Not an Odalisque

Posts Tagged ‘pole dancing

Black and Blue

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I type this with aching arms. You’d know that, if you could see me, because I have mottled bruises on each upper arm. I look like a soft fruit that’s been dropped and retrieved.

I like marks. When tops have offered post-beating arnica applications, I have refused on the basis that I’d like to preserve the bruising. It isn’t a purely aesthetic decision; I like to think that marks justify the wriggling and screaming that went on while the pain was being inflicted. Sometimes marks risk betraying my predilections to the world, of course. A few months ago, freshly caned, I went dancing in a swirly dress. A partner said to me, “your outfit is very…aerodynamic.”

“Is that another way of saying it lifts when I twirl?” I asked.

“Well, maybe you should get your mother to buy you some big knickers.” He said.

I considered saying, “I don’t think I want knickers from beyond the grave,” but that seemed inappropriate. I conducted a mental review of that evening’s knickers and decided they provided sufficient coverage and laciness. And then I remembered the six livid stripes across my bottom, and my face went as red as the weals.I didn’t come up with a good comeback. I asked my next partner whether my dress was too revealing, though, and he was reassuring. I decided I was probably being wound up. Then I was thrown into a drop, and felt my skirt catch, high, on the arms that caught me. The thought that staid Stockport was seeing my cane marks left me slightly off balance all evening. The next day I bought some very big frilly knickers, which keep me safe from exposure as long as no one marks my thighs.

I didn’t even think of hiding the more innocent-looking bruises on my arms I displayed them without a thought at my grandparent’s wedding anniversary and no one made a comment. I took my cardigan off in class and no one said a thing. I went out dancing, though, and every partner seemed strangely interested. “What happened?” “Did someone grab you too hard?” “Are those love bites?” (I think that man thought he was funny) “Everyone is talking about you, asking how you got those bruises.” Now, unlike cane stripes, a bruise on the arm has many non-kinky explanations. The problem is, none of those explanations were true. The truth is, my lover punched me. Repeatedly. That didn’t seem to be the thing to say.

I tried to wriggle out of commenting as much as I could. As I was mumbling a response, one man said, “That looks like a punch to me.”

“Hmm,” I said.

I’m not ashamed of my kinkiness. I don’t find it necessary to sneak about and tell lies. At the same time, there’s no need to involve people who haven’t consented in something they don’t much like, by constantly displaying it (I wish others would apply this logic to penises and football). I don’t own any long sleeved dancing dresses, and my bruises have been topped up with a few extra punches since last week.

Fellow kinksters, how do you deal with visible bruises? Do you wear them proudly, announce their origins and enjoy the shocked looks? Vanilla readers (I assume there must be some) are you offended by bruising? Would you call the police if I told you my lover had punched me? And can any of you lend me a long-sleeved dress?

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Written by Not an Odalisque

April 6, 2011 at 12:30 am

Easily Led

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It’s the time of year for making resolutions, and I’m making none. I’d like to resolve to give up supermarkets, but I haven’t worked out where to buy reasonably priced breakfast cereal. I could resolve to write a novel, be more organised and buy more lingerie, but I already recognise the necessity of doing all these things, and they’re no more urgent now than they have been any time in the last few months. Instead, I am giving serious consideration to which forms of dancing to try this year. It’s more “I’ll try this form of exercise and see if it’s fun” than “I’ll join a gym and lose three stone” but there’s value in being realistic.

I spent New Year’s Eve with people who do Lindy Hop. I’ve been thinking about trying Lindy for a while, mostly because of the clothes. I know I’m not the only one who takes up dancing styles in order to dress up: I met someone recently who had started ballroom because she wanted more sparkly chiffon in her life. I can’t see the attraction, but the clothes of the Swing Era have a lot going for them. In deluded moments I imagine myself getting slim enough to pull off a flapper dress, but if I’m honest the real attraction is full skirts, net petticoats and seamed stockings. My seamed stockings will have been kicking around in the draw for so long that they’ll be genuine vintage soon.

