Skin on Steel

by Amanda Cantrell Roche

There is something alluring and addicting about the pole, spanning floor to ceiling in the otherwise empty dance studio. As a modern dancer, I have a visceral response to the vision of it and its possibilities:  14 feet of polished stainless steel waiting for skin. I yearn to touch it, to see where it can take me. It is a dance partner, allowing for height and positioning impossible to achieve or sustain on the solo dancer’s canvass of air alone, and yet it stands, immobile, secure, totally passive. Maybe that’s where the empowerment of pole dancing lies – whether you are hanging upside down by one leg or spiraling around it with only hands making contact, your dancing, your stability, your risk and safety is completely up to you. No living partner holds you, no arms or legs can readjust to your faulty balance or weakness. It’s your muscles, your positioning, your verve that drives these aerial acrobatics, this sensual duet of skin and metal. All the pole does is provide a place of support or counterbalance. But oh, the possibilities …

Pole dancing for fitness and as a mainstream art form is gaining momentum in Nashville and around the globe. You know when MoMa features pole dancing performances for all ages in their recent PS1 “Pole Dance” installation, public image and the artistry of the dance itself is evolving. Outside of a strip club, pole moves can be approached purely as a sport – think gymnastics on a vertical bar – or as an art form. Ideally, it is both. Yes, sexy moves are a small or big part of the artistry of most pole dancing, depending on the style and desire of the dancer. There are times during performances of stunning physicality when a booty shake or floor gyration, stuck in between artful and impressively challenging movement on the pole, can be a jarring tribute to its roots.  And while some dancers embrace the sexuality of pole dancing in any environment, and some prefer to extract it from the artistry, it remains a dance form in which attire is, by necessity, minimal.

On the pole, as much skin as one is willing to expose is encouraged, for the contact of skin to steel is an intimacy locked in practicality:  one can trust one’s skin more than fabric to stick when required. And when you’re gripping a pole with your legs, hanging upside down, head six feet from the hard floor, you need to trust your skin as much as the muscles, tendons and bones beneath to hold fast. Metal, soothingly warmed with touch and friction, can also be treacherous when slick with sweat. At times harsh and unforgiving, at times a caress on your back, the pole is both friend and foe, but always there.

The more common stationary poles provide the most stability, as opposed to rotating poles, but that means your skin must stick or slide, depending on what the movement demands. Whereas modern dancers have calluses on the soles of our feet, pole dancers develop them on their hands, for one of the refreshing qualities of pole dance is that the hands often work as the contact motion point, freeing legs and feet to explore the air together like never before.

“I look like I have man hands,” says Christy Rose, a trained modern dancer, yoga and Pilates instructor who took up pole dancing to further tone her body and for the excitement of exploring a new form of dance. After just two classes Christy was hooked, bought a pole and installed it in her dinning room. In the few months since she has practiced and perfected some daring and beautiful moves. She now teaches at Goddess a Go Go in East Nashville, where women of all ages and backgrounds are discovering what pole dancing has to offer -- if they can stick it out.

Beginning can be brutal:  After just one class, reddened pole burns tattoo my wrists and arms, purple bruises dot my thighs from learning to sit on the pole with no hands, shoulders ache from climbing. And yet I find myself yearning to go back, to feel the momentum and exhilaration of the swings which are both wonderfully free and bound with the strong grip and core strength required to hold on and maintain body position while spiraling through the air. I want to flip upside down, feel the power in my arms and back as I hold my entire weight with those muscles, learn to fly. For me, it has nothing to do with being sexy. Sensual, oh yes. Beautiful, perhaps. Strong and empowered, definitely. And the essential balance between freedom and control, between discipline and play, is an undeniably beguiling formula. With no one to lift nor catch me if I fall, I dance this surreal, one-sided duet, exhaust my energy, harden and strengthen my muscles, release both passion and play, and find sovereignty and solace in the solitary union of skin and metal.




  Classes at Goddess a Go Go are 90 minutes and begin with a yoga-based warm up, including some strength and technique-building floor exercises. Most of the next hour is spent at the pole, learning moves and perhaps building those into routines. At the end of the class, participants are encouraged to share what they’ve learned or explored. It is a supportive, relaxed environment with women only, from a wide range of ages and backgrounds.


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