Written by Kelly Maglia
Ok, perhaps that’s a bit much. I suppose I’m more accurately called plump, and I’m not exactly an octogenarian. But in our youth and body-obsessed culture, it’s hard not to feel like a whale or an over-the-hill caboose at 30, let alone 40.
And yet, one night several years ago, at a club in Hollywood called Jumbo’s Clown Room where women hang from poles nightly but do not strip, my life was transformed. As far as I was concerned, this was a pantheon of goddesses. These women seemed to defy gravity in a way I’d never seen. They would hold poses that required the strength of a brute, all the while smiling like a siren. It was addiction at first sight – a scratch for an ancient itch – a longing to be what women really are: as powerful as we are beautiful.
So, I decided to take my old and pleasantly plump ass to a pole dance studio. I mean, REALLY? At the time, I was winded by a walk up the stairs, so what did I think I was going to accomplish? Pull-ups? Are you kidding? I was still haunted by those humiliating jr. high school fitness tests where the teacher would help me into a static hold above the bar, which had my arms quivering within seconds. And while I’d excelled at ballet and some acrobatics as a young adult, by the time of my pole induction, I was no athlete. Perhaps I was not a whale, but I was at least a walrus on the rocks – a marine mammal out of water, and one with the potential for great movement given the right environment.
And yet one fateful day, I found myself on a pole. And then I FOUND myself.
Initially, I was lured in by the sensuality. At the time, the few existing pole studios in Los Angeles focused their efforts on giving you a sexy workout. And I loved this. It was the perfect antidote to my otherwise very “masculine” life of running a successful costume company
And so, inch by inch, I learned to climb a 12-foot piece of chrome. Which was a struggle. Remember those pull-ups I couldn’t do? Big problem. And yet, I was resolute. I WOULD do this, no matter what. Something in me stirred.
The Me that could do pull-ups. The Me that could hold my bodyweight upside down on a pole. The Me I had a half-suspicion I was meant to be.
Because no one at the various studios where I trained judged me – and because no one said, “You’re too old, too fat, and you don’t have the right arms or legs or feet” (like they say in ballet) – I learned that intending to do something and actually DOING it were two compatible dreams. No one said I couldn’t, so I did. I learned to lift my pleasantly plump body with ease. I learned to climb with the agility of a monkey. And I learned to hold my body out to the side of the pole so I looked like a flag.
When I needed more of a challenge, I turned to the ancient art of “Chinese” pole – which has traditionally been a male-dominated circus art form – to increase my upper body strength even more. Training with the boys certainly upped my game – because they don’t really take shit. They expected me to be one of them. And so I was.
And one day, when I was flipping around the pole with ease, I was ready for more. Enter contortion training.
I signed up for contortion class at Cirque School in Los Angeles and felt that instant addiction once again – even as the pain of reaching extreme positions gave me a modern understanding of medieval torture practices! When you first begin contortion training, it can feel like you’re being pulled limb from limb. And yet, there is a “contortion high” – much like the “runner’s high” – that accompanies such extreme training, and it is addictive.
But I’ve learned that the true addiction is to the real Me. The Me who makes a decision, and then weeks, months, or years later, sees the tangible results. The extremity of the exercise only makes this process more delicious. You want me to hang sideways from a pole with my feet touching my head? Ok! Shall I grab my ankles in a backbend? You got it! The ridiculousness of the request only builds a more extreme belief that ANYTHING is possible with enough desire. Because at the end of the day, you can prove anything to yourself by just doing the damn thing. It’s hard to argue with a track record. And the real joy is the delicious journey of proving to yourself, day by day, that you’re up to it, that ridiculous things happen, and that you’re never too old or pleasantly plump to try.
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