When I first started out with pole and people used to ask me about my workout, I would hesitate before saying that I was a pole dancer. The stigma attached to the word “pole” evokes certain preconceived notions, which often leads to crude comments and lewd conclusions. Most of the time, I simply didn’t want to go to great lengths to explain myself. As I continued along my pole journey, I began to evolve in every facet of my life. I gained huge reserves of discipline. I found untold healing capabilities within the practice. I developed a profound understanding of who I really am as a person. Today, my pole dancing is sacred to me and I will proudly stand up to defend it.
I still vividly the day I found my voice. I was having drinks with a few acquaintances when the conversation turned to pole dancing. Not one for confrontation, I let one of the women continue to list out common misconceptions about pole dancing at length until I meekly disagreed. “Oh come on! These women do it because they’re desperate for attention,” she shot back, assertively sipping her cocktail. I’ll never forget her arched eyebrow, stupefied with disapproval. The fire in my heart was burning. “No, that’s not true.” I replied clearly, setting my drink down while staring straight into her eyes. “I pole dance for me and for no one else but me.” A long, awkward pause ensued…but I had made my point.
People start pole dancing for many different reasons and here’s mine. Much like any physical practice, pole can be intimidating. But then again, going to the gym when you don’t know how to use the equipment is intimidating too. Attending a hip hop class when you have two left feet is intimidating. Initially, I started taking classes because I was bored with my workout, or so I thought. In retrospect, I now can see that I was also very unhappy with my life at the time. I was painfully insecure and had incredibly low self-esteem. It was easy to mask my anxieties with my surface humor, mostly a self-deprecating defense mechanism. I felt frumpy and unfulfilled in my life. I thought working out would help me release endorphins to ease me out of my funk, but to no avail. That’s when I spotted a neighborhood pole studio, Sheila Kelley’s S Factor, right down the street from my apartment. My curiosity was bigger than my apprehension so I thought I’d give it a go.
In a wide, spacious room with no mirrors and the lights turned low, we were instructed to close our eyes and just breathe. Our instructor expertly guided us with verbal and visual cues to move with intention, allowing ourselves to dance to the rhythm that our hearts possessed. The movements gave me a chance to look inward and believe in whatever I was doing. Week by week, I was giving myself permission to let go of my self doubt, my what-ifs, my hesitations…My new-found inner confidence was lighting up a different path for me and I was learning to own my feminine power. The energy I was gaining spoke volumes and I did not need to say a word. My dancing became raw as I exposed my vulnerabilities; it became real as I bared my soul.
I decided to continue my journey under the tutelage of a pole studio I both revered and respected immensely, BeSpun. Little did I know that stepping foot in that space would change my life in ways I never imagined. Training at BeSpun opened my eyes to a powerful community of empowerment and passion. Watching Natasha Wang move always sends shivers up my spine. Witnessing Jennifer Kim exude confidence and sensuality in her freedance keeps me wanting [to see] more. Gazing at the artistry of Brandon Grimm leaves me breathless every single time. These athletes are passionate about their craft and I poured every spare moment I had into learning and practicing, constantly inspired and moved by them. This could be the reason why, after seven years of pole dancing, I am still obsessed with it. The camaraderie and connections I have made (and continue to form) is what makes this community so special. These are my pole sisters and brothers, and our love runs deep. I feel so incredibly lucky to have found a pole family that is so supportive and encouraging; they give me unconditional love and acceptance.
When I moved to Hong Kong, one of the first things I did was seek out a studio that I could identify with. I won’t lie, it wasn’t easy. I was met with fundamental differences, cultural clashes and petty discord compared to what I had found in the US. But that experience taught me a valuable lesson about community and feminine power and it’s this: your tribe is out there, you just need to find it, and once you do, love them hard. We are network of women and men bonded by one common ground: pole dance. How you choose to express your dance, be it exotic, artistic, dramatic or contemporary, is entirely up to you. I liken it to the houses of Hogwarts in Harry Potter. Some studios possess values reminiscent of Gryffindor, some are evocative of Hufflepuff, while others have Slytherin qualities.
I used to gripe to my husband that Hong Kong pole studios were cliquey. But the truth it, everywhere and anything you do can be cliquey; my LA home studio included. It’s all about perspective and finding a haven that resonates with you. Chantal Pierrat of Emerging Women said it best, “Committing to authenticity takes immense courage, and I don’t believe it can be achieved alone.” I don’t think so either. I believe with conviction there is a pole studio out there for everyone, you just have to find it. I was very fortunate when Marlo Fisken recommended me to look up Tessa Yung (one of Hong Kong’s original pole fitness leaders) because I found my pole tribe at Flaunt Studio in Wan Chai. The vibe and energy makes me feel like I belong there, and their solidarity and fortitude makes me want to push myself to be a better pole dancer. (Editor’s Update Sep 2017: Flaunt Studio has now closed down).
If you’ve ever considered trying pole dance but have reservations, I implore you to push past them. Let your curiosity be bigger than your apprehensions. The mind, body, spirit connection that you will be endowed with is something no one can ever take from you. On the other side of fear lies freedom, and it can come in chrome or your own bare feet. Deuces ✌️
Photos courtesy of Elena Photo (lead), Flaunt Studio and Don Curry.