For some kinds of dance, you need Brass Ovaries
I keep learning this lesson over and over again: Enthusiasm is only one important part of executing a difficult pursuit.
I have both youthful enthusiasm and a chipper outlook. I have a can-do, let's-go attitude. I'll try almost anything new, at least once. You see, I've been raised on the tenets and philosophies of improvisation ... literally. I've been performing improv in Austin since I was 15 (about 10 years now), and in improv we learn to say, "Yes!" to new experiences and ideas. I'm also a painter and an actor, so I'm no stranger to being thrown into situations where I don't quite know what I'm doing. When The Austin Chronicle asked me to take pole dancing classes and write about them, well, of course I said, "Yes!". I had been thinking about it anyway, and I personally feel there is no time like the present to challenge oneself.
At Brass Ovaries, a fitness studio focused on pole dancing, enthusiasm will get you to the pole. Enthusiasm might even help you heave your carcass up and around the damn thing. Enthusiasm will keep your spirit strong when you feel silly, weak, and uncoordinated. But if you're like me, healthy but not "fit," thin but not muscular, you might soon realize you need something else to continue your journey to pole excellence: perseverance.
When I watched the petite redhead, Lindsey, demonstrate moves for our class of 10 women on my first day of pole dancing, it looked easy. When I approached the pole itself, I suddenly became disoriented. How do I even grip this thing? How did she move her feet again? I had sudden anxiety to be good at this, to figure it out. I felt sweaty and clumsy. My palms were wet and left smears on the shiny metal. Some women in class glided gracefully into the catlike moves, while others were like me, blinking and staring with furrowed brows at this alien dance partner, the pole.
Lindsey was a patient and adorably encouraging instructor, deftly handling the various levels of experience and ability at once. When I was actually able to pull myself up onto the pole, even ungracefully, I felt a small moment of triumph. This was Pole Level One.
I took the Pole Level One class again a few weeks later (everything is done drop-in style at Brass Ovaries), this time with Serena, a curvy brunette. She had us focus on fun over perfect technique – a girl after my own heart. The performer in me came out, and the sexy hair flicks and confident struts around the pole were something I could definitely do. I didn't feel dirty – this was all for me and no one else. Serena had a different teaching style, one paced more slowly, using an easier routine. I have a lot of trouble learning choreography quickly, so I greatly appreciated Serena's approach.
And then, once I learned proper foot placement, I was spinning in circles around the pole! I couldn't believe I was doing it! I felt triumphant, just flying around that damn thing. Pole, you are now a little bit more my bitch, I thought. Just then, the light glinted off the pole, and I realized I was still intimidated by this column of lifeless metal. But why?
This is when I had an epiphany. I had quickly come to realize the undeniable need for raw strength in this form. The women teaching these classes could lift the entire weight of their own bodies with just their arms. They used core strength to hold themselves up and flow from one position to the next. They did all of this gracefully, like fish swimming in a bowl. I'd never before truly appreciated the physique, stamina, and drive necessary for pole dancing. I began to think on my own ideas about fitness. Up until this point, I'd always equated exercise and fitness with "no pain, no gain," getting an endorphin rush, increased mental clarity, and, of course, staying fit.
But fitness could be about so much more than being trim for trim's sake, being fit so that your jeans are less tight or bikini season is more bearable. One could be a strong woman, literally. This strength could then be channeled into a performance medium, but not necessarily for the Yellow Rose. A woman could use her strength for beauty, power, and dominance of this pole, in whatever form or structure was right for her.
It was clear that the instructors I worked with had great mental strength along with their physical prowess. They were confident teachers and performers. They were also patient and extremely kind. I wondered how much of that had trickled in with the physical strength they'd been building. The mind and body go hand-in-hand, and I saw these athletic, gymnast-like pole dancers as strong, fearless women. It was inspiring, to say the least. Even though I felt flabby and uncoordinated at times in my mismatched yoga clothes, I never felt judged by the instructors.
The classes I took were also fun, for sure. Did they make me feel "sexy"? Sometimes, but I was never really concerned with that. I was sore for days after each class, so I knew I was getting a good workout. I took the Twerk Fit, Sexy Flow, and Aerial Hoop classes for some supplemental education. Once again, I found myself marveling at the amount of raw strength required to execute these forms. Even the ecstatically fun booty-shaking in the twerk class had an element of impressive finesse. Look up "twerk" on Google or YouTube if you're curious what I mean. Oh yeah, that stuff, the booty-stuff, is not safe for work. Not recommended for watching around kids, your parents, or while sitting alone at Bennu. It is recommended to try on a fun night dancing with friends, because you definitely don't need a pole to twerk it to your heart's content.
Surprisingly, I was especially fond of the Aerial Hoop 101 class I took with Sarah, which was all about dancing/posing on the lyra, a metal hoop extending from the ceiling. It was a smaller class with a limit of four students to one teacher. The personal attention was refreshingly helpful, and though I still struggled with my own strength, I left the class with a strange sense of piqued curiosity. For me, if the pole was as American as fresh apple pie and baseball, then the lyra was assuredly European, like crisp stroopwafels and an avant-garde black-light puppet show. I found the hoop temptingly exotic and whimsical at the same time.
It's not all sunshine and roses at Brass Ovaries, though. I took a Sexy Flow class that was taught by an instructor who was ill-prepared and kept forgetting the routine she was teaching. This seemed particularly egregious to me since the classes are a whopping $35 for an hour of instruction. Often, I had to share a pole with another student, which meant some down time that broke my concentration and momentum. This was all at their small studio on South Congress, but they have since moved to a larger studio at 3111 Manor, in East Austin. As far as the price goes, if you spring for a Group Class Membership, you can take classes for as low as $8 a class, or even less if you go for the Unlimited tier at $150 a month. If you try it out and discover the pole is your new obsession, Brass Ovaries could be your perfect temple.
Is Brass Ovaries my perfect temple? It might be too soon to tell. I honestly don't know if I have the time to commit to what I see as an addictive hobby. To do it right, I would want to attend classes several times a week. I met some students who did just that and were absolutely thrilled with their steady and noticeable results. If I have any takeaways from my experience, it would be this: I want to be strong in my body. I want the kind of control and might that comes from focused physical training and practice. I want to marry my enthusiasm with perseverance and see where I could take myself. When I started the classes, I knew I was relatively fearless, willing to take risks, and excited to do something new. What I didn't realize was how much I truly enjoyed pushing myself to my absolute limit.
I don't have a lot of free time, but boy, that lyra keeps calling my name ... Who needs sleep when they could be spinning in the air on a silver hoop?