“Hi, I’m Emily, I go by she/her pronouns, and I’m here to get back in touch with my body, because I guess I lost touch with it over the last few years, and I’m not even really sure how that happened, but I thought this might be the right place to remind myself what it feels like to be in this body, my body, with all of its desires and insecurities and cravings and whatnot. So, yeah, excited to be here.”
That is how I introduced myself to a room full of strangers at a pole dancing class at 10 in the morning on a Friday in Bushwick. I’d been asked to introduce myself to the group, all gathered for an introduction to the art of pole at a studio called Everybody’s Nimble, and state one thing I’d like to get out of the experience. “Learn to climb the pole” or “improve my body rolls” would have sufficed. Instead, an accidental soliloquy.
While the idea of pole dancing might evoke visions of clunky stripper heels studded with gems and underground bars lit by blinking neon signs, this particular studio in Brooklyn marks a visual departure from the art form’s nightlife origins. Students are greeted by an airy room with high ceilings and inviting windows. The class was packed mostly with femmes, but people of other gender identities had gathered there, too, and the aura was playful and experimental. Together, we’d all attempt to get acquainted with the idea of performing our sexuality, touching our bodies, our hair, our necks, and using the pole as a conduit for all of those things. (Of course, pole dancing is an art form founded and perfected largely by women, femmes, and trans folks of color, and the fact that giggling groups of white women can now add “pole class” as a variety item to their bachelorette itineraries without experiencing any of the actual stigma of sex work is a privilege that bears repeating.)
Reestablishing a severed connection with my body as a sexual entity was far too lofty a goal for just one class, but pole is particularly magical in its ability to remind you of the power of touch, and the sheer strength of our limbs in just a few seconds. “Skin is king!” instructors will tell you. Stripping down to minimal clothing is, for some, an aesthetic choice—a way to let your body breathe—but it’s also a mechanical one. Skin is the thing that allows you to stick to the pole, your biceps propelling you upwards. You don’t have to bare all, but you do have to bare some in order to reap rewards. You’ll be left with bruises, like little trophies marking your efforts, and you will sweat, quiver, and struggle. It’s a beautiful thing, really, that you must see and accept and own your body the way it is before you even muster the courage to hoist yourself up the pole. But you will do it, and eventually, the kinks will smooth and the awkwardness will evaporate. And you will see that you don’t have to have sex to be sex.