You’ve seen them around town, I’m sure.  Eye-popping magenta signs featuring acrobatic silhouettes and emblazoned with the words Pole Fitness.  Maybe you’ve rolled your eyes going past, or maybe you’ve ignored them.  Or, maybe you’re like me and, every time you’ve passed one of those discreet studios, you’ve wondered if you’d be any good at it.

Reader, I did it.  About a year ago, I signed up for a beginner’s pole dancing class, the kind that combines bumping and grinding with yoga and pilates, being offered in my neighbourhood.  This is the story of how I fell out of love with “pole fitness”.

I signed up for the class for a variety of reasons.  Some of them were stupid (“I feel so subversive!”), some of them were hopeful (“Maybe I’ll find other sex-positive, whore-supportive femmes here!”), and some of them were purely practical (“It’s around the corner from my house and has a defined schedule.  There are worse ways to Get Some Exercise™”).  Plus the twirling and spinning I’d done at their free promotional class had been a lot of fun.  So I decided to give it a go.

Fast forward four months, to a point where I’m not quite halfway through Level Two, and things are not going so well.  I’m sure you can imagine what I’d hoped to find:  I didn’t expect that the entire class would be first-year women’s studies students wanting to put their money where their mouths were, so to speak, and I hadn’t expected (though I would have loved) there to be plans afoot for a studio contingent at the December 17th memorial or in the local pride parade.  But seriously…  Was it too much to expect that people taking a pole dancing class would be willing to recognize sexwork as legitimate and sexworkers as complex human beings with lives outside of their jobs?

Apparently it was.

Week after week, I ran up against sex negativity, whorephobia, and internalized misogyny that I really hadn’t expected.  I mean, there we were, learning stripper moves and exchanging tips on where to find micro minis and platform shoes for cheap, but my teacher and (some of) my classmates were also talking about how it was okay to shake your tits for your Significant Other, but not for the general public, and pointing out their identification as “good girls”, “mommies”, and similar as opposed to strippers or pole-dancers.  Hell, calling it “pole fitness” and glossing over, skirting around, or outright denying the overt sexuality of the whole thing, can be lumped in there, too.

It’s not that I don’t understand why they were doing it.  I grew up with the virgin/whore dichotomy, too.  I get that, if you have a divide in your head between “good girls” and “bad girls” and have labeled “overt, unashamed, public sexuality” as a “bad girl” trait, but put yourself under the “good girl” heading, that there’s a certain amount of mental gymnastics you need to go through in order to maintain your self-designation as a “good girl” when you’ve just signed up to learn how to bump and grind.  So I get it.  But that doesn’t mean I like it.

Look.  I don’t know if I was the only dyke there but, using the broad, non-heteronormative sense of the word, I did feel very much like I was the only queer there.  The only one who’d managed, for the most part, to get past the cultural indoctrination that says slutty girls deserve to get raped, and that women’s bodies are for their husband’s eyes only.

I want to tell myself that this is a first step.  That blurring the line between “good girl” and “openly sexual (bad) girl” through pole-dancing in a work-out environment will get my former-class-mates a step closer to consciously claiming their active feminine sexual agency, the way writing porn got me comfortable with reading it.  I certainly hope that it is.

But, in the mean time, I’m not willing to put myself in a situation where I’m essentially paying for the privilege of hanging out with gals who have yet to examine theirs.  And I don’t want to do that.  So, much as I’d love to continue building upper-body strength through sexually suggestive dance moves… I’m going to have to do that on my own time.

– Cheers,

– Ms. Syren