Dance Fitness

Back That Thing Up: Cyn Vargas Explores Pole Dancing as a Feminist Practice

Cyn Vargas
Written by Cyn Vargas

We met for coffee at a shop just three blocks away. I could usually get there in less than two minutes, but on that particular Thursday, it was the longest three blocks of my life. I could hear my thighs eek with each step, and my muscles stretched like rubber bands that are then popped back into place. My arms swung back and forth like they normally do, but my upper body and my back hurt just even taking in a breath. It was the day after I took my first pole dancing class and though I was in pain, I felt pretty damn good.

The coffee shop was full, but I saw my friend near the window. I grabbed some coffee and winced as I made my way up onto the stool.

“You good?” He asked and I told him about the pole dance I had taken the night before. Told him through a smile while I stretched my arms over my head. This is how professional athletes must feel after a big game.

“It may be the feminist in me,” he said, “but that’s stupid.”

feminism, feminist

I was completely thrown off guard. Stupid? Who was this man—or any man—to tell me what I do with my body was stupid? So, I asked him why. “Because that type of dancing is to please men only,” he said.

There was a time when I thought pole dancing was wrong and that women dancing naked or nearly naked to make money was sleazy. But in a way I was also envious, because of the confidence required to pull that off. I had never been that comfortable in my body.

I hid my body throughout high school. I never wore shorts even if it was hot out because I didn’t like my short legs and I tied sweaters around my waist or wore baggy shirts because I didn’t like my big ass.

In my twenties, it improved slightly. I wore lipstick and started to wear shorts, but was always self-conscious. I didn’t own the body I had and wasn’t comfortable having others noticing it. When I heard comments that my butt was so big, my hips so wide, my arms a little too fat, regardless of whether they were straight out criticizing me or commenting in a way that could have been complimentary, in my head it was all bad. It all had to do with what was wrong with me, and I felt ugly and not good enough.

I let the words of others hold so much weight in my life, and for what? Years of tears and negative thoughts; years of looking in the mirror, but never really seeing myself. I don’t know why so many of us women are wired that way. Wanting to look like the pretty girl at work with the long legs, or the girl at school with the clear skin, any girl we think is prettier than us for whatever reason.

There’s a moment, if you’re lucky, when you realize that comparing yourself to others is a waste of time because it’s a vicious cycle. The women I have compared myself to have compared themselves to others and so on, and so on, so what’s the point?

One night I was watching a show where this woman was taking a pole dance class to please her husband and she was awful at it. It was hilarious, but I couldn’t help also think that she was still sexy doing it. I knew then that I wanted to try it for myself.

What did I have to lose? By now I was a married thirty-five year-old mother with stretch marks from gaining 60lbs of pregnancy weight, and losing 65lbs afterward left me with a potbelly that jiggles long after I stop moving, but it was my body and I wanted to see what I could do. I wasn’t interested in pole dancing to get men to notice me. In fact, I took a class that only allowed women. In a way, I think I wanted to notice myself.

That day I walked into the class, I grabbed the first pole I saw. There were mirrors in front of me and glass behind me; anyone walking down the hall could see me from every angle. I wore a pink lace bra that made me feel sexy because after a baby, my boobs weren’t as perky as they used to be. I wore my hair down and I put on lip-gloss. I was barefoot which I love to be. I was ready, though I didn’t know what to expect. What song were we going to dance to? How many classes had the other girls taken? Was I going to throw out my back like I had just tying my daughter’s shoe two years ago? I was excited and nervous and ready and anxious.

The instructor was this lean woman with a flat stomach. I heard someone say once that what you notice most about someone else’s body is what you are the most self-conscious about with your own. I always notice stomachs and breasts.

So, here was my instructor with a flatter stomach and bigger boobs than me. I compared myself to her, and to the other five women in one span of the room: long legs, thin arms, in shape, and as I finished the surveying I reminded myself to stop. I was in that class for myself and I wasn’t going to spend those ninety minutes filled with unhealthy thoughts. This wasn’t only an opportunity to prove to myself that I was comfortable with my body, but it was also to prove to myself that I was confident in being me.

The music started and the instructor showed us how to wrap one leg around the pole, hold on, and twirl around, which she executed perfectly with her hair landing over her face with the just right amount of tousled sexiness. I can do this, I thought. It can’t be that hard, right? I wrapped my leg around the pole, held and swung around and somehow twisted the wrong way and ended up whacking my head into my elbow.

At that moment, I realized two things: 1. I have no upper body strength and 2. I’m not as smooth as I thought I was. But I laughed. I looked at the other women to see if they noticed how I almost poked my own eye out, but no one was looking at me and I realized one more important thing: this was not about anyone else. Had I paid attention to anyone else doing the turn? I couldn’t tell you who did it right or wrong. I was focused on myself and that felt so great.

At that point, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do that turn. I wanted to do it at least once. I wasn’t going to give up because it was hard or because I had the potential of feeling embarrassed. Finally, I landed it, swinging my hair around like some sexy wild woman.

After twenty minutes of groping the pole and sliding down, and popping out my ass, I was feeling sexy. I felt like the most amazing sexiest yeah-I-gave-birth-to-a-baby-and-gained-65lbs-and-lost–it-all-and-am–stretched-out-in-places-I -didn’t-even-know-existed, but I felt hot and all yeah, this is me, this is my body! This is what I think about myself and I can do whatever I want!

And I still felt that way when the instructor had to come over and lift up my legs over my head and flip them over for me because I couldn’t. I was out of breath, laughing to the point that I snorted and that made me laugh some more and you know what? I still felt sexy. Maybe even more so in that moment than any of the moments before when I got the moves right. There I was being so comfortable in my own body that took me so long to get comfortable in. I was confident. I loved myself in that moment because of my flaws and not in spite of them.

And I think that is why I wanted to smack my friend when he called the pole dancing class stupid because I questioned myself for a moment. Was it stupid? Did I do something wrong? Maybe I shouldn’t have done it. But that moment was so short lived because it didn’t matter.

That pole dancing class helped me practice valuing my own opinion. We are each our own person. Someone else’s views should not change my own. Only I can feel good or bad about myself. That doesn’t fall on anyone else. It is not our spouse’s, or friends, or anyone else’s responsibility to boost our self-esteem. We need to take responsibility for that.

When I returned home after the pole dance class, before the soreness and achiness set in, my husband asked me to show him what I learned. Seeing that the portable pole I had just ordered wasn’t due to arrive for a few days, I told him I was going to body pop for him. There I was in just my pink bra and my mismatched polk-a-dot thong, and when I went to squat, I almost tipped over, so I put one hand on the bed for support, and dropped and popped and you know what happened? My knees cracked so loud that it sounded like they were going to pop right off. We both laughed so hard.

I never felt sexier.

Image 8 Pole dance

About the author

Cyn Vargas

Cyn Vargas

Cyn Vargas' short story collection is being published by Curbside Splendor Publishing in Spring 2015. She was named on of the 25 Writers to Watch by the Guild Literary Complex and is the winner of the 2013 Guild Literary Complex Prose Award for Fiction. She's received a Top 25 Finalist & an Honorable Mention award in Glimmer Train's Short Story Award for New Writers contests, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing- Fiction from Columbia College Chicago. Her work has appeared in Word Riot, Split Lip Magazine,and elsewhere. She writes because it's her way of legally exposing herself in public.

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