My most recent Facebook post consisted of a photo of me in black lingerie doing the splits during my first chair dance solo.
(Photo credit: John Lombardi)
Up until this point, my posts about my recreational activities suggested to her that this new sense of confidence was coming from anything other than erotic fitness dance classes.
Genuine concern radiated from my family member’s comment, “Hmmm…not sure about this. I guess I thought you were doing jazz dancing or something…love you”.
I deleted her comment and sent her a message inviting her into a conversation regarding why I choose to do erotic/burlesque dancing and the wealth of benefits those classes offer me.
If you put my feet to the fire and ask why I deleted the comment I would say that I felt a sense of protection over the dance community I’ve grown to love. I’d also admit that I felt embarrassment and shame about posting the photo. Internalized scripture verses about women and modesty ran through the ticker tape of my conscience. Maybe it was too much? Maybe I’m offending people? Maybe I’m being too provocative? Maybe as a mother and wife I should tone it down a bit?
Man, I hate those messages. I truly do.
My aunt and I exchanged messages briefly that focused mainly on safer topics; kids, travel plans, jobs, etc… After ending the conversation, I felt unsettled.
An inner fact-check revealed to me that
1. I absolutely love my dance studio and the life it gives me
2. people who follow me on social media have agency of choice regarding what they desire to see and what they do not
3. being offended by a woman expressing her sexuality may suggest deeper issues than a critique on my social media curating skills
4. not that “permission” is a thing in my marriage but for what it’s worth, my husband has been a champion of my dancing since day one. In fact, he worked the concession stand at my most recent performance and regularly critiques my choreography to help me improve my aesthetic.
Also, I caught our son attempting standing splits on my practice chair the other day and regularly asks when he can take dance classes like mama so I’m guessing my 3-year old also signs off on it.
(Photo credit: Matt Davis/Lion’s Mane Photography)
Here’s the reason I’m writing this whole article, and when I realized it, I felt a sense of synchronicity so visceral there may have actually been a “click” noise in the cosmos somewhere.
This dance studio is my church.
I’m a pastor’s daughter.
I have pleasant memories of growing up in the church. By no means was my family void of love and acceptance. My parents valued travel, enlightenment, and exposure to world views different than ours. My mom and I even took in a performance at Moulin Rouge in Paris together when I was a teenager. I found joy in watching my dad at the pulpit, especially in the embarrassing childhood photos of mine he used to illustrate his message.
Things shifted for me sometime in my 20s.
My beliefs no longer aligned with a list of dogmatic principles but rather were seeded in my experiences in relationships with actual people.
My sense of self, specifically my sexual self, struck discord with what I was told a woman’s sexuality should be. My disenfranchisement from organized religion is not unique in any way; many people share my sentiments.
What feels important to highlight as unique is that I still missed the sense of a “church”. I was hard pressed to find something that fed the need for community, expression, support, mutual life principles, challenge, and growth…
…Until I took a pole dancing class last summer.My first experience with ExperTease Fitness was a drop-in basic pole class.
Class always starts with a dance warm up. The teacher and headmistress of the studio, Jac Fatale, chose a hip hop song with a killer bass drop and from the first squat I felt myself let go. I realize this is a potentially misleading metaphor when talking about “letting go” during squats.
I mean this purely in the emotional sense of the word. Be sexy. Let down your hair. Let it jiggle. Keep trying. Bruises mean you’re working hard. Only positive comments about yourself and others allowed. Show off your skills. Be confident. Support each other. Keep challenging yourself. As far as dogma is concerned, this was a set of principles I could get behind (obvious moment for an inferred double entendre).
Thus began a beautiful relationship, first and foremost with myself and second with a community of people who craved a space like this. I made the decision to enroll in a session Chair Dancing class that included a performance in a local nightclub at the end of the eight-week course.
I had not performed dance since high school and felt the nostalgic rush of nerves and anticipation. Over the weeks I bonded with my classmates and cemented that bond as we fidgeted with our costumes backstage aiming for most cleavage possible while still being able to do our chair laybacks.
What I experienced on stage that night was intoxicating.
It was infectious.
People of all genders, shapes, and sizes believed they were sexy and they WERE and they got up IN FRONT OF PEOPLE and TOOK THEIR CLOTHES OFF and DANCED SEXILY and PEOPLE CHEERED. Why would anyone not want to be a part of this unicorn magic? Fast-forward to a year later, I now teach that class.
Back to my church metaphor…
According to my understanding of early biblical descriptors, church was intended to be a small community of persons who came together with common morals, supported each other, pushed and sharpened each other, enjoyed time shared, ate together, cried together, lived in community together, identified principles to live by and examined their spirituality.
Over the past few months the queer community, people of color, and Twin Cities community at large have endured some decimating acts of violence and intolerance.
Every single one of our dancers belongs to at least one, often two or three, of these communities. At times the only sense of reprieve and hope about our society has come from immersing myself deeper into my dance church.
I’ve watched people ban together to collect supplies for local protest groups.
I have watched people take genuine stands against misogyny and bullying.
I’ve watched intelligent discussions rooted in mutual love and respect emerge from people within the community who differ on viewpoints.
I’ve watched artists create performances as a way to cope with their grief.
I’ve sat with friends and heard their life struggles.
I’ve witnessed people overcome body image negativity.
I’ve cheered loudly as one of my students finally nailed a move that had been impossible at one point.
I broke my foot recently, which absolutely does not hold a candle to other issues some in the community are coping with, yet have never felt more supported as I vented frustrations with being unable to perform to my fullest.
Oh yeah, and we crowd-funded the purchase of our own theatre.
Going to dance class is not a chore. It’s a necessity. It feeds me. This community brings me life. Performing connects me to the version of my self that I thought had been ushered out permanently after becoming a wife and mother.
It’s a place I feel connected to my sexuality and my spirituality, which are far closer to being synonyms in my world than some may feel comfortable with.
(Photo credit: Matt Davis)
My dance studio may be considered “immoral” to some of those in my extended circle. Some may say that it is a place of false gods worship or rooted in harmful principles regarding “sins of the flesh”.
Others may criticize my arrogance confidence as hedonistic and egotistical. Others have questioned my spirituality, parenting, partnership, career, and sanity to which I only have one evangelizing response:
Have you tried our TwerkHop class?