I’m standing in a dark, below-ground room, surrounded by beautiful women clad in black leather and lace. A few are wearing masquerade masks and one of them has a whip. The first few bars of Beyonce’s ‘Freak-um Dress’ stream through the speakers and I take a deep breath…
For the last two hours, I, along with about 40 other women, have been in the ‘Pleasure Dome’. It’s Fusion Fitness’s first ever Pole Showcase.
I can’t imagine that you are unfamiliar with Pole Fitness. It’s billed as a sexy and fun way to get in shape and build confidence. This huge trend took what was once seen as a seedy form of male entertainment and highlighted the athleticism and strength, turning it into one of the most popular forms of dance and fitness out right now.
I’d once taken a class at a New York bachelorette weekend and, seeing the silhouette cutouts of pole dancers in Washington Alley, knew the class was being offered in Bermuda at Fusion Fitness. Saturday night’s showcase was beyond the beyond. I don’t even like running in public. My pigeon-toed gait has me looking super lopsided and awkward, so I self-consciously avoid daylight and main roads, sticking to railway trails, abandoned golf courses and evening runs. So this level of exercising with wild abandonment for an audience is not in my bag of tricks.
Judging from the gasps and cheers, we were all blown away.
Women, of all sizes and ages, flounced onto stage wearing corsets, net stockings, hot pants, long lashes, and hella high heels. They threw themselves upside down, dancing in choreographed sexiness, shimmying along the floor, whipping round the pole and floating like S & M mermaids.
The ‘simple’ act of just climbing the pole is not at all simple. The moves - using the top of one foot to first get traction, gripping overhead and hoisting up, squeezing the inner thigh to lock in place, then repeating – require muscle and the ability to endure certain and painful pole-burn.
After the Pole Dancers hop off the pole, the ‘Pole Pixies’ further demonstrate this skill. Their job is to clean down the poles, needing them to climb to the top, then fireman-style slide down, toweling as they go. They come out after each act, and in the sexiest way possible, ringtail lemur themselves up, then writhe and wipe those poles as if they were born to do nothing else. One of them enjoys lightly whipping the others. It’s definitely the most voyeuristic part of the whole show, as if you’re watching naughty cleaners you’ve hired for your home.
After the first two ensemble acts and a couple appearances by the Pole Pixies, it’s time for the first solo. She walks onto the ‘stage’ carrying a yoga mat, wearing Lululemon type mom-wear - a long-sleeved tee and jersey capris. Unrolling her mat, she looks into the ‘mirror’, stretches, taking extra time to roll her ankles in what you soon see are ballet toe shoes. In another world, this woman would demonstrate a plié, but this is the Pleasure Dome, so what follows instead is pure magic.
She sheds her yoga wear, revealing a white bodysuit, and dances a fusion of pointe, pole and Pilates. Moving around the entire floor, she uses all 6 poles in her routine, demonstrating immense flexibility (standing splits), strength (holding her body several inches away from the pole), and beauty (ballet…sigh.)
I was awestruck.
Three more solos followed, each as amazing as the last.
Wearing a feathered tutu and bright pink bob, was a burlesque cabaret dancer, who spent the entire routine showing off dizzying pole spins and ridiculous strength.
Then a bluesy femme fatale in a fur coat showcased raw athleticism and nerve, quickly dropping down head first towards the ground, thighs clenching seconds before assured paralysis. She ended her routine with a much-deserved cigar.
The last solo was a jaw-dropping, gravity-defying act. Clad in a gombey cape-esque top of silver tassels, sequins and bells, this Cirque du Soleil slash Dominique Dawes performer was simply remarkable. Nonchalantly displaying outrageous power, she would casually grab the bar then in a flash have her body parallel to the floor. At one point, I started singing Lionel Richie’s ‘Dancing on the Ceiling’ as her bedazzled heels were absurdly on the actual ceiling, near kicking the smoke alarm right down.
Three more group acts followed, including an Arabian Nights belly dancing demo of seductive snake arms and hips and a finale of the ‘best of the best’, with the women holding strength poses for foolish amounts of time. Each level of performance was inspiring, from the women who’ve been in the class for just one year to those who were clearly the masters.
With all the flesh and sexiness on display, you’d maybe expect a parade of perfect bodies. And yes, quite a lot of them were. The need for strong core muscles was clear… you could see them. But many had bodies that look like mine, squidgy in some parts, not perfectly taut, still enjoying a Dorito here and there. The butts peeking out of the hot pants were not all without cellulite or stretch marks. Yet without dwelling on what their asses looked like, they flip into a handstand, grip the bar between their thighs, pull themselves up and launch into a triple spin.
Throughout the night they stressed that each of the dancers started at the beginning and it’s possible for everyone. Yes, even you. In the audience, we hear mumbles of, ‘I could never do that. I don’t have the flexibility/upper body strength/stomach muscles.’ In my case, I bruise real easy and have stretch marks.
And yet, when they invite audience members up to participate in a Pole-Off, my heart is pounding, which in my world means, ‘It’s Your Turn.’ I do love dancing, and so, I make sure my boobs are tucked in, wiggle my jeans up over my love handles and make my way to the front.
I’m the first to go and since I was neither confident nor crazy enough to attempt a spin or climb, do my best go-go wine dancehall queen impression, walk as sexily as I can muster in a low chunky wedge around the pole, then drop down low. The audience cheers and, even though after only 30 seconds I’m illogically out of breath, it’s fun. At the end of it all, I walk away with the grand prize, a 6-week Pole Dancing class.
As a yoga enthusiast, I have always aspired to a high level of flexibility and strength. I can admit that downward dog doesn’t have the same element of sexiness, but I don’t think it should. And while I know that Pole Fitness clearly gives women the freedom to unleash their inner vixen, it has an element for me of, ‘who are we doing this for?’ Is it empowering, or subjugating? It’s a grey area, one debated in countless op-ed pieces around the globe.
But I’m sure those on Saturday evening’s stage will say they did it for themselves. And I appreciated that there were only women allowed in the Pleasure Dome (other than the very lucky security guards, technical support, and photographer). Fusion’s owner Dy-Ann Simmons mentioned that next year’s showcase will be in a larger venue, but hopefully men will still not be invited, so that the event will be as it was this past weekend – an opportunity for women to celebrate other women, to be motivated by their fearlessness, courage and strength, and inspired to pursue fitness in ANY form.
Because while I definitely practiced my floor shimmy the following day, I also laced up my sneakers and went for a run. In public.
(Published on Bermynet.com on February 6, 2015)