I have to catch myself on and remember, though, that I’m not actually that good at dancing. I went to modern jive for the first time because the alternative was another evening in. I surprised myself by not being the utter disaster I was sure I would be. Almost a year later, I’ve almost erased the effect of the sound of my friends’ laughter accompanying parodic impressions of my dancing when I was sixteen. It helps to be one of the few twenty-something girls in a room full of middle aged divorcees, and it helps even more to wear a bright red dress. Suddenly, strangers are commenting on my elegance; judging by their gaze, they often mean “cleavage”, but I’ll take my flattery where I can get it.

I am sometimes upstaged, of course. I was shocked, one week, to see one of my pet partners (those who can be relied upon to dance a second time, without regarding it as a step towards marriage), dancing for a third time with a young, slim, fresh-faced blonde. Who, it turned out, trained in ballet and gained an attractive glow as she danced (I just sweat. Lots.). That was also the evening I first tried Lindy Hop. After an hour of trying to remember where my feet went, get my head around dancing off the beat, and tactfully explaining to my partners that I wasn’t would rather they didn’t throw me across the room until I got to know them better, I was very glad when the lesson ended and we could all get back to modern jive again. I stood at the sidelines, sipping water, when the fresh-faced girl appeared. “That was great!” she said, “I want to know where I can learn Lindy.” I certainly didn’t. I solidified that when the tutor offered to help me with the jumps and I managed to kick him, twice.

Modern jive being so simple, I sometimes forget that I’ve failed at almost every dance I tried, from the ballet class I got too tall for at age six to the Bollywood routines I ruined by being unable to memorise the mudras. There’s a part of me that says I should stick with what I’m good at, but another which reasonably points out that using that logic I would never have tried jive in the first place. Maybe I’m secretly a natural at tango and will never find out.

I must, therefore, try a new form of dancing, so as not to be boring. It would preferably be one with a younger crowd, so as not to be groped. And Lindy looked pretty good. On the other hand, so many people have asked if I do salsa that I feel I ought to give it a go just to get out of all the confused looks when I say I’ve never have. Since salsa involves choosing a style (Cuban, Colombian, etc), unfortunately make no progress by picking that, only open the door onto another labyrinth of decisions.

Not all dances are partner dances, of course, or at least, the partners are sometimes off-stage and referred to as the audience. One of my main characters has decided she’s a burlesque dancer, and the couple of workshops I’ve attended aren’t really going to cut it in terms of background knowledge. Unfortunately, my character is much more confident than I am, unlikely to hide at the back of the class and panic when the routine requires a180 degree turn and she finds herself at the front. Burlesque, unfortunately, is more the sort of thing I’d like to be good than the sort of thing I can reasonably expect to gain any proficiency in. I resent that, and I covet the outfits.

The last class on my list is pole dancing. I know, it’s tacky and vulgar. Sometimes, though, I think tacky and vulgar can be good, especially those prone to pretension and snobbishness, as there’s no disputing I am. I enjoyed my one pole dancing lesson, but, like burlesque, there’s little chance of me being good at it. When you have to lift your own body weight, being small and slim is a definite advantage; I am neither. However, I keep thinking of my empty threat to punch the groper on Portland Street. If I was strong enough to swing myself around a pole, I’d be strong enough to sock him. I can almost feel a “pole dancing for self-defence” class coming on.

To summarise, under consideration are salsa, modern jive, Lindy Hop, burlesque and pole dancing. Wasn’t I meant to write a novel this year? If I can’t decide, perhaps I could pretend I’m giving up frivolous things like dancing to concentrate on literary pursuits. Otherwise, I’d best pick just one. All three people who’ve expressed an opinion so far have been Lindy Hoppers, and—guess what?—they’ve all cheered for Lindy. I’m easily led in more than one sense; Lindy’s gaining ground. Do you support them? Or think I should pick one of the others? Perhaps you would like to complicate matters more by throwing another dance into the mix? Help me, please, because I simply can’t make the decision.

