As a writer and human that is committed to all things body positivity, I’m constantly looking for new and creative ways to embrace my body.
Just recently, I added ‘pole dancing’ to my long list of body pos activities to try, right next to going to a nude beach and doing yoga by a body of water. Thanks to my Instagram friend Nesli Anter, I learned a lot about what the pole had to offer.
“I got into pole dance through a friend in college,” Anter told me over email. “She had heard about a studio opening in the area. We thought it would be a fun thing to try together. I was a competitive Irish dancer growing up, so dance is something that comes very naturally to me.”
Anter initially started pole for the physical activity aspect in an effort to keep her body moving through her college years. But it also provided a distraction for her during challenging times.
“I came out to my parents, which didn’t go over as smoothly as I hoped and [pole] helped me through that situation,” she told me. “I was struggling a lot during that time with acceptance and feeling rejected; so I think by doing pole dancing, it helped me escape the bad place I was in, even if only for just an hour or so.”
As she began taking classes regularly, Anter found that pole was transforming the way she felt about her body. She began to feel more comfortable in her skin, even when her skin was largely exposed. Previously, she felt uncomfortable about wearing swimsuits and other such revealing clothing in public.
“Although I like my body, I felt at any moment my vagina would somehow magically expose itself or one pubic hair would make an appearance and everyone would notice and my world would be shattered,” she told me. “Being in ‘pole clothes,’ legs spread, butt cheeks falling out, it makes all clothing choices in public much less daunting. Now, I can wear tight shorts to the gym without feeling self conscious about people staring at my butt. It has so much to do with normalizing and desexualizing my body.”
Sally Sachs, an instructor at The Brass Ring Chicago, found pole dancing similarly empowering. Sachs started her career doing circus arts and Chinese pole, which required much more coverage. But eventually, she opted for the sport with a more revealing dress code. Besides helping her learn her body’s strength (and build a ton of muscle while doing it), pole helped her feel less self conscious about her body.
“You have to take off most of your clothes in order to be able to do pole,” Sachs told me over email. “You need your skin to stick to the pole to be able to do tricks and hold yourself up. If you’re worried about how you look or how others will perceive you or your body, a pole studio is a perfect place to get past that. No one cares what you look like, they will just tell you how awesome you are when you’re hanging upside-down by one knee looking beautiful.”
Sachs also found empowerment from the strength that she built doing pole, since the sport requires lots of muscle work. “I am a pretty small person, and I feel safer in this world knowing that if anyone grabs me, I [can] push them away, outrun them and maybe climb the nearest tree,” she told me.
Molly Meru, Anter’s instructor at Flight Fitness Studio and a friend of Meru’s, can also vouch for the pole’s body positive powers. The skin exposure and the safe space created in the classroom helped Meru overcome her insecurities about her weight, height, stretch marks and self-harm scars.
“The usual attire [for pole] is a sports bra/tank and short shorts,” she said. “This was originally not a level of exposure I was comfortable with, but all of the other students and the teachers were so supportive and body positive. Now, I perform in front of hundreds of people in even less and I love how I look in my costumes.”
The moves themselves are also quite powerful, helping pole dancers embrace their sensuality and strength. Meru loves a move called the Iron-x, also known as ‘the human flag,’ which involves holding your entire body horizontal to the pole from your hands. “Every time I do it, I am amazed by just how much my body can do,” she told me. “I feel like a superhero.”
Meru also appreciates the more sensual moves in pole routines. “I feel so sexy when I’m doing body waves,” she told me. “Even though they aren’t the most difficult, they are so much fun.”
Anter also values the more sensual moves on the pole. “It’s changed my perception of my sexiness,” she told me. “It’s very scary and daunting to be ‘sexy’ in a room full of people. I think as women, all our lives we are told not to be sexual. Not to ‘tease’ or act like ‘we’re asking for it.’ I think it reawakens that part of us to welcome our sensuality and then, from there, show it to the world.”
Of course, pole dancers like Anter, Meru and Sachs sometimes get a bad rap for participating in the sport. “There is a huge negative stigma surrounding sex-work and strippers,” Meru told me, “and since pole dance originated in the strip clubs, it often gets the same stigma as well. However, comments don’t really phase me much. The positive impact on my body, my body image and my self worth makes me able to be proud of what I do and where it came from.”
Interested in giving it a try? There are many moves you can learn and try at home thanks to the wide world of Youtube tutorials. But all three dancers recommend taking a class first.
“There are many moves where certain hand grips are crucial,” Anter told me. “Understanding what can cause injury and having a spotter is important.”
But once you get started, Anter warns, you might never stop. “Once you know these moves, you will bring them to any and every pole near you,” she told me. “There are a ton of pole dancing memes mentioning how you can’t take pole people anywhere because they’ll probably jump on anything that looks like a pole!”
Sounds like a small price to pay for joining a safe space for the cultivation of physical strength and unending body positivity, am I right? I don’t know about you, but I’ll definitely be looking into beginner pole classes being offered in my area ASAP.
Image courtesy of Getty Images.