"What, with fringes and tassles, and all that? Good grief no, I would never wear those to class, they are kept purely for home entertainment." My neighbour had the good grace to blush. He doesn't know about the pole dancing ...
A couple of years ago, a grounded stay-at-home Mum, I felt a sudden urge to take flight. Inspired by a friend who used to take trapeze classes at Circus Space, I looked on the internet but the timing and location of the classes were simply too difficult to juggle with the kids. How about a local pole class? suggested a friend, my pilates teacher. Gets your feet off the ground for starters, gives you upper body strength, core benefits, what's not to like? I also knew that my husband would happily push me out of the door to a class, instead of side-tracking me with a glass of red and a box set on Netflix.
So out went the email to all her yoga and pilates contacts that Lucy wanted to start pole-dancing and we struck gold. One of the yoga teachers had been to Balesque classes in Stockwell YMCA run by Anna, happy days! I loved the play on words, the allure of grace and ballet alongside the playful reference to burlesque. Burlesque, from the Italian "burla" meaning a joke, mockery, making fun of, as if to celebrate the grotesque - makes me think of puppets, old-school Punch and Judy shows, masks and jesters, the Mexican Day of the Dead, and of course cabaret. There's a violent hilarity, a barbarity, rooted in an awareness of Death lurking round the corner, smirking, smug. Burlesque responds, well then, let's take our fears and weaknesses, and display them, laugh at them, laugh at us, go on, let's knock ourselves out.
And indeed, my first class, hooking my leg round a pole and trying to swing was a ridiculously laughable, feeble attempt. And that doesn't matter. In class, I found a community of women of all shapes and strengths, coming together to learn new moves. Moves that would challenge, terrify, hurt, frustrate. Even in the beginners group there was a range of abilities, but there would always be warm support and a round of applause for anyone going for it, to meet their own challenge. And I loved Anna's soundtrack. Fun. Some Nights, anyway.
One of the highlights was when Anna took us to a workshop with Felix Cane, who brought pole to Cirque de Soleil. Felix had nearly died in a routine on tour and was still suffering from a damaged shoulder, and yet, despite the pain, gave us an impromptu performance set to Lana del Rey's "Born to Die" that was so breathtakingly beautiful it is seared into my memory.
The class has since been rebranded as Polefit, which I understand. It does what it says on the box. But the romantic punner in me pines after the balesque classes of old. Thanks to Anna's encouragement, I began to trust in my own upper body strength, learning to suspend my disbelief, and so my body, and from there found the confidence to finally to sign up for an evening class in aerial skills at the National Centre for Circus Arts. But in enrolling for that class I've had to put pole to one side for now. Pole was my way into circus, it began as a means to an end, but in the process, it has become it's own destination and fascination, and in time, deserves its own blog, rather than being on the fringes, a footnote in her-story of circus. But hopefully this will do for now, this, the pole-logue.