Written by Not an Odalisque

January 2, 2011 at 7:35 pm

Pole Dancing for the Very First Time

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I’m sat on a train opposite a nun. Not one of those wishy-washy nuns who wear ordinary clothes and do voluntary work, but a real, honest to God nun with a black and white wimple, a brown habit and a bit of knotted rope hanging from her waist, which, combined with the windbreaker, makes her look like a nun ready for the high seas. She’s just crossed herself, opened a leather-bound Bible and settled in for the journey, so I thought this would be a good time for me to talk about pole dancing. To you, not to her, because I don’t want to cause a serious incident on the East Coast Mainline.

Last week I had my first pole dancing class. If you have been reading this blog, you will know that until recently I had attributed my dislike of pole dancing and associated activities (lap dancing, over-zealous waxing, etc) to feminist principles, considering that it reduces women to sexual objects, and not very interesting sexual objects at that. Then I got to thinking that, since I enthusiastically support burlesque, which is, ultimately, stripping out of old-fashioned outfits to the music of yesteryear, I am being inconsistent, if not hypocritical. If I’m going to reject something on aesthetic grounds, I should have some experience of it. Standing at the back of a room in a Soho lesbian bar, glimpsing the odd elbow through gaps in the crowd as two women performed on stage probably isn’t enough. So, I decided, I would experience pole dancing for myself. I’ll be the first to know if I feel degraded.

The class I chose was on a Sunday evening. I don’t know what the nun would say about pole dancing on the Sabbath, I’d better not ask. I sent off an email to book a place, and received a confirmation entirely in text speak. My worst prejudices were conformed; there was a lot of lolling. Either she was an hysterically giggly woman, or her relationship with the English language was verging on abusive.

Nevertheless, I turned up at the village hall, ready to take pole dancing for a spin. We were herded into a room with two poles, and everyone wriggled out of their outer layers. Suddenly I was the only fully clothed woman in the room, self conscious in my stretchy trousers and vest top as others flaunted flesh beneath their hot pants.

I don’t want to step on anyone’s dreams, but it has to be admitted that certain items of clothing look much better on some body types than others. I’m not bitter about this because it works both ways. Corset on a skinny girl: What’s the point? Corset on me? If you’re lucky, one day I’ll show you pictures. On the other hand, I don’t think I’ll ever go for a latex cat suit, I don’t own a pair of skinny jeans, and you’d have to pay me to get into that nun’s habit. There are those who disagree with me. This girl is proud of her skinny jeans, and good luck to her. It is a personal opinion, and one which I would not visit on anybody else, that hot pants look best on the slender. A couple of years ago, say, at the end of my last cycling holiday, I could have pulled them off. Currently, I think it would be best to reserve the sight of my upper thighs for those who already know and like me.

I didn’t have time to give other women’s thighs much thought, though, because we were beginning with some aerobics and stretches to warm up. This is when my second bout of body-consciousness kicked in, as we were invited to circle our arms like energetic windmills, giving me the opportunity to wow the crowd with repeated glimpses of my under-arm hair. As I’ve written before, I refuse to believe that hair, on women, is automatically disgusting. In fact, only yesterday I was chatted up by a man who specifically asked if I shaved and noticeably redoubled his efforts at seduction when I said I didn’t (he also said he’d like to watch me pee, however, so I’m not sure he’s a representative sample). In the context of the pole dancing class, though, I was troubled. If any of the women were challenging beauty norms, they were doing it very subtly. Most of them were wearing make-up. Two of them sported genetically unlikely combinations of blonde hair and tanned skin. Nails were painted and in some cases artificially extended with acrylic tips. Hair was straightened, skin buffed.

I flailed my arms around a few times, then, in my discomfort, managed to draw even more attention to myself by accidentally whacking someone stood nearby. Not the best beginning.

We divided into two groups, five people to a pole. I found myself with four women, including the two with the anomalous colouring. I would guess that all of them were younger than me. My sense of being huge, grotesque, even, persisted. Everything about these girls, from their boyish hips to their pink iPods, seemed designed to minimise their presence. “Why did you decide to join?” asked the girl next to me. I summarised the wilfulness of my main character and my fear that I disguise prejudice as feminism, then asked, “why did you start?” “I just thought it would be a laugh,” she replied.

The lesson began. The tutor demonstrated a move and we attempted to imitate her in turn. The other four, being more seasoned pole dancers, did a much more impressive job than me. They managed recognisable versions, at least. I, on the other hand, spent a few seconds dangling from the pole, legs dangling redundantly, before my hands slipped down and my feet met the laminate. I did it again, and again, and again. Each time I slunk away to the back of the queue, cursing my height, my weight, my lack of pneumatised bones, all of which made lifting my body difficult. “Very good,” the teacher opined a few times, rather unconvincingly. “It really wasn’t!” I eventually retorted. “My first lesson,” she replied, “I couldn’t even get my feet off the ground.” I felt a bit better after that.

Now and again we were distracted by a particularly impressive move being executed by a member of the more advanced group on the other pole. For the most part, though, I fell into the rhythm of watch, queue, dangle, and queue again. As the others span and swung, made mistakes, gained bruises, complimented, encouraged and ribbed one another, something strange happened. I don’t know whether it was the cheesy music playing in the background (which seemed to have no influence on the rhythm of the dancing) or the consistent good humour of my group, but somehow the lesson became fun.

I can understand why women pole dance. I can understand that the approval of men is an attractive factor. Merely mentioning that I was going to write this post, while queuing outside a television studio on Upper Ground, caused a middle aged man to turn from his wife and say to me “pole dancing? I’m listening now!” I also understand that there are other factors. I’m going to go back, and my primary reason is a hatred of failure. I want to know that I have the strength, skill and ability to perform moves which the weaker-looking women managed with ease.

Can pole dancing be feminist? I’m still undecided. The class did not have the seedy tone which I had associated with pole dancing due to its association with strip clubs. Even as we ground against the pole, the atmosphere entirely lacked sexual charge. The naturalisation of artificial gender roles was very noticeable, from artificial nails to cutesy pink accessories, but it seems more likely that women who buy pink iPods take up pole dancing than that pole dancing encourages the purchase of pink iPods. The forces which shape feminine identity are a big tangle, and I don’t think pole dancing is completely blameless. When I’ve unknotted it somewhat, I’ll let you know.

Written by Not an Odalisque

May 10, 2010 at 11:21 pm

My Imaginary Lap Dancer

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I write stories. I try to tackle the issues people debate in the abstract with a personal approach. One of my characters has decided that she’s going to work at a lap dancing club. I hadn’t planned it, but it seems like an interesting path. Feminist writers and bloggers have a lot to say on the topic, as do campaign groups like Object. It is much harder to find the views of the people who work in the industry, or the clients. My personal experience is limited to seeing some pole dancing once in a lesbian club in Soho.

Why am I writing about something I haven’t experienced? If I don’t, then all I will ever produce is my autobiography. I think it is going to be interesting in terms of understanding gender construction, objectification, power relationships and sexuality, all of which are my area. We’ll see what happens.

I need more input. Have you ever worked doing lap dancing or pole dancing? Have you ever paid for these services? I want to hear from you. I realise that the experience is not uniform, the people, their motivations, what goes on at work all varies. Nonetheless, my character is a representation of people who seem to be talked about more than heard. If I have more information she can be a better representation.

I will take anything I can get. How did you get into it? How do you spend your time at work? What are the good bits, which bits don’t you like? Do you feel that it changes other people’s perceptions of you? How do you feel about your employers and the customers? Anything you want to tell me will be welcomed.

For the customers, I would love to know what your time at a club is like, what you enjoy about it, how the experience makes you feel, or whatever you want to share.

I don’t need anyone to tell me “lap dancing is wrong because…” I already know those arguments. If your story ends with “boo” or “yay” that’s great, though.

You can post in the comments section or email me at not.an.odalisque@gmail.com. For this, I offer you my everlasting gratitude. Many, many thanks.

Written by Not an Odalisque

April 3, 2010 at 1:00 pm