
And last on the list of pain were the muscle aches I experienced the days after pole dancing. Again, as a climber, I thought I’d identified all the muscles that I could possibly use and hurt. Turns out, I was wrong on that one. Although pole dancing uses a lot of upper body strength, I would often feel sore in every inch of my core and legs the morning after the pole night before. Although my traps, lats, delts, and pecs also had complaints about past-JoJo’s actions. Present-JoJo really can’t work out why past-JoJo wants her to suffer so much.
8. The pole dancing community is absolutely wonderful
I never expected to enjoy pole dancing as much as I did. It never got close to replacing rock climbing as my favourite sport but I had a lot of fun giving pole dancing a go and this was largely down to everyone involved being absolutely wonderful.
My instructor and classmates were some of the most encouraging and supportive people I’ve ever met. They were particularly understanding and kind when it came to the added complication of the language barriers present in the class. I, an English person with a poor grasp of Spanish, attended pole dancing classes in Madrid delivered by a Russian instructor who spoke flawless Spanish, good but rusty English, and, obviously, Russian. My fellow pole dancing students also spoke a mixture of Spanish, English, and Russian. The whole experience was akin to a very unconventional school exchange programme.
Aside from helping me learn some new and very context dependent Spanish vocabulary, my instructor and classmates provided much needed moral support and wholeheartedly celebrated my achievements on the pole. We all rejoiced when someone successfully learned a new move or completed a much-practiced routine. All ability levels were respected and every success, however big or small, was greeted with praise and jubilation.
Would I recommend pole dancing to a friend?
I’ve hung up my tiny shorts for now so I can focus on my climbing training and not overwork my shoulders too much. Although I certainly wouldn’t rule out a return to the pole if we lived within spitting distance of a pharmacy stocked with Rennies and a conveniently timed class.
But yes, I would absolutely recommend pole dancing to a friend looking for a slightly unconventional but enjoyable form of exercise.
It will hurt at times. Occasionally you’ll fall and feel like a fool for not being able to make your body do what you want it to. It’s not all glamorous. You probably won’t feel super sexy when you’re massaging your aching muscles or rubbing creams and potions into your bruised and burned skin.
On the other hand, I expect you’ll surprise yourself with what you can achieve on the pole. You’ll have a laugh and share the experience with some brilliant people. It may even give you more confidence in your body and yourself.