As I was spinning around in short shorts, a metal pole gripped between my thighs and blood congealing on my foot, I began to wonder why I was here.
Pole dancing is tough.
The cost of the injury insurance should’ve been the first warning. The battered legs of the other pole dancers should’ve been the second.
But nothing could’ve prepared me for all the chafing, crunching and peculiar pain that would mark my journey through the world of pole dancing.
I didn’t really know what to expect when I joined the University of the Arts Pole Dancing Fitness Society, but I was confident that I’d be able to vaguely mirror the elaborate moves of the teachers.
On the face of it, the moves seemed pretty easy, with the instructors floating angelically around their poles.
In reality, it was a gruelling, complicated and dizzying affair.
I’m not a naturally fit person. This isn’t a story about a hyper-masculine man braving the feminine field of pole dancing. This is the story of a lazy man attempting to survive in a physically demanding sport.
It was the stretches at the beginning that got me; I’m not a stretchy man. I wasn’t designed to bend. My toes weren’t meant to be touched. My spine was created for slouching on the sofa, not for a U-bend.
My grunting and panting didn’t endear me to my fellow classmates, who were giving me odd glances, clearly confused as to why a gangly, hairy man was in an all-female class.
After the stretches, we had to pair up, two to a pole – everyone found a partner, drifting away from me. Secondary school flashbacks came to the fore, repressed memories bubbled. No one wanted me on their team.
But never mind: I finally had my very own pole. I gripped it eagerly and began to follow the movements of the teacher. For some reason, this proved to be a mistake. I blame gravity.
The thing to do, I was told, is to be confident, to trust your body, to believe you can do this.
I am the pole, I thought. I am the pole! Crunch.
Well, there went any chance at having kids. It was at this stage I thought that perhaps I wasn’t anatomically designed for the art of the pole.
Thankfully, other moves focused on the crotch being quite far away from the pole, a fact I found rather agreeable. Perhaps I won’t have to become a Castrato singer after all.
Nobody said there would be press-ups.
We learned to spin. We learned to climb. We learned to thrust our butts out and curve our spine. I learned essential worldly skills that night. Who needs to know martial arts when you can spin backwards on a pole? Backwards.
But my signature move is the chair. If you pull it off properly, the end result makes it look like you are sitting on an invisible chair next to the pole as you spin around it. This, finally, is a move I can do. “You’re a natural”, someone lied.
Sadly, just as I was beginning to feel my inner dancing queen come out, we had to go back to stretches. And press-ups. Nobody said there would be press-ups.
That’s the great thing about pole dancing. While it’s incredibly exhausting and painful, a lot of the time you just don’t notice as you’re simply too focused on the fun of it all. Without even realising it, I’d ended up working my core, my arms and my thighs. Oh, and I learned how to shake my booty provocatively.
When I first joined the Pole Dancing Fitness Society, I stuck out, but by the end, we were unified by weeks of pain-based camaraderie. We’d all slid down the pole unceremoniously, thudding into the ground. We’d all tangled our legs. We were in this together.
Some of my fellow polers were terrible, while others could deftly clamber about the pole in sheer defiance of the basic laws of physics. But it didn’t really matter, everyone had a great time spinning around on their one-person roller-coaster.
I have found my true calling. Someone tell my editor to pack up my things.
Photography by Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox