Beating the Pole

Original Story at Style Weekly

December 5, 2007

Five days, one routine: One writer’s journey for the pole-dancing world record.
By Mary Burruss

Wednesday, Nov. 28, 3:15 p.m:

I get a message to call an editor at Style about a pole dancing assignment. “Your name came up,” Scott Bass, the news editor, informs me. My name came up? What does that mean? Should I be flattered or call my lawyer? Society does not provide a good outlet for nice WASPy girls to be involved in pole dancing – at least not yet.

“What exactly do you mean?” I probe. Poor Scott is about to enter a minefield of a conversation, akin to a wife asking her husband if she looks fat in something. “You are so athletic and an Art Cheerleader and all, we just thought you would be the right person to do an inside story,” Scott says. Journalistically speaking, I was the right person.

So this is how I got involved in the attempt to set the Guinness World Record for the Most Pole Dancers Simultaneously Doing the Same Dance Around the World (it was also a charity benefit for the March of Dimes). The current record is 206 dancers. I am all at once confused, challenged, surprised, flattered, panicked, potentially insulted and thrilled. I am as up for some self-discovery as the next person, but I am struck with fear as visions of platform Barbie shoes and skimpy outfits pop into my head. I am, after all, not in perfect shape. I mean I have had two children.

I contact Kate Austin, owner and dance instructor at Studio X, an exotic-dance training studio and host of the Guinness event in Richmond. She explains the event is being organized by English pole-dancing exercise advocate K.T. Coates in an attempt to give her “athletic art form” some legitimacy, not to mention the promotional benefits of being in “Guinness World Records.” This event will also raise money for the March of Dimes. Kate invites me to Studio X for a pole-dancing tutorial. “What should I wear?” I ask timidly. Kate’s response of “athletic shorts and a workout top” bring a sense of relief.

7:55 p.m.

Driving to Studio X, I try to reconcile the sexual implications of pole dancing with the obvious physical and athletic elements. When I arrive at the studio, it looks like any other dance studio: polished wood floors and mirrored walls, only this one has three brass firemen poles at one end. A fourth pole will be added for Sunday’s event. Four dancers from each studio taking part in the event must follow the same routine choreographed by Coates.

Kate shows me the training film. I’m relieved to see how very basic it is. My confidence increases. Maybe I won’t make such a fool out of myself. But I soon discover the routine is deceptively simple. Kate, who is petite, quite pretty and totally buff, demonstrates “stripper posture.” All forms of dance have a certain posture, but this one goes against everything I have ever been taught. Shoulders back, chest out, spine convex to accentuate the gluteus maximus, which goes out and back. All this in impossible 6-inch-high pumps? Happily for me, the shoes are nixed for the world record attempt. We will be performing barefoot.

The entire choreography lasts for about 30 seconds and involves quite a bit of spinning. I try repeating it for five minutes, which leaves me woozy and a little dizzy. Am I merely feeling the effects of the half glass of red wine I had to relax beforehand? Doubt creeps into my head. Will I be able to do this dance for 10 minutes on Sunday without barfing? I go home slightly panicked.

Thursday, Nov. 29, 8:30 p.m

I decide to practice the pole dance routine in an attempt to build up some sort of immunity to dizziness. Kate suggests spotting a wall like ballet dancers do (twirling while focusing on a spot on the wall reduces dizziness). In my kitchen I go through the routine several times, at first taking a break between spins. Then I decide to dance through it for five minutes straight. I make it, but feel nauseated after I stop. The key, I think, is not to stop.

Friday, Nov. 30, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.:

I tell a few friends I will be participating in this pole-dancing world record. Mixed reactions. My friend Rebecca congratulates me and refers to me as a “sex kitten.” My friend Alex is surprised yet excited. I find out my husband has been bragging to his buddies that his wife is “taking pole-dancing lessons.” I imagine them thinking about tucking bills into my G-string in some dark smoky club. Ick!

My aching muscles indicate that pole dancing, even this boiled-down routine, is truly a workout. I practice yoga, as well as cycling, rudimentary cheerleading and some weight training, so I am in decent shape. But today I have sore muscles that I didn’t know existed–particularly my abdominals.

Saturday, Dec. 1, 2:23 p.m.

I call Kate to confirm details of tomorrow’s event. I compliment her on her photo on the Studio X Web site. It turns out that she too is in her 40s. “Six weeks of pole dance lessons will do the same for you,” she informs me. I hang up the phone and contemplate my stomach and thighs.

7:35 p.m.

I test out dancing the routine for 10 minutes in my kitchen sans pole. I decide it’s easier to do with the pole.

Sunday, Dec. 2, 9:42 a.m.

Sweaty palms signal the beginning of nervousness as I drive to the studio. The other dancers and I are planning to practice before the actual world record attempt. I meet Laura and Cat, my pole-dancing partners (Kate will round out the quartet for the actual event), and Amy, who is recording the dance for Guinness documentation purposes. All three of them are professionals with regular jobs. “I tried working out in a gym and step aerobics, but I would quit after a few months,” Amy says. “I have been taking lessons here for seven months. It is the only thing that has held my interest.” Cat says she has enjoyed pole dancing so much she has taken every class at Studio X.

10:18 a.m.

Everyone is so nice and supportive that I quickly stop being nervous. We practice a little. We have to start exactly at 11 a.m., which is 4 p.m. in England. We have to be timed and documented. The required witnesses come at the last minute. The countdown begins: one minute 30 seconds. Soon all four of us are dancing together like obstructed ballet dancers. After a couple of rounds we synchronize. Fake turn, back bend, walk around, fireman’s turn. Someone turns up the music and we start to get into it. I get dizzy only on the last turn, but I somehow make it without barfing. A new record is set. S

According to organizer K.T. Coates, the event to establish the simultaneous pole-dancing world record will be broadcast on YouTube after all efforts have been coordinated, documented and verified by the Guinness team.