The Zen of Pole Dancing
by Brianna Brown
As a little girl I stripped. Okay, that’s a lie. I did not strip but I did dance in my room for hours and pretended that I had taken dance classes. I’d teach my friends dance moves telling them my “magic” rock would inspire their inner dancer—a rock I had found out on our front porch and on which I drew a music note with a Sharpie. I’d put on performances with my friend at her day care several houses down from mine.
I would even host dance contests with my friends. We would judge each other from the waterbed in my bedroom. I pretended I was in the film “Dirty Dancing,” not really understanding the sexuality of it all, but loving the idea of being lifted up in the air by not just any boy, but one who liked me. I loved to move, to let my body be free — to dance.
Then middle school hit. I realized that performing my much practiced “snakemove” at the school dance, while impressive for showing off my upper arm and core strength, wasn’t exactly getting the cute boy to ask me to slow dance. And so I adjusted myself, like most adolescents, and danced like every one else and with everyone else. I never really understood why at school dances everyone would huddle up to the point where you could barely move, able to smell the person to your left, right and center because you were within inches from them. But I guess it’s like anything else - we all want to be loved, approved of, and acknowledged—so we conform.
Then came the boyfriend who was my example showing me how to break me free from my self- imposed dancing straight jacket. I remember wearing a snow flaked turtleneck sweater that I considered tight to our winter school dance. I was already a bit horrified because I never wore tight clothes so for me it was extremely revealing. My boyfriend showed up to the dance wearing an outfit accessorized with Christmas lights blinking and wrapping all around him—there wasn’t a teenager at that dance who didn’t notice us that night.
After the initial shock and stares, I remember feeling a sense of freedom, being pushed into a dangerous and unknown territory. To not care what others thought while I danced, to recognize that “yes, they are all staring,” and to experience all that and not dying from embarrassment, was a breakthrough.
When I moved to Los Angeles I felt like a nun in a sea of sexually realized girls and women. It seemed like every role I auditioned for either was making out, having sex with some guy or girl, or wearing a swimsuit, underwear, or even nothing! I was always reading to play a stripper, porno star, or some other female character that was clearly more comfortable with her sexuality than I was. I didn’t know how to access this sexuality and sensuality without coming off like an awkward pornostarwholookslikeshe’stryingtoohard. So I resisted the scrutiny and objectification, as I was terrified to be so vulnerable. I hid from it, or faked it, as best I could when I booked roles that required this very essential ingredient.
Fortunately, I had some understanding of both the acting world and the necessity to own ones sexuality, from my theatre teacher in high school, Mrs. Potter. Every play I was always cast wearing something tight—whether it was leather pants in “Jesus Christ Superstar” to a spandex unitardin“AttheHawk’sWell.” Ithelpedopenmyeyes,butitdidnotfullypreparemefortheovert sexualityinLosAngeles. Iwasraisedtobeagoodgirl. Icamefromaconservative,Christian.
So imagine their shock and horror to see their grandchild engaged in a lesbian kiss on “Smallville,” playing a internet voyeur on "CSI: Miami,” a high-end prostitute on “Criminal Minds;” or doing a love scene in “Timberfalls” and posing in a swimsuit in the magazine, Maxim.
My brother and I had a conversation once regarding women being over-sexualized in Hollywood. And as much as I agreed with him I also told him it is an aspect of human nature and that doesn’t mean it’s unnatural or wrong—just because I play a stripper or prostitute doesn’t make me one. Art is about exposing life and aspects of humanity. One day I’ll play a mother, a senator but for now I have to embrace this aspect of my human nature and tell these stories with authenticity. And so I find myself overcoming my inner resistance and healing my wounds regarding my sexuality— owning it!
In my mid-twenties I found a pole dancing class. I think this was a round the time that Oprah introduced the world to Sheila Kelley, who was teaching ladies how to strut their stuff. I was incredibly nervous to take my first class. To be in a dimly lit room with strangers, slowly moving my hips, while my mind raced with “am I doing this right, I hate this, what’s the point of this, etc.” The first few levels were very elementary and every one was still slightly self-conscious. We “learned” how to touch our own thighs slowly, to arch our backs and put our hands through one’s hair; learned to sway with the music and let the music move through our bodies.
And a point in a more advanced level, the little girl inside who loved to dance, move, perform and befreeofjudgmentreawakened. The ladies in the class felt free to dance and cheer each other on as we stumbled in our stilettos. I began naturally climbing up the pole and performing incredibly difficult upsided own tricks with ease. I was becoming present in the moment, the sound and beat of the music, loving my body for my curves and being able to let myself move. It was liberating and freeing beyond description. To dance without the rigidity of left foot here, right foot there, blah,blah,blah.
To be able to lie on the floor and have my finger tips really touch and feel the cold hardwood floor and to all of myself to enjoy it. To have no idea what I was going to do next but to simply turn my brain off and allow my body to lead. I realized that this form of dancing, thisself-expression,thismovementwassacredandhealing. It wasn’t for a guy or partner. It wasn’t to have someone like me. It wasn’t for approval. It was for myself. A gift to myself to remember what it was like to play, explore and be present—to be Zen.
I love dancing in general and I love pole dancing. I’ve never had a boyfriend watch me do my tricks on the pole because it’s not about that for me. It’s about uncovering a strength and power that comes from knowing my sensuality. Pole dancing has given me immense inner strength and self-confidence, and allowed me to explore parts of myself that I’m now able to utilize in my work. I hope that every woman who reads this and is inspired to explore this part of herself jumps without abandon and fearlessly runs with it.
I caution that, like finding a good therapist, it’s important to find the right studio and teacher so you feel safe and open to be vulnerable and explore. As women, we are taught so many “shoulds” in regards to our sexuality, and it can be frightening to challenge and face these beliefs and fears.
So, I leave this wish with you. May we all touch our curves with appreciation, spin around poles with abandon, enjoy the fabrics that we wear, allow ourselves the time to indulge sitting in our own skin, listen to music that inspires us to move, and express ourselves however we please in that moment.
"DANCE as though no one is watching you, LOVE as though you have never been hurt before, SING as though no one can hear you, LIVE as though heaven is on earth." -Souza
Please note that not all experiences, beliefs and ideas are shared by each member of the “The New Hollywood.” We are a group of shepherds, not sheep.
Posted on 01/08/2010 by Brianna Brown