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.
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
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.