In a power-pink-themed room with a half-dozen poles attached ceiling to floor, a half-dozen women work out, executing spins, inversions and pirouettes as their skill level and strength dictate.
Its the initial class for one woman, and she works at it. Eventually, she executes a fairly graceful fireman spin for the first time. The whole class cheers in support.
She says: Its crazy how good a workout it is. You work every single muscle in your body. Its fun, too.
And then she adds: Im not used to the sensual side.
And therein is the point. Thats both the allure of pole dancing and the judgment. Pole dancing calls to mind a language in our culture that many people feel uncomfortable talking about: sensual, sexual, erotic.
Pole dancing is also an up-and-coming trendy form of exercise. But, says Allison Holley, instructor in this class, studio owner and dancer in her own right, pole dancing is actually way more subversive.
Allison says: (The pole dancing room in my studio) is like this beautiful Amazon-lady country where you can be strong and sexy and it can all co-exist.
She criticizes our society for being thoroughly masculine intellectual and logical which she is quick to point out has many merits.
(But) because (these traits) are so valued, women tend to do that. And were, like, stick straight and were not allowed to be emotional or sensual, or any of those things that are very feminine traits; it seems weak in our society.
Pole dancing is creating this catharsis where the feminine is (valued). It is powerful and you see it for how powerful it is. Theres not really a lot of places where you can see that.
The origin of pole dancing lies in strip clubs and burlesque. Contemporary pole dancing is coming out of its own closet; acknowledging the past and embracing something more empowering.
Pole dancings origins (are) meant to stimulate an audience, so we havent taken that out yet. But theres not necessarily an audience. Youre the audience, and you get to look at yourself as this erotic person.
So if erotic might be a big step for some, start with sensual, which means simply paying attention to the senses: smell, taste, touch, sound and sight, which often overpowers the others.
Were a very mentally stimulated society. Because we live up here (in our heads), were almost completely unaware of how our body actually feels. Were totally unaware that were walking around on our legs.
For example, youre walking around and all of a sudden you notice youre bleeding. Or your legs are so tired youre going to collapse.
Allison didnt start her life as a dancer. As a youngster, she was into gymnastics, but as a 20-something, she was a free-spirited waitress in Washington, D.C. Unemployed, she picked up not-enough-work as a waitress at a strip club, and, after seeing the dancers, she thought: I could do this.
Your job description, on the surface, is that you are there to be erotic and to dance and to turn people on. Thats really not the true job description. The true job description is talking to people. (But really) not talking listening.
At first, it was heady stuff to be so glamorous and so revered.
Because at the beginning, I was like this anthropologist on this sexual planet. Some days it was all men coming and saying, Let me worship the goddess; some days it was all men saying, Ive hated every woman in my life, Im going to take it out on you. ...
Men, their perception was it was OK to treat you as this object, because you put yourself in that category. I can treat you like I would never talk to other women in my life. ... I think thats the part of my job that got exhausting in the end.
She became a feminist as a stripper, and what she describes as a sex feminist. She retains a camaraderie and respect for the women with whom she worked; has a behind-the-scenes perspective of the sex industry and what it can do to self-esteem.
For some people, it is a dangerous environment. For others like me, it changed my life.
After less than two years, she moved on not all strippers are able to do that. She moved to Portland, then to Boise where her family lived, and got a degree in communication from Boise State. But she found that she missed pole dancing which is different, she makes clear, than being a dancer in a strip club.
My favorite part of my job was going on stage and moving however it felt good. On the pole, I just really felt free. I missed that. But I didnt miss the environment.
In Boise, Allison went to Cirque du Soleil, where the Chinese acrobatic performance caught her eye. Although they used a different pole, she was surprised to find she knew how to do their tricks; inspired, she bought some poles and advertised a class.
Even though I called (the class) Chinese acrobatic pole dancing, the things the women were asking me to teach them in class were the erotic moves. They wanted me to teach them how to move their hips; they wanted to know how to just feel sexy.
Bit by bit, enough students came that Allison opened her own studio.
(Pole dancing) is gaining more mainstream acceptance. (And also that) what were really doing in here is a physical transformation of everything: It is sensual and it is erotic and it is lovely. Its not just purely physical.
Also bit by bit, women started saying out loud to their family and friends that the exercise class that they said they had been going to it was actually a pole dancing class. And they were learning a lot.
I think its hard for people to say, I go to this class to feel sexy. People dont want to talk about their sex life (which is because), I think, that sensuality and sexuality are blended into this perceived same thing. They are very different. You dont even have to have sex to feel sensual.
Being sensitive to the senses is also a way of being in the world, Allison says.
We wouldnt hurt each other at all if we were totally connected to our bodies, we would be free to really create; and theres no way that we would hurt someone else because we would know what that feels like; we would be in touch with that.
In a class, Allison wears 8-inch-high heels (really). Its the pivot, she says, and one walks differently certainly more carefully. Barefoot is OK; and women wear itty-bitty shorts because of physics: cloth slides.
I think a lot of women dont feel safe with other women, (but) they end up forming these bonds, and they put on these tiny shorts for the first time ever in their life and theyre in a room with a bunch of people telling them their ass looks great.
One student: retired from HP three years ago in marketing, mother of two. She had a severe back injury 12 years ago. This has changed my life. I lost six dress sizes. My son, just last week, said, Mom, you look great. He finally noticed.
Another student: technical writer, mother of three. (Pole dancing) has always been on my bucket list. It is everything I expected and more. Im hooked. I have a goal: Ill be 45 in a couple of months and I want to do a routine at my (birthday) party.
Allison: I think every student who comes in feels transformed in one way or the other. Its not just my studio; its happening everywhere.
Another student: overweight, not much exercise. Allison was worried that she might not have enough upper-body strength.
She got on (the pole) and just blew me away. She was shining, she was smiling. She looked comfortable with herself.
She looks so confident, and I didnt see that when I first met her. Its like shes the one in her social group to pioneer something new, (which) gives her a lot of self-esteem. Now, she brings her friends in like this is her secret to give other people.
Be kind to yourself, be kind to others thats how we treat each other and ourselves. By holding your own body weight on the pole, bodies are transformed, and the thought process of what youre capable of is also transformed. Daily. ...
Know someone living from the heart? Idaho Statesman photojournalist Katherine Jones spotlights someone in the Treasure Valley who influences our lives not only by what they do, but how and why they do it. Do you know someone we should know? Call 377-6414 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
As an instructor of pole dancing classes and a former stripper, Allison is frequently confronted by many stereotypes.