This is a post that’s been years in the making.
I used to live in Silver Lake. I’d frequently drive past the Cheetahs marquee. The neon lights and tongue in cheek pinup girls on the sign… You guys, I loved it. I’d laugh to myself and think, “I’m a pole dancer. One day I’ll dance at Cheetahs!” It was a silly fantasy. Or so I thought.
This was long before the Amateur Pole Show even existed. Which is funny, because when Amanda Leigh launched Amateur Pole show I was NOT chomping at the bit to perform. (The first in line was probably my girl actress/writer/pole dancer/social activist, Sascha Alexander.) I was the armchair skeptic. I had qualms. I had personal ”socially acceptable”, “morality issue” types of fears, which you can read about here. But I also had an ego to check. See, I hate the word amateur. I always have. I grew up with coaches, trainers and I worked hard in the performing arts. I was always taught to be a professional, no matter what. To me amateur meant novice, sloppy, mediocre … nothing I ever wanted my name associated with. I’m a pretty gracious, empathic -at worst people pleasing- person. But on this issue, I suddenly turned into The Good Wife‘s Eli Gold:
But there’s another way to look at that word. As was so tenderly pointed out to me by this scene from Mozart in the Jungle:
I’m not an artist like you people are. I’m just an amateur.
“Amateur.” You say that as if it was a dirty word or something,
but “amateur” comes from the Latin word “amare,”
which means love, love. To do things for the love of it.
This struck me deeply. Because I love pole dance. I love everything about it. I fell in love the first moment I walked in a studio 6 years ago. While other women were getting paid to pole dance, I was paying to learn it. I did it privately and passionately. For years there was not one picture of me on the internet on a pole. I did not dance for anyone. It was just for me. That’s love. That’s an amateur.
And it’s because of that love, that I started getting more vocal about it. It’s why I started writing here, for Bad Kitty®. It’s why I’ve been asking the hard questions about myself and the world of feminism, femininity, sexuality, and cultural norms. It’s what drives all that #gravitas. Even now as a paid dancer (cabaret, burlesque, and pole) I’m still driven by that love and those long, hard working, studio hours that no one else sees.
Rehearsing for a show with my fellow dancer, Rima.
So with all that behind me, when a spot opened up in the February Cheetah’s show, I grabbed it. I was about to go on tour with Vaud and the Villains. So I signed up without over thinking and then left town. I had the time of my life on tour, and came back on such a high. This high carried me into promoting the Cheetahs show. My confidence was reeling. I sent out a very personal email invite to just about everyone I care for and respect in Los Angeles.
And just like that BOOM! It was real. It was happening. Social media posts were tagged, tickets were selling, this train had left the station – with me on it. I had a brief moment of insecurity thanks to this scene from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. It’s a show I adore, and you should be watching! Anyway, in the scene Rebecca humiliates herself by trying too hard to win over her ex and his friends, by… pole dancing for them. To their horror. Seriously? Why the pole dance shaming?
Yeah, I get the joke. I’m not humorless or thin skinned. And if you can’t laugh at your self, then what can you do? And, yes, this part is really funny, because it’s 100% true:
“I wasn’t doing this for a guy. Oh, my God, who pole-dances for male attention?
Do you know the name of the class I took in New York? It was Feminist Pole Dancing.
Yeah, and as my teacher, a lovely trans woman named Professor Goddess,
said that true pole, true pole is about reappropriating the male gaze.”
But the timing was bad for me. In my mind, it felt like I had just become Rebecca Bunch in the eyes of those I respected the most. Not a good feeling. I was suddenly faced with the assertion that the most shameful/awkward/attention seeking thing a woman can do publicly is to un-ironically express her sexuality. It’s acceptable to express her sexuality if it’s a self-aware satirical video where you happen to look stunning. But don’t be authentic about it. Then you’re pathetic. Of all the punchlines. Isn’t that one… tired?
I still didn’t back out. Show night came, and I arrived early. What struck me the most was the sense of love and calm I immediately felt at Cheetahs. The kindness of Amanda Leigh (the show’s producer) the other dancers, and the Cheetahs staff was overwhelming. Amanda gathered us all together. We introduced ourselves, which pole studio we were representing, and what fear we were overcoming/goal we were achieving by dancing tonight. What’s this? I thought. This feels really healthy and supportive… Almost like a prayer meeting. Getting our fears/goals out there put every at ease. We were all in the same boat. We were a team. And our goal as a unit was to give the best show we could, and hopefully free up our audience in the way that we had been freed. Radical creative expression at it’s finest. This. Was. Awesome.
And then the doors opened. Our audience entered. While I had the fear that everyone I knew would show up and be horrified (Crazy Ex Girlfriend style) I had an equally strong fear that no one would show up for me at all. I didn’t know which was worse. And then there was the big fear that I would totally blow it. I’d forget all my pole tricks. Or I’d do them all but they wouldn’t be enough. I’m not a pole champion, there’s a million tricks I haven’t mastered. What if people are bored? What if they think I’m a fraud? What if, what if, what if… the shame spiral spun on and on.
But I didn’t let it stop me. Because I had committed. And I am a person of my word. So this was happening… and people did show up for me. A lot of people. From every corner of my LA journey they came: my college RA, TV assistants, fellow pole and burlesque dancers, band members, former housemates, filmmakers, writers, long time friends and even a few Naval officers. What’s more? Many brought dates, friends, and family members of their own. My “tribe” took up a solid chunk of the room!
And I wasn’t not shamed. I was celebrated. And I did some pole tricks, and I did some floor work. I played around and gave a good show. Was it perfect? No! I felt a slick spot on the pole and bailed out of a trick – I did something different. No big deal! No one even noticed. I had fun! I didn’t cave into the fear based need to impress the crowd. I just danced for me and let them watch. I danced for love. I was vulnerable and real up there. Every fear I had about performing at Cheetahs was shattered. Just gone. They evaporated because they were never real to begin with. They were based in projections and assumptions.
The shadows in my own mind.
Will I be doing it again? Absolutely. March 6th and May 1st. I sincerely hope to see you there. And yes, dudes dance in the show too. So not a word about that! Audience and dancers, men and women, are all equal in this room. We’re artists, free thinkers, and people who are not afraid. When dancers are tipped, we are being paid for our art, hard work, performance skills –and yes — unique and unapologetic sex appeal. What’s not empowering about that? I live and work in Los Angeles. I know the value of a dollar. When someone gives me their hard earned money to do something I love; That’s high praise.
And everyone has a phantom fear. While it may not be Amateur night at Cheetahs, everyone has a “hard limit” that they are terrified at the idea of. Is it quitting your day job? Commitment? Confrontation? We all have something. Whatever it is, I strongly urge to embrace it head on. It’s true what they say, that the greatest prison people live in is in fear of what other people think.
And everything you want really is waiting for you just past your fear. So, hello from the other side. It’s great over here. Won’t you join me?
*Photos by Kristina Lloyd // Amateur Pole Show.
This post first appeared on Bad Kitty Blog | Pole Dancing Fitness Lifestyle Ne, please read the originial post: here