There are likewise three kinds of dancers: first, those who consider dancing as a sort of gymnastic drill, made up of impersonal and graceful arabesques; second, those who, by concentrating their minds, lead the body into the rhythm of a desired emotion, expressing a remembered feeling or experience. And finally, there are those who convert the body into a luminous fluidity, surrendering it to the inspiration of the soul. – Isadora Duncan
To me, pole dancing is dancing—moving to music—with a pole as a partner. But even this simple definition doesn’t fully capture what I mean when I say I pole dance. And I immediately think of exceptions. Let me explain.
Is dancing moving to music?
I’ve been in a room full of people who were moving to music. They would’ve told you they were dancing if you asked, but it didn’t look or feel like dancing to me. I love to dance yet didn’t feel inspired to join in. Why not? At first I didn’t understand why I felt so inhibited. I tried. But I felt stiff and tense. I realized, I didn’t feel safe. The movement around me didn’t feel authentic. It seemed forced, frenetic, like a fish feeding frenzy when bread is tossed into a lagoon. The movement wasn’t connected to the energy and flow of the music. Instead it fed off the false high created by the speakers at the meeting. Despite the long day and late hour, attendees were pressured to stay. So I left. Both the party and the meeting. Flew home early. So, for me, movement to music isn’t necessarily dancing, especially if the movements are not related or synchronized in some way to the music. I believe dancing needs to respond to the energy, the vibration, and/or the emotional qualities of the music. It can be the beat, the under-beat, the wave, the vocals, the lyrics, a particular instrument, the emotion or something else the dancer discovers.
And yet, sometimes dancing doesn’t require music.
One of my favorite places to ‘dance’ is on the beach, moving in the sand or in the ocean to the sound of nature, my emotions and inner fire. A couple months ago, I watched Anna Halprin’s Returning Home, where she danced ‘moving meditations’ with sand and water at the edge of the ocean, with mud in the bowels of the forest, with fire in the dark of night, with the wind on a foggy morning and with hay in a field of tall grass at sunset. I felt inspired. I wanted to join her. Her dance was sensual and vulnerable and it touched my soul.
Most of the time music is my muse.
And the pole becomes my dance partner. But so does the wall, floor, chair and day bed. They’re all surfaces to play with, respond to, interact with. Just like you may have seen during the most recent season of So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD) with the table , the jail cell bars, and the light bulb routines.
If I dance to a four minute song, start and end at the pole but only throw a trick or two in between would that qualify as pole dancing? Not at a competition with a list of required elements. Probably not at a show where others spend most of the four minutes connected to the pole, except for transitions. To me it’s still pole dancing. There is a pole in the room and I am responding to its presence – even if I don’t touch it the entire time. Sometimes I might be aware of it and consciously ignore it. Try it sometime. Walk by a pole and consciously say no, not right now if you’d prefer to do floor work or walk through the space. There is power in that.
Other times, my attention might be more captured by the chair and my lapdancee. I suppose in the latter case, it’s really a lap dance, or rather a chair dance since I typically don’t spend all my time in her lap.
But then what would you call it if I spent the entire song attached by the hip to the pole, but my focus, energy and connection was with the person in the chair. Is that a pole dance or a chair dance?
And I didn’t even open the can of worms about sexy and sensual. For me it’s not a question. The main reason I pole dance is to discover, express and deepen my connection to my wild woman. To fully integrate my sexy, sensual feminine self into my daily life. I keep this favorite photo on my dresser to inspire me because it captures this wild feminine essence.
So what’s my definition of pole dancing?
I suppose pole dancing is sensually moving with music in a room with at least one pole. I’m tempted to replace the word ‘room’ with environment. I’ve asked Santa to bring me a Platinum Stage’s Star Stand Alone so I can pole dance at the beach like Jamilla Deville in the Australian launch for the X-stage. And like Susan in Miracle on 34th Street, I’m going to ‘keep believing even when common sense tells me not to.’ I have faith that one of these days Santa and I will find a way to make it happen.
That’s my definition of pole dancing, at least today. What’s yours?