Friday, June 1, 2018

Standing Up(side Down) for Myself

K D Grace

I took up pole dance last June. Gawd no! It’s not erotic. Hell yes! It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
So today I’m laying aside the self-deprecating part of me, the hyper-critical part of me, the part too shy to blow my own horn because, yes, I am very proud of my accomplishments. Later this month, I’ll be doing my first photo shoot. Mostly it’s a way of gaging my progress, but it’s also a way of overcoming my fears and claiming my right to stand, spin, and invert along side a lot of other strong women who will be doing the same. It’s a position I’ve worked hard to earn. It isn’t just the physical challenge of the sport itself, which is a brutal one, but it’s the way that raw effort exposes the rest of me to myself that has taken that challenge to the next level. 

I had the advantage of going in to beginning pole class stronger than most, in spite of being twice as old as a lot of the women there. I had the disadvantage of my own doubts and fears – the ones that I brought along with me and the ones that I uncovered through the journey from the very first bruising lesson to where I am now. It didn’t take me long to realize, however, that every woman in the class had her own share of doubts and fears. I was in good company.

I got fit in the first place because I found being physically active helps me deal with depression – some of which was brought on by the joys of menopause and some of which is just because I am my mother’s daughter. Being active, challenging myself physically, not only helps me keep on top of the mood swings, but it’s a wonderful catalyst for creativity. Some of my best stories have been inspired during hard workouts or very long walks. 

Lots of people are physically active without doing something crazy insane like taking up pole at “a certain age.” And believe me, my hat’s off to anyone who makes an effort to eat well and stay fit. It’s not easy. But for me, it was a natural progression. I started by seeing a personal trainer twice a week at the gym because I knew if I paid for it, I’d go – a sort of forced commitment, if you will. At the time I was a basket case coming off writing four novels in one year and being broadsided by menopause at the same time. I wasn’t fit for human company. I wasn’t fit for my own company. 

After a couple of weeks, I was no longer working out because I had to; I was doing it because I wanted to. I started going to the gym more often than my twice-weekly PT. I started asking my trainer if we could try new things, harder things. Then one fine day I discovered kettle bells, and I was in love. By that time I was always looking a for new challenge, not because I’m an adrenalin junkie, but because I was astounded by how resilient my body was and by all of the amazing things I could do with the proper training – even at “a certain age.”

The wild, sometimes painful, journey on which I’ve take my body these past several years has been a stripping away, a laying bare of the woman hiding behind her fears and doubts. The beginning of that journey was just to keep from falling apart. Then I began pushing myself because I enjoyed the challenge. Finally, I lost 35 pounds in a healthy way and have kept the weight off two and a half years and counting. That I did because it was time, and because I knew my body would function better without weight I didn’t need. 

As I said, I am my mother’s daughter, and I inherited her fear-based personality -- something I am more aware of as I grow older. Everything I do has been an effort to push through being terrified, and few things have been more frightening than pole. Pole took that stripping away to the next level. As much as the physical challenge -- which has been staggering as well as exhilarating -- pole has been about finding the woman huddled in the corner and, sometimes coaxing, sometimes cajoling, her to come out and play, to stand up, throw her shoulders back and celebrate herself.

As a writer, I’m often astounded at how the fictional worlds I create for my readers reflect my inner landscape. I never plan it that way, but with the symbiosis of mind and body, and the creativity that results, I’m not really surprised either. Isn’t writing, in some quixotic way, the author’s unconscious effort to heal herself or to possibly expose herself?

Exposing myself. Yes, pole has been about exposing myself in so many ways. It has definitely uncovered my neuroses. Most of the time I don’t think about being twenty to thirty years older than almost everyone else in the studio. I know I’m fit, I know I am holding my own, even doing fairly well. Most of the time I’m just focused on meeting the challenge of the day. But what to wear has brought my age neurosis back to me with a vengeance. Skin contact with the pole is necessary to perform some of the more difficult moves. Wearing less and less clothing to compensate for more and more complex moves has been, and still is, one of my biggest challenges. Most of us start beginning pole in our sweats and tee shirts. But if we stick with it, the process becomes a slow, and sometimes reluctant, strip tease. As we learn and improve, we move to leggings, then to shorts, then to racer back tops we can tuck into our sports bras when we need belly for grip. Then finally the day dawns when we graduate to pole shorts and tops, with not much more coverage than a bikini, and we just get on with it. But here’s me in all my vanity, wanting to look good and fearing being judged for not looking twenty no matter how good I look. 

And yet, all that fear and insecurity goes out the window when I approach the pole, when I find myself inverted and working my way into moves that, if I’d seen photos of a year ago, I’d have never imagined I could do. I am an equal among equals, a student learning with other students, all of us with our own challenges to meet.

Owning my age is one of the benefits from my pole training. (Still a work in progress, I have to admit) I’ve made an amazing discovery. There is no downhill slide once you pass that “certain age” and find yourself looking sixty smack dab in the eyeballs. There is, however, a paradigm shift – or can be if I’m willing to open myself to the possibilities. I was much more fearless when I was younger, back before I had been battered about by the world a few times. But the older I get, the more I fear. That seems to be a common side affect of getting older. 

The paradigm shift comes when I’m bold enough to say, “fuck it, I’m just going for it!” Whatever ‘it’ is. There’s another kind of fearlessness that happens as I approach sixty. I’ve battled my internal version of ageism long enough to know that most of what I fear is never going to happen, and it’s going to be a long boring journey to the grave if I let those fears about being “of a certain age” control me.

The push, the challenge, becomes to live in the moment, to live urgently and boldly, to remind myself when doubt rears its ugly head that age is just a number. It is NOT who I am. I’ve been on this fitness journey long enough to realize that the bumps and bruises and aches and pains as well as the challenges met and the triumphs celebrated are just an outward manifestation of the deeper journey going on inside me. The slow strip tease, the exposure of skin – bruised and abraded, and not as supple as it once was, goes so much deeper than muscle and bone. It becomes the laying bare, the exposing, of the inner wounds and bruises, the deep-seated fears that I’ve kept hidden away. It is a viewing of myself more clearly, a loving of who I am and what I’m becoming more completely. It is
learning to be more gentle with myself even as I push myself harder than I ever have before. I am still filled with doubts, still afraid of the challenges ahead of me, I still want to run away and hide underneath my duvet. But I’ve fought the battle long enough to have some success at pushing through the fears, and success breeds more success — something worth reminding myself of every day.

The wonderful surprise of it all is that I’m stronger, fitter, more sure of myself now than I ever was in my twenties. And the even bigger surprise is that I keep getting more so. My skill improves with my strength and stamina, and with those my confidence and my view of myself as a creative force and of the world as a place full of possibilities. The paradigm shift is a reminder that I get to choose. I get to embrace this journey and move forward in spite of my fears, because overcoming those fears, one step at a time, one challenge at a time, is truly what it means to be fearless.



  1. What a wonderful, affirmative post! I envy you this experience. (And I am hugely impressed!)

    Your comments about becoming more fearful as you get older really resonate with me. I never worried about physical danger, damage or disease. Now, I'm terrified of my own clumsiness, scared that I will trip and fall (again), break another bone, maybe one that's more critical than my femur, and be back in a wheelchair.

    I really applaud your courage.

    1. Thank you, Lisabet. It's been quite a journey, and there has been a lot of fear, which has been as much of the challenge as learning the techniques. I can understand your fear. I am still very fearful of my knees, after they've both had surgery.

  2. I'm looking forward to someday not having to work multiple jobs, so I can take up learning new things. My exercise of choice is Jazzercise, since I love to dance and the husband doesn't. So the only time I get to dance is in aerobics classes. It's a lot more expensive than getting a gym membership, but not boring, like walking on a treadmill. In fact, in one of the recent Mensa journals, a study was summarized in which older folks were given a choice of exercises, and their brain use and growth was studied before and after. The ones who chose to dance improved the most; the study scientists hypothesized that it was because dancing forces your brain to learn new movements and sequences, as your body is learning the steps. Win-win for all!

    My niece is getting married this year, and my daughter is the maid of honor. They're heading down to Nashville (where else?) for the bachelorette party, a huge waste of money, if you ask me. But anyway, one of the events they've signed up for is a class on pole dancing. I'm sure that in one class, they won't learn that much, but it should be fun.

    Also, I have a comic on my fridge that shows 2 men sitting in a club at a table, and one is saying to the other, "I thought we were going to see some pole dancing." On the stage is a Polish man in full Polish traditional costume, dancing.I'm half-Polish and husband is 100% Polish. Nothing like a good ethnic pun! ;-D

    1. Thanks for the comment, Fiona. I love dance too, though I've always been more strong than graceful, so pole sort of works on both counts. Never tried Jazzercise, but I've heard good things about it, and think it's way more important to KEEP working out than it is to be a member of a gym. Boredom is the kiss of death for a fitness regimen. LOL! I LOVE your Pole dancing experience. :-)

  3. KD, those photos are amazing. I have a local friend who is also learning pole-dancing (& is much younger than I), and she posts pics like that on Facebook. Even for a 30-something woman, the moves look challenging. You look as if you are defying gravity. Your post is inspiring.

    1. Thank you Jean Roberta. It sort of feels as though we are defying gravity when we are finally able to do some of the moves. It's an amazing feeling. Thanks for the lovely comment.


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