The moment I walk into the Girls Room, I feel out of place.
The studio's wide, mirrored space is punctuated by gleaming silver poles that extend from floor to ceiling, and the purple walls are festooned with pink feather boas and bright, sequined leotards.
It's all so girly, and I've always resisted being girly. When my mother tried to dress me in frilly dresses, I threw a tantrum. If ever I happened to be reading—the horror!—something along the lines of Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret., I'd disguise the cover. Among my friends growing up in New Mexico, baggy jeans, soccer and skiing with the guys were in. Heels were out. Way out. It wasn't that I didn't want to be feminine, but more important was being smart and analytical, athletic and cool, commanding and capable enough to be taken seriously. That meant avoiding anything that smacked of sequins, lace or the color pink.
So on this October evening at the Girls Room, a women's dance studio that opened in January on Lower Greenville, I try to muster some confidence for my first pole-dancing class. As I tuck my purse into a cubby in the back of the room, a tall woman in short shorts and a pert ponytail glances at my long black yoga pants with a troubled look. "Oh," she says. "You have to wear shorts."
Right. Something about sliding around a pole with my bare legs. Painfully aware of my thighs and feeling like the kid who has to make do with clothes from the lost and found, I awkwardly roll my pants above the knee and find a pole in the back row.
The instructor, a spunky dancer and actress named Toy Laster, strides to the front of the room. She begins by showing us how to hold onto the pole while bending over, flat-backed, to stretch our hamstrings. I come face to face with my feet and wince. Hello, Huck Finn. While my classmates' toes are perfectly pedicured, the chipped red polish on mine makes it look like I've been kicking rocks. Both feet are scabbed with bites I'd picked up from swarming fire ants on a trip to the country to pet horses, walk barefoot and pretend I was back home in the Rockies. Very hot.
Laster addresses the 10 of us with an impish grin. "'You're gonna get a newfound appreciation for exotic dancers!" she says.
What an understatement. I try the first "trick," which is called The Swing and involves kicking your leg out in front of the pole, hooking the metal in the crook of your knee, and then grabbing on with both hands, hoisting yourself off the ground and swinging around in a full circle. My arm muscles strain to sustain what's basically a horizontal pull-up, and I make it about three-quarters of the way around before the pain in my arms peaks. I slide down the pole and into a heap on the dance floor.
Peeling myself off the ground, I survey the other students. They're hair stylists, event planners and executive assistants who are tired of the same old gym routine; singles looking for self-confidence or some moves to show a new boyfriend; and wives and mothers who—between chasing toddlers and laundering spit-up-laden clothing—can't recall the last time they felt the least bit sexy.
Several have come for the first time and are also struggling, giggling self-consciously as they tackle The Swing. Then there's the tall girl dressed in pink up front. She has big eyes and blond, waist-length hair. She moves with such poise that I imagine she must have emerged from the womb swinging around a pole and wearing a G-string. Next to me, a brunette with long, curly hair and perfectly toned legs is able to make it two full times around the pole without stopping. I feel like an elephant attempting to scale a chain-link fence. My second try, I make it half-way round and flop to the ground like a bass on the bottom of a boat, whacking my left shin hard.
"Come up with your booty!" Laster shouts, her voice warm and encouraging as she demonstrates how to rise to standing slowly, dragging your backside along the pole. "That's right! Sexy!"
I have better luck with The Warrior. The stance, swinging around with one bent leg held aloft behind you, is at least slightly similar to sports with which I'm familiar—skiing, rock climbing, tennis. OK, maybe I can do this.
But the next move is dizzyingly complicated—we go from facing the pole to swinging around it backward and finish on the ground straddling the thing. In the end I'm the only one still standing, confused, and Laster tells me to get down on the ground. On our stomachs now, we shift our weight onto our hands and arch our backs.