I started my affair with pole while I was an exchange student in Philadelphia. It was born out of necessity: to find girls.
Let me explain. Back in the Philippines, I never had any problems meeting and befriending many female friends. In Philly, it was different. Being in business school, the m-to-f ratio was slightly skewed at 1:3, and further, the international exchange female students who do want to go out and socialize are close to none.
(at the level I’m used to, at least.)
Conversations would go like this:
Me: Hey want to go out tonight? The Italians want to check out this beer garden. Looked interesting.
Female friend: Sounds great! But maybe I’ll stay in and study. If I can’t make it, how about we go to church together instead in the morning?
Not that I’m complaining, although the thought that my friend would ever find ‘beer garden’ and ‘church’ as tantamount is rather quirky.
Desperate for some like-minded she-friends, I binge-signed up myself for activities where I believe would give me ample opportunity to meet other women: yoga, salsa, and now, pole dancing.
When I signed up for pole classes, I had this fantasy in my head that I would emerge as a sexy siren after a class or two.
I was so wrong.
The first classes were painfully awkward, funny, weird, and so totally un-sexy. I was told to turn and bend in ways that didn’t seem natural to me. After the first few classes, I couldn’t walk right.
There was nothing sexy or natural about hanging in a pole upside down. I felt more like a skewered meat than a sultry seducer.
I initially thought that pole dancers wear skimpy clothes to look hot, but the sports bra and boy shorts serve a more functional purpose: skin exposure is required for friction; to grip the pole. Metal needs exposed skin in the legs, arms, thighs and stomach so you don’t skid!
That was not the worst of it. No one told you about the infamous “pole burns.” The inflammation is caused by frequent contact with the metal pole, causing frequent friction tears on the skin.
My then flawless legs now had bruises, burns and sores in odd places. Such were the severity that I couldn’t wear shorts anymore, or people would ask me in a pitiful voice, “ARE YOU OKAY?”, mistaking me for some victim of domestic abuse.
Your skin does toughen with time, and you later on get accustomed to the pain. There was nothing more satisfying when you finally pull off a trick that you could not fathom you could ever do a few classes ago. Pole is, bar none, the hardest strenous activity I have tried: a combination of dance, yoga, gymnastics and ballet — all of which are not easy fitness activities on their own.
Even though pole has been growing in popularity the past few years — in fact, some have been pushing pole fitness to become an Olympic sport — there will always be stigma attached to the sport. We can give that credit to the shady bars with poles and dancing women who don’t know what to do with those poles. Yup, there will still be folks who puerilely refer it as “stripper’s class.”
This is probably why the pole dancing community is very close and tight-knit. Pole baes who fight those negative stereotypes; pole gals who would support and cheer on each other for the passion of the vertical bar. The pole tribe certainly helped me cope emotionally.
When I went back to the Philippines, I was thrilled to have found the pole community to be thriving in Manila (Beast House in Ortigas) and steadily growing in Cebu, thanks to Phil (Pole Sphinx in IT Park).
There’s just something so empowering about this athletic form, a unique expression of beauty and strength.
And I wish more people would know more about that side of this form.
My weekly column ‘Postcard Travels’ featuring travel stories is published every Sunday at Sunstar Weekend. You can read some of the published articles here: