Oct 7, 2010

#30before30: Pole Dancing

One of my personal heroes has always been Xena, Warrior Princess, mostly because there are times when I just want to ditch this mild-mannered journalist schtick and kick some bad-guy ass.

But I’m here to tell you, Xena has serious competition. For I have a new hero. Her name is Michelle, she’s a pole dancing instructor, and she has GUNS OF STEEL.

You may have seen Michelle on Australia’s Got Talent earlier this year. She was one of three Pure Pole Angels who reduced judge Karl Sandilands to even more of a snivelling mess than usual. And with good reason.

She’s athletic, acrobatic and awe-inspiring. Oh, and did I mention her GUNS OF STEEL?

When I arrive at Girlfriend Fun and Fitness Studio in the Valley and first met Michelle, I make a point of asking how pole dancers are physically capable of doing what they do.

She points to her GUNS OF STEEL and says simply, “These.”

I gulp and nod. Yes, those would do it.

I look at my own puny, doughy excuses for biceps. This is going to be hard.

“People think what we do is stripping,” she says. “They’re wrong.” I gulp again.

She gets me started on a bright silver static pole, one of about 10 dotted around the ground-floor studio. We go through a warm up of squats, and chest and arm stretches.

We begin with sway squats, a classic beginner exercise that gets you used to moving around the pole. We then move into front knee spins, hooking a leg around the pole; then trying the “diamond leg” formation. A back knee spin follows, where I try to gracefully fall back into a twirl.

The aim of these spins is to work your arms, to learn how to lift and hold your own weight, and secure yourself with various other body parts, namely the forearms, knees and calves. But I’m too awkward and gangly. I look like a confused giraffe.

I move onto a thinner brass pole, to try to get a better grip with my hand. I had no idea my hands were so weak. Also, my chest muscles. Michelle keeps urging me to “grip high” on the pole, and tense my pecs to keep myself up. I seem unable to lock on; my hand keeps sliding, sending the rest of me south quicker than a goose in winter.

Michelle has me try a traditional Fireman’s spin on the rotating pole. These are very common in clubs and competition, and it certainly makes spinning easier (the power of inertia – thank you Isaac Newton). However Michelle warns against getting seduced by it. “If you learn on the spinning pole it’s hard to go back to static, and you can develop poor techniques.” Still, I manage a half-decent knee hold before some sort of centrifugal force flings me off.

I move back to the static pole to attempt a basic “climb”. I try dragging my junk up the trunk, but it’s SO HARD. Michelle points out I’m jumping with my legs to try to latch on, when I should be hoisting with my arms and simply lifting my legs. She demonstrates, and makes it look SO EASY.

Finally Michelle gets me to perform some pole crunches, which is the preparation move for eventually turning upside down. I wrap my arms around the pole and try in vain to lift my legs. I just can’t. No muscles of the gluteus maximus variety will work. It’s as if I’m a large sack of beans. My feet eventually manage a brief interlude away from the floor, but Michelle points out it was because I jumped again.

Michelle herself is enormously patient with me. She explains things well verbally, and of course physically. But it really is like learning another language, a physical language. Michelle says it was easier for her as she’d been a gymnast as a kid, so her mind embraced pole technique quickly. A former boiler-maker by trade, she fell into pole dancing after her partner installed a pole in his pool room as a sort of “living out a fantasy” interior decoration. Now she makes a living out of it, and wears her pole scars and bruises proudly.

Oh yes, the bruising. My inner thighs and calves are in terrible pain by the end of the class. Bumps start forming on my forearm. And of course muscles start aching.

But you know what? It feels good. I'm awful (Michelle, to her endearing credit says I am “not THAT awful”), but I don't t give up, even at the point where I normally would with most new and difficult physical exercise. Compared to other forms of exercise, which so often lose my interest due to boringness or repetitiveness, this is, ahem, poles apart.

You know why? Because I can see something at the end of the tunnel.

I want to take more pole dancing classes. Not because I want to do particularly fancy tricks, even though turning upside down would be cool. No, my one simple goal is just to LIFT myself off the ground and hold myself up for at least five seconds. This is an all-over workout - if I can get to the point where I can lift and hold myself off the ground, then I’ll know I’ll have achieved something with my whole body. Even my slack-arse slack arse.


  1. Wow GC you have been busy of late. I love this task and tried it myself as part of a hens do a few years back. Like you I was impressed with just how challenging the moves were and just how many bruises I ended up with. Michelle is an amazing artist.

  2. Hi GC, so have you been taking more classes since? I have always hated exercising, but found pole-dancing so much fun that I persisted. You can see some results after a few weeks, it is very rewarding! I have a muscle on my right arm now, crazy!