Merry meet once more.
Today I want to discuss prejudice, sexism, misunderstanding and stereotypes. Big subjects I know, but these are all attitudes that I have been on the receiving end of in the last year. Not because I am a witch, people seem to either be ok with that or respect me enough to keep their opinions to themselves. No, this is because I am learning to pole dance.
As a child, from the ages of six to twelve, I did ballet. I was never good enough to make a career out of it, but I enjoyed it and I have always loved to dance. I gave it up largely because I have odd feet and found pointe work impossible. That and the fact some of the girls in my class were right bitches and I couldn't stand the comments about me and some of the other girls. Growing up, I was confused by the changes in my body; I was incredibly, painfully shy, and breasts got me attention I couldn't handle. There was nothing special about me, believe me, but boys will be boys and they couldn't help noticing puberty taking effect in their classmates. I kept to the edges, not quite fitting in and not quite confident enough to adapt to my developing sexuality. As a result, I kind of buried it. I didn't have a boyfriend until I was 18; I assumed if a boy chatted me up he was either taking the piss out of me or doing it because he expected sex, and I wouldn't tolerate either. I may have been cripplingly shy but my mum taught me the importance of self respect and not sleeping with a boy just to make him like you, or out of peer pressure, so I avoided any situation that might put me in a compromising position. That first boy I kissed was a mate; I knew it wouldn't be serious and I knew he could be trusted.
After him, I got a bit better at faking confidence, and the following year I got my first proper boyfriend. Over the years he would encourage me to be sexy, but based on his definitions. I often felt an idiot. Looking back, I wore a lot of jeans and jumper combos in those days; totally covered up. Then after eight years he dumped me. I bought a pair of high heels. I bought underwear in beautiful colours and fabrics. Without someone whose style was so different to mine breathing down my neck I was buying clothes that turned me into the person who had been hiding inside me all those years. I bought seamed stockings. I started to live again.
Let's fast forward over a decade to the year before last. I overhear someone asking my boss if they could swap shifts, but my boss apologises, saying she has pole dancing classes that evening and can't work it. My ears prick up. Pole dancing? Really? I'd heard about how it tones your whole body, from bingo wings to flabby belly, and had always wanted to try it but had never found a way in. I asked her about it, and she looked a bit embarrassed and stressed it wasn't sleazy and she didn't take her clothes off or anything, but I could pop along for a look. I loved it, though it looked like tremendous hard work and painful too. I tried it, and knew I loved it straight away, but most of the girls were skinny and fake tanned. I tried a different school and had a whale of a time. There were all types there and it was really friendly; one of the girls started the same day as me and we hit it off instantly. At this point I want to say how great the teacher was, because that makes all the difference. He (yes, he) made sure we worked hard but had fun doing it. He encouraged me to keep trying when certain moves seemed impossible, and never made us feel like we'd failed when we messed up. There is a pole dance school near where I have moved to, but it teaches you how to be sexy and put on a sex show for your man; it's not for me. But in these classes I learnt to dance and express myself again. I had found a way of not only working out but also of learning how to be sensual again.
Now I am not a stereotypical pole dancer. I am in my late 30s, short and curvy, so if I can do it, anyone can. In earlier times I would have naturally embraced my curves, from the swell of my breasts to the soft plumpness of my belly - Rubens would have loved me I'm sure - but in these times women are encouraged to deny their natural body shape. We must be as thin as possible, as if we may be broken easily. With a loss of body fat we lose our breasts, so we are encouraged to have fake ones inserted under the skin so we may still be sexually alluring to men. Half-naked women adorn billboards and posters in shop windows, selling everything from perfume to cars, as if that is what we must all aspire to be; skinny, lingerie-clad accessories. Once upon a time the media message for women was about getting a husband; now it's about getting a lover, but I can't see how it is an improvement. Yes, I am a feminist, one that believes men and women should be equal, but I can't see how that is possible when so much of our identity is wrapped up in attracting and teasing men.
So how, I hear you ask, does that tally with my desire to learn pole dancing? For me it's about reclaiming my body for me. I don't do it to titillate men, to become a cliche of a woman. This isn't about spreading my legs and offering my wares; it is about learning what my body is capable of in strength and fluidity of movement. It is about the sheer sensual joy of moving through the air, of achieving something you never thought you could do. It is about moving my body in ways that everyday life doesn't permit, and remembering that my body embraces the sacredness of my femininity. I embody the divine Goddess; Her sacred energy is within me, be I maiden, mother or crone, and I am strong enough to create life and ruthless enough to destroy my enemies. Men have said they've won the battles of the sexes if women are pole dancing for fitness, but I am not doing it for men. I do it for me. This is my body, the only thing I can ever truly claim is mine, and it is too important to waste on those who can never appreciate the soul wrapped within it. So I shall continue to dance. I have gained my first qualification, but more importantly I have gained confidence in myself as a woman. Maybe men in general are afraid of that; that if we find confidence in ourselves we will stop looking to them to give us validity. Maybe then they will learn that it's not all about them. I don't buy beautiful lingerie for men, after all only one man will ever see it. I buy it because it makes me feel good. Similarly I don't pole dance for dollar bills to be tucked into an Ann Summers g-string; I do it because girls like me shouldn't, and that gives me power.
Blessed be )0(