Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Being Your Own, Owning Your Being

When you tell someone that you're taking pole dancing classes, there are a few, almost guaranteed reactions: a raised eyebrow, a wry, judgey smile and the question, "That's a really good workout, right?"

It is. I could barely raise my arms after my first two classes. After the next two, my abs and legs and...well, everything...were sore in a profound way for days. I hadn't worked like that in a long time. It made me feel strong and healthy.

It's interesting to me that the only permissible reason to take a pole class seems to be for the exercise. When I approached this experiment it was because I had taken some turns around the pole at my friend's studio, Evolve, and it stirred something deep within me. I spent a lot of my life feeling awkward in my skin, only feeling sexy in the presence of someone mirroring that back to me. And even then, it always came as a surprise that anyone saw me that way. Alone with the pole at Evolve, I watched myself move in the mirror and began to see that my sexuality was something that lived in my body; it didn't need to be given from without, it already belonged to me within. I had awoken what Shelia Kelley of SFactor calls my "erotic creature" and there was no putting her back to sleep.

Pole class is a thoroughly vulnerable place to be. Women usually arrive in pairs, sisters or best friends, in baggy sweats and t-shirts, laughing too loud, too wide smiles twitching with nervousness. I was nervous at first, too, but I've been dancing my whole life. Being in a hard wooded, mirrored room feels more at home than most anywhere else. I didn't know what to do with the pole yet, but between all the dance and yoga, I sure know how to stretch. Thus, I arrive early and coax my cold muscles open while watching these shy, curious fawns creep in.

If my fellow classmates were speaking the truth of their sacred hearts, I'd wager that they didn't seek out this experience just for the workout. There are countless ways to exercise that don't involve being down on your hands and knees, twerking in a room full of strangers. Why do something that generates so much anxiety and requires so much courage to show up for when you could just as easily go to the gym? Because the workout is only a beneficial side effect of the truer meaning of the practice, the feeding of the secret, quietly pleading need to have full ownership over our bodies and our sexuality.

The commodification of women's bodies has led us all astray. Even with the advancements women have made socially and politically, our bodies are still seen as tools of commerce and enjoyment. We are no more valuable to some than the products our bodies are used to sell, our sexuality only allowed to be on display after careful airbrushing and in support of capitalism. To make a public display of our sexuality for no one but ourselves is a radical act that defies a woman's role as the facilitator of someone else's orgasm. When I dance, it's just for me and my pleasure. I am in complete control and have total ownership over my whole being. In that moment, I am living for myself alone.

The double standard is endlessly confusing. Women are blatantly sexualized in advertising and other medias, our sexuality and bodies are used to pedal all manner of products, and yet we're not supposed to seek out or enjoy sex. Men can rack up dozens of partners and be admired for it, but if a woman enjoys sex, even if she has been with relatively few partners, she's obviously a slut. Only a slut would express her sexuality for something other than selling people shit they don't need.

This isn't the reality, though. We all want our sexual partners to revel in their time with us, and this is especially true in the case of men who have sex with women. An incredible amount of pride and ego gets wrapped up in the generation of the female orgasm. Men want their women to get off. They have been taught that this is of the utmost importance in sex, that it, in fact, defines it. For far too many women, though, our orgasms have been shamed underground. If we really allow ourselves to let go, like our partners so desperately want us to, surely we will be looked down upon for relishing sexual contact.

The disconnect between how women are taught to behave as sexual beings and what our sexual partners expect is massive. Most of the bodies that tiptoe into pole class are so locked up they can hardly get through the routines. There are several possible factors at play here, but I'd guess that a large portion of it is that women aren't allowed ownership over their own bodies. Standard women's magazines are filled with tips and tricks to make yourself look suitable enough to be in public. We've been conditioned to dread made up things like "bikini season" and deride our own honest reflections in the mirror. If you have any "imperfections" you better scrutinize them sharply and cover them up!

In the whole of my life, I've owned only a few real pairs of shorts due to the ever present kiss of my inner thighs. My goodness, how I hated my legs for so long! I've wasted so much time staring at myself in the mirror, wedging my upper thighs apart with my hands and longing for permanent space to exist there. It would be years before I learned that the "thigh gap" is a skeletal structure impossibility for some, no matter how much body fat they lose. If it happens naturally, that's great. Sometimes it does. But it's not something to which to aspire.

In order to honor and celebrate my ever-so-amorous-for-each-other inner thighs, I wear itty bitty shorts in pole class. There is nothing wrong with my legs, despite what women's magazines may contend. They are strong and muscular, and yes, they touch in the middle at the top and really, who cares? This is my body. It exists as a vessel for my own joyful experience of life. If someone else happens to be made happy by my presence, great! But that's not the goal.

Erotic dance has the ability to unlock a woman's body so that she can fluidly, fluently express her natural sexuality and sensuality for her own empowerment and pleasure. It can give her the confidence to bring this expression into her romantic relationship, offering herself to her partner so much more powerfully and authentically then she could have hoped for before.

As long as women are not given full agency over their beings, there will always be disconnect between the needs and expectations of male and female partners.

Let us, as women, begin to reject the notion that we exist for others. We deserve to get ours, to be wholly whole, satisfied and self-approving. A fully fulfilled, confident, empowered woman is a beautiful force of nature. Using whatever ways and means that work for our bodies and hearts, let us be that for ourselves, for our partners and for our world.

Let you, as men, do anything you can to nurture the development of your partner's confident sexual expression, and your own. Any effort will be well worth your time. You know exactly what I mean.

Let us know from bones to skin, from head to toe, that our bodies belong to us alone.

Let all beings rise together in mutual ecstasy.

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