When Santa Gives You Pole Dancing Lessons…

My mother gave me pole dancing classes and this awesome card for Christmas. My mom is cooler than your mom.
My mother gave me pole dancing classes and this awesