Pole Dancing Is Really Hard If You're A Man

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"And then when you spin, flick your hair like this."

Only one problem. I don't have. At least not the kind you can 'flick'.

Meet Chilli. Chilli is a pole dancing instructor. I suspect Chilli is not her real name.

Chilli is limber. Chilli is flexible. 10 minutes previously Chilli was stretching during her warm-up. Chilli was doing things I wasn't sure human limbs were capable of doing.

That was 10 minutes ago.

As of this moment, this second, Chilli's legs are wrapped around a vertical pole. She is spinning. Not too fast, not too slow. I would describe the pace at which she is spinning as 'clinically seductive'. She is dancing. It's amazing. It's also a strange contradiction. Chilli is in control of every motion her body is making, but she moves like she's possessed. Her strength registers, but every movement is effortless.

It's impressive. Incredibly impressive.

Two metres to Chilli's right — the pale lump of flesh in ill-fitting shorts and a scabby t-shirt — that's me. In the movie that is Chilli's life I am 'Male Pole-Dancing Student #4'.

I am the anti-Chilli.

My name is Mark. I am a man. I am a generic man. I am not unique. I am not flamboyant.

I don't have a stage name but if I did it would not be 'Chilli'. It would be 'Broccoli' or 'Cauliflower'. I am not spicy. I am a functional — albeit nutritional — vegetable. You might blend me into a nice homemade soup.

I am not flexible. I'm not sure what the opposite of 'limber' is — but if that word exists it exists purely to describe the movements I am currently trying to make, right now, on this pole.

I am a man. I am very white. I am married with two children. I live in a suburb. I would describe myself as heterosexual. I cook sausages on BBQs. Sometimes I dance at weddings. I watch sport. I often arrive at the office and find myself saying things like, "how about them Sharks, ay? Sharks are gonna win the Grand Final this year."

But there are men who pole dance. Those men exist upon every possible spectrum. I am not that man. Before I take this pole dancing class Chilli explains, there are stereotypes about pole dancing. First: it's for women. That's fine, there's an element of truth there. There are more women than men pole dancing. The second is those men — if they pole dance — are gay. That's not true. There was a huge pole dancing competition just a couple of months ago. Straight men competed. Gay men competed. It was no big deal. Again: every possible spectrum.

  So there's really no reason why I'm finding it so difficult to um… arch my back inwards and stick my chest out to accentuate the curvature of my arse cheeks. No reason why I should struggle when the instructor suggest that I 'pout'.

No reason except three decades of crushing, oppressive male gender expectations. No reason asides from the fact these stereotypes have been internalised, hard-wired and encoded into my brain to the point where it affects the way I walk, talk and exist in this universe. Nope, no big deal. Nothing to see here folks.

It's funny. I consider myself liberal. When I mentioned this pole dancing class to my Dad he told me (jokingly) to, "have a word with myself". I didn't feel the need. I felt 100% comfortable with the idea of walking into a female dominated space and taking part in an activity that some would describe as 'feminine'. A large part of me (the self-indulgent, patronising part) enjoyed the idea of trying to subvert those expectations in my own clumsy way.

High-falutin objectives for the man who was now finding it extremely difficult, in the heat of the moment, to throw his hair back and pout.

Let me just say this one thing: pole dancing is hard.

Not physically hard; hard on the goddamn brain. I consider myself fit and healthy. I'm able to hold my own body weight fairly easy. None of the movements Chilli asked me to perform during the my one hour lesson were beyond me in terms of the physical. But mentally? The performance aspect? That represented the real challenge.

"We call this 'stripper legs'," explains Chilli. She strikes a pose. I recognise it — from magazines, from music videos, maybe even from the handful of times I've visited a strip club on buck's nights. But I can barely replicate it.

The movement increases in its complexity. Chilli rotates her hips. It's not a simple 360 rotation. I could just about handle that, but no. At some point Chilli shouts out that the movement is more like a 'figure-of-eight'. By the time I've almost figured it out, we're asked to reverse it.

"Reverse," I think, furrowing my brows. "Whut?"

That's when I freeze.

That's the moment where my brain frazzles and pops like a broken robot.

You may as well have asked me perform a triple back-flip with pike. I search the memory banks for the movements required of me. It's a 'file not found' situation. I can't conceive of the movement. I can't even imagine it. I'm watching Chilli's perfect hip swivel but my own joints are locked in place, locked in confusion. It's mentally exhausting to even think about — not because the movement is demanding, but because it's asking my body to move in a way it's never moved before.

Where do I even start?

This happens multiple times.

It happens when I'm supposed to slide along the floor, raise my hips and slither upwards instead of standing like a normal person.

It happens when I have to squat, legs spread apart and slowly arch back up butt first.

I literally don't know how to make those movements.

  And it's round about this time — between poking out my non-existent breasts and standing up using my arse — that I have my real epiphany. Whether we're male, female or otherwise, so much of how we move, act and present is learned or impressed upon us from a young age — to the point where certain movements feel alien.

In its purest form pole dancing is a stylised version of what it means for a woman to be sexy in the 21st century. It's a cultural mish-mash. A mating call in the form of dance. It's a beautiful thing and it empowers just about every person who walks through the doors of Bobbi's Pole Studio.

But I've never been asked to move like this. It's never been expected of me. And now, in this space, in this situation, I'm in the process of developing a real admiration — not just for Chilli and her flexibility and her strength or skill — but for all women. Women as a whole.

I guess this is what it feels like to walk a mile in her shoes.

Or — in this case — high heels*.

*disclaimer: I didn't actually wear high heels. I'm sorry.

Thanks to Bobbi's Pole Studio and Chilli in particular for being such a patient instructor!\

This story originally appeared on Lifehacker


    Good read, Mark.

    You could say it was....poles apart from anything else around.

    Serrels, never apologise for not wearing high heels. ;)

    I've got heaps of respect for people that can pull off pole dancing. It's a very impressive display of coordination and strength. Shame that high heels is part of the look. It detracts from the display, giving it a clownish appearance.

    Though I'm a guy for whom high heels does not appear sexy at all. They really evoke a sense of bizarre for me. I'm sure that for those people who do like that look, it works for them. Still, geez, it looks so stupid!

    I have similar feelings about ties. Thankfully, wearing ties isn't a culturally accepted practice for pole dancing.

    I know exactly how that feels, where the brain refuses to be process movement types despite visual cues, being told how, or attempting. Just lacking the 'wiring' for lack of a better word to do it. And it wasn't even in relation to 'women' based movements, but some very general workout or driving ones.

    I tried discussing it with a mental health professional (female although I'm not sure that matters) and her response was simply 'keep practicing, thats all thats stopping you from doing it'. I don't really find that advice helpful tho.

      Yeah, I think this is normal for any unfamiliar body movement. It took me weeks to understand what my trainer was talking about in terms of proper hip positioning for a bent-over row for example, because I normally don't move my pelvis like that. In some cases your brain's just got to learn how to make your muscles fire in a certain way to make a certain movement, just like learning to walk or ride a bike.

    Actually, this got me pondering. Traditionally, feminine is regarded as being soft and curvy, while masculine is more hard and angular. And most of these kinds of "sexy" movements here and kind of soft and curvy, thus why they appear feminine? So then what does masculine "sexy" look like? If it is hard an angular then I guess that means it must be The Robot :P

    I pole dance everyday. It's not hard with enough practice.

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