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Scarlet Letter: Poling for Mental Health

Updated: Nov 28, 2022

"Life's gonna drop you down like the limbs of a tree, it sways and it swings and it bends until it makes you see" ~ Madonna, Jump

Not everyone loves Madonna but she isn't wrong with this statement. Life is messy, it's hard, it's fun, it's scary and we really have no choice but to confront it head on.

How we choose to confront the difficulties in our lives can either make positive or negative impacts. Having healthy outlets and honoring our personal needs will always be more productive than choosing actives that leave us feeling empty and sad.

I am not sharing groundbreaking scientific information in this blog about how exercise is beneficial to our overall physical and mental health; I think we are all fully aware of this fun fact. What this blog is about is how I have personally witnessed how Pole Dance can help combat feelings of sadness, assist in the gaining self confidence and foster the ability to express emotions constructively. This author is bias and believes that Pole Dance is unique and possibly a superior form of dance and exercise when it comes to mental health and over all well being.*

The stories I am about to share are non-fictional and names have been omitted to protect personal anonymity.

The Business of Misery

Sadness, depression and anxiety are feelings many of us have experienced a great deal of in recent years. Some of us are better at coping with these emotions and others flounder and wallow in the business of misery. As I stated in my introduction, I believe that Pole Dance is a superior form of dance. Others are welcome to disagree with this statement however I have personally experienced the 'Power of Pole' when I was sick from sadness.

At one point in my life I was so sad that strangers would stop me and ask if I was ok. I wasn't sleeping. I wasn't eating. I was so down and out that I was worrying myself. I went to talk to someone and it was nice to have someone listen to me, but it didn't make me feel any better. I needed something to focus on, something tangible to hold on to. I didn't know it but I needed to feel 'grounded'.

'Grounding' or 'Awareness' are words that get tossed around a lot without a ton of explanation. If you are in a state of sadness or anxiety being told to 'ground yourself' without understanding the concept is like telling a fish to breath when it isn't in water. You can try, but it doesn't work. The interesting thing about Pole Dancing, and the thing that ultimately separates Pole Dance from other forms of dance is - The Pole. I know this sounds silly and obvious, but the pole gives you something to hold on to. It is a grounding element.

Pole Dance forces you to pay attention to your body and how it is interacting with the pole. Subsequently, this 'forced attention' is a form of awareness and helps to calm the mind and ease anxiety. I can attest to this phenomenon, if I was in a state of sadness and needed to feel grounded or connected to something, holding onto that dance pole could snap me out of my sadness and force me to focus on what I was doing instead of what I was feeling.

I am not saying that dance alone saved me from my sadness but it was a big part of it. Having that dance pole there to hold on to somehow gave me something tangible to believe in. Pole Dance and the community at large was hugely grounding for me and to this day when I dance the world falls away and I am able to live in the moment without fear, anxiety or sadness.

Permission to be ... a Stripper?

Again, my opinion is that Pole Dance is superior and one of the reasons why I feel this way is because compared to other forms of dance, Pole Dance fortuitously fosters confidence. I know what you are thinking - Pole Dance is a thing that slunk out of the strip club and somehow infiltrated the fitness industry! How on earth could a thing born from Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll be good for someones self esteem?! I hear you, this is a paradoxical situation and without going too deep into the phycology of it all, I will try to explain why.

Most people (male and female) find female strippers to be salacious yet powerful creatures and this combination is appealing. For a female, wanting to be as erotic or as captivating as a stripper isn't necessarily a bad thing. In the right context, in the right company, in a safe space, embracing ones inner stripper can be transformative.

I have witnessed first hand this transformation when someone is given permission to embrace their inner stripper - or their inner sexiness. It translates into confidence. Now, let me tell you something else about giving a person permission to embrace a part of themselves they have kept hidden, it's exhilarating.

I remember a student of mine who came to me broken into the bits that her husband deemed appropriate. She was not herself, she was the person he wanted her to be. But I could see that she had hidden away some bits that her husband had chipped off of her. Small shards that she had tucked away. She longed to feel beautiful, wanted, and adored. She didn't know it but she was looking for permission to pull those shards out, clean them off and sharpen them up.

One evening, in one of her very first pole classes, we were working on pole sitting. Pole sitting requires a bit of pain tolerance and skin on pole. She nailed the move almost immediately! The other students in class clapped for her while they tried to figure out how she did it so quickly. However, she wasn't as excited as her classmates because her focus was on her "squished leg fat" that "looked gross" (her words, not mine). I came over to her pole and told her, "Look up at herself in the mirror. You are sitting on a pole while so many others are sitting on a couch. You just accomplished something others only dream about because they aren't brave enough to give it a try!" I also showed her that the pole did the same thing to my leg fat and asked her if she still thought it was gross. We had a giggle together about the situation and moved on.

Since I have given her permission to embrace her inner stripper I have had the pleasure of watching her grow into a confident woman. She now fully embraces her body, her hair, her skin. She gives zero fucks if others approve of her Pole Dancing and those little shards she kept hidden for so long, she now pulls them out and uses them whenever she fucking feels like it.

Dance of the Rebel

There are many ways for a person to express their emotions constructively. Painting, Writing, Singing and yes, Dance. Lyrical Dance for instance is a contemporary form of dance that allows the performer to tell a story through their movements. However, for a person to become a lyrical dancer they also need to study Ballet, Jazz, Modern Dance and even Acrobatics. It takes years of technical training, study, and dedication. Not saying that to become an amazing pole dancer you don't need commit to those practices as well, but you can express yourself much easier and faster with Pole Dance. It is a more accessible form of dance and to the average human who feels like they can't dance, Pole Dance is an extremely viable choice.

Pole Dance doesn't have a standard of perfection like Ballet and Lyrical. Beyond a few basic movements and positions, Pole Dance doesn't have a shit ton of rules. It really is the preferred dance of the rebel. If you have never taken a dance class in your life and have no experience with dance terminology, you can still dance with a pole and not get it wrong. Just add it to the list of reasons why I feel Pole Dance is superior.

Without a doubt, every single pole dance instructor has had a student who came to them announcing, "I can't dance!" I am not the exception. I have had several students come to me believing this was factual and I have helped every one of them prove themselves wrong. A number of years ago I vividly remember a student who walked through my doors. She was young and fit and proclaimed, "I can deadlift my own bodyweight but I have two left feet and I want to be more graceful". I thought to myself, what a brave soul she is to push herself out of her comfort zone in order to become the person she wants to be! I also knew that by the end of class she would learn that she could dance.

Sometimes, a person who is so conditioned to follow rules can have a hard time letting go and just doing what feels good to them. Traditional forms of working out are extremely linear and it took a bit of time for this student embrace movement as a form of expression. The idea that a hair flip and a smile could be a dance move was a foreign concept to her but we worked together for a few months and soon she was linking movements together, stringing them along in her own way and loosing herself in the music. She was dancing. Not only was she dancing but she was expressing herself through her movements!

Today she is an extremely accomplished and well rounded Pole Dancer. She has learned that dance can be cathartic and healing in ways that her sessions in the gym can never be. She has fully embraced dance in all its facets and continues to push herself out of her comfort zone to grow and learn. She is an inspiring human being and I am very proud of her.

"The more you stand in one place,

The more time that you waste"

This is also a quote from the same Madonna song (she inspires me what can I say), and again, she is right. Life is full of discomfort, sadness, and fear but we can't let that stop us from being the best human beings that we can be. I have personally found Pole Dance to be the thing in my life that has kept me sane. (It has also kept me fit!)

I have witnessed Pole Dance have positive affects on almost every single person who has walked through my studio doors which is why I will vehemently defend and advocate for the art until the that day I die.

If you have been positively affected, emotionally or physically by your experience with Pole Dance I invite you to make a comment and share your story with us!

*This author knows and understands that mental health and overall wellbeing for some cannot be fixed with exercise and dance alone. If you are suffering from extreme depression and body dysmorphia please seek professional help and guidance. Remember that self help = self love and you deserve to love yourself.

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