Feldenkrais®: Bats, Butterflies, and the Middle-Aged Pole Dancer

After 6 months of pole dancing, I am now officially a Level 3 Pole dancer. Not bad for a woman who decided to start pole dancing to celebrate her 58th birthday. At the rate I’m going, I may actually hit the professional level by the time I turn 60. There probably isn’t much of a demand for  60-year-old pole dancers, but it’s more about the journey than the end result.

Once I graduated from Level 2, I got the OK to start taking Level 3 classes. I was ready to step up to the plate (or the pole) and start the next chapter in my pole dancing pursuit, but I was also really nervous. Especially since Level 3 is all about inversions. You know, where you hang upside down on the pole. I guess that explains my nerves.

I walked into my first Level 3 class with a belly full of butterflies, and tried to look casual as well as inconspicuous. Our first move was called “The Butterfly,” which I thought was appropriate, considering how many were flying around my stomach at the time.  Our instructor demonstrated it for us. It sure looked pretty when she did it, and many of my fellow dancers took to their poles to hang upside down, beautifully extending their legs and letting go with their hands to change the positions of their arms. It all looked so graceful. And terrifying.

It took awhile, but I  finally mustered up enough courage to grab a pole and swing my legs in the air. I failed miserably, and I hoped no one was watching. I tried again, with no more luck than the first time. But, when I tried for the third time, I noticed that I held my breath before I kicked my legs in the air. Hmmm, interesting. I remembered the Feldenkrais® lesson I taught the day before. I softened my chest, followed the rhythm of my breathing, and viola! My legs effortlessly floated into the air and up to the pole. Well, that wasn’t so hard after all.

However, once I was there, I realized I didn’t have a plan for getting back down. My nervous system kicked into survival mode. I wrapped my arms and legs as tightly as I could around the pole and hung on for dear life. I looked more like a bat than a butterfly. It wasn’t very pretty and certainly wasn’t very dignified. One of the other dancers tried to coach me into the butterfly, but I wasn’t having anything to do with it, content to cling upside down like a bat in the middle of the day.

I was afraid they were going to have to pry me off of the pole with a crow bar, or maybe even have to call 911 to get me down. Instead, I felt my teacher gently place her hand on my back, right in the center of my spine. Ahhhh, I forgot I had a spine! All of a sudden, hundreds of Feldenkrais® lessons began talking to my nervous system, reminding me of the incredible vocabulary of movement I have developed over the past few years.

In that one instant I found my strength, grace, and confidence. I sighed deeply, released my death grip on the pole and discovered that I could move easily in my new-found upside down self. Without even thinking about it, I extended my legs, pointed my toes and arched my back.

But I wasn’t done yet. I let go of my top hand, reached lower on the pole and turned my self completely upside down. Inversion complete! I extended my spine a bit more, lengthened my legs even further, and landed gently on my feet. Feldenkrais®….making the impossible possible, the possible easy, and the easy effortless. Even for terrified middle-aged pole dancers. You just have to try it to believe it!