Pole Dancing for Grandma - By Jennifer Margulis
My grandmother has seen me perform in countless theatrical productions. From the time I played a munchkin in the WIzard of Oz at age 8, to when I starred in Annie at age 11, to playing my dream role of Liesl in Sound of Music as a young adult. The final musical theater performance she caught before I changed careers was singing and dancing on Disney Cruise Line. Thanks to my petite frame and generally young appearance, I’ve mostly played children, teenagers and wide-eyed furry animals. I was never cast in productions of Chicago or Cabaret and I’ve never worn lingerie or played a sex scene on stage. To quote the musical Wicked, “I’m not that girl.”
So you can imagine my grandmother’s surprise, when after a seven year hiatus from performing, I invited her to see me take the stage again - pole dancing.
A little background
I’ve been pole dancing for nearly three years. It started when my personal training mentor (I now own my own personal training business) mentioned to me that she had formerly been a competitive pole dancer. Like me, she was small, strong, and flexible, and so it dawned on me that I might be naturally predisposed for success. One weekend when my boyfriend was out of town and I had little to do, I decided to take my first class. I knew that if I only went once and didn’t feel super proficient, I might not return; so I bought a five class package to make sure I gave it a fair shot.
Getting off the Ground
The intro to pole class offers the very beginning of technique work related to pole but also some opportunity for booty shaking. That was the first and last time I twerked in a pole class. After my first Intro class, I was immediately granted permission to advance to Level 1 where I learned how to spin fluidly around the pole in ways that reminded me of the ballet classes I took growing up. We did conditioning exercises to build core and upper body strength to be able to invert. Inverting is going from a standing position on the ground, to supporting yourself with the pole and bringing your feet up in the air to then hook on to the pole - it’s hard! And finally, we worked on developing the strength and technique to be able to climb the pole. That reminded me a lot of the circus training I had on Disney Cruise Line, when I learned how to climb the ropes for my role as a monkey in the dance number Tarzan. I quickly realized that pole dance is much more than what happens in strip clubs; pole dance has become its own art form, and it requires strength, grace, balance and a whole lot of pain tolerance!
After many bruises, frustrations and unpublished videos documenting my clumsiness, I started to get good. Two student showcases and my first ever pole competition later, I was asked to perform at a show called “Schtick a Pole in It,” in the East Village. It’s a monthly show that features five elite pole dancers and four standup comedians. The comics do a set in between each dancer, providing a chance for the audience to laugh out loud after they’ve watched some insanely impressive moves on the pole. The result is a unique show that appeals to a wide demographic and feels very ‘New York.’
Many of my pole teachers have performed at Schtick It, so being invited to perform was a pretty big honor.
Finding My Beat
Every month, Schtick It has a different musical theme, and they ask the dancers to choose a song by that artist. When I was asked to perform in this month’s show I was not told what the theme would be. And I actually had to sign the contract to perform prior to knowing! All I knew was that the previous month was Cardi B and so I prayed that they would not repeat that. My boyfriend and I made a game of picking the three worst and three best artists it could possibly be (strictly based on the kind of performer I am, and what would work best for me to dance to).
The list was:
Worst: Marilyn Manson, Eminem, or Biggie Smalls
Best: Madonna, Taylor Swift, or Pink
After what seemed like an eternity, I got the email that the theme was Aerosmith. I was supremely relieved and hastily responded that I wanted the song “Walk this Way,” which seemed offhand like the most upbeat and cheerful song from their cannon.
Walk Which Way?
About five minutes of research revealed to me Steve Tyler’s true intentions behind the song. They were based on his early experiences with a more experienced girl who taught him how best to please a woman. I’ll leave it at that - you could easily get the more explicit version if you have three minutes and an internet connection.
But there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and “throwing your feet up in the air” can be done tastefully or crudely, and that choice lay in my hands (or perhaps, feet). In choreographing, I did my best to capture the excitement, fun and euphoria of the song in a way that would draw the audience in with a wink, rather that beat them over the head with a hammer. As the musical Gypsy taught me, you always want to leave them wanting more. And the sexiest images are what we imagine comes next, not what is dumped in front of us for mindless consumption.
What to Wear
I was probably the only performer in the show not wearing heels. When I received the offer to do the show, it was requested that if we own heels (meaning 6-10 inch platform shoes specifically designed for pole dancing) we wear them in performance. I have never even attempted to pole dance in heels, because it doesn’t appeal to me. I grant that it can be sexy and beautiful and impressive as hell, but it doesn’t resonate with my pole persona - to date.
I ordered an outfit online from a pole company based in the UK. Pole outfits are pretty much like bathing suits, you require a lot of skin exposure in order to stick to the pole. Typically people wear a top and a bottom, though some dancers wear one pieces with cutouts around the sides. When I tried on my new bottoms, I quickly assessed they did not provide enough coverage and paid the $15 return shipping fee post haste. Instead, I went with a super pricey but much classier set from the well known European designer Mila Krasna who sponsors the USPDF (US Pole Dance Fitness) competitions.
A Call from Grandma
Four days before the show, I got a call from my grandmother. She said she wanted to have a heart to heart. She’d seen some pictures of the venue where the show would be taking place that she thought looked sleazy. She didn’t want her “beautiful, wholesome granddaughter” being associated with that kind of world. “I love you and want to protect you. I don’t want your reputation to be tainted,” she said. I calmly told her the other dancers who would be sharing the stage had won pole dance fitness competitions and taught high level classes at well-reputed studios in Manhattan. I was proud to perform alongside them. I also told her the show very clear states that pole dancers are NOT strippers. The website describes us as “aerial dancers with a side of crazy gymnastics and death defying tricks that will make your jaw drop.” I am thrilled to belong to that category that describes a mix of athlete, artist and performer.
It’s forty-five minutes before the show, and my mom and grandma are the first audience members to arrive at the venue. I give them both a quick hug and then run upstairs to the dressing room. On my way, I see the waitstaff setting up a table for ten people right in front of the stage. I’m fairly certain that’s where my grandma will be sitting.
I wait backstage while the host of the show does some opening comedy with the audience. After he establishes who’s from Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, etc. I hear him say “Florida? You came all the way from Florida? Where - Boca?” And then I hear my grandmother correct him - “Not Boca, Delray.” He asks, “How’d you hear about our show all the way in Delray?” And I can hear the smile in my grandmother’s voice when she says “From my granddaughter. She’s performing tonight.”
When I strut out under the red lights to the booming drumbeats of “Walk This Way,” my grandmother’s smile and front row seat are confirmed. I have a choreographed moment in my piece where I blow a kiss to the audience on the lyric “just give me a kiss,” and I aim it in her direction. A comedian later on in the show will point out how she caught my kiss and sent me back a kiss of her own! As it turns out my grandmother got plenty spotlight of her own that night and was personally invited back by the producer!
After the show, I spoke to my grandma for a little bit and asked how she enjoyed it. She said, “I enjoyed you. You are the wholesome one. You are so talented and I was so amazed at your strength, and how you were able to do all the things you did. And you didn’t need the other...shtick. I was so proud of you.”
“The other dancers, they make it more of an erotic thing, and there’s not necessarily something wrong with that, or means that they’re not talented. It’s just... the way that people treat that, and what people have respect for, and what they don’t. It’s ludicrous if you think about it, because everyone who performed was exceptionally talented and eroticism is its own art but you... you’re just beautiful and wholesome and I love you.”
She said how happy she was that I had discovered something I was passionate about, and that she would always be there to love and support me - both as a performer and a granddaughter.
Then she asked me, “Now that this pole show is over - when’s the next one?”
Schtick a Pole In It has pole dance and comedy shows every month in the East Village. To learn more about Schtick a Pole in It visit www.SchtickaPole.com.
Note from editor: Jejune Magazine supports and loves all of the pole community, from the amazing sexy dancers to the more acrobatic ones. Jejune is constantly in awe of the skills it takes and how supportive the community is! Jejune Magazine is also very supportive of sex workers. Some of our favorite pole dancers started out/still are strippers, and they constantly wow us.
We understand that some of you disagree with how this writer conveyed her story of sharing pole dancing with her grandmother. Jejune is happy to give more voices to the pole community. If you are interested in writing an article about your own experiences, please let us know, by emailing us: firstname.lastname@example.org! We would love to promote an empowering sexy pole dancing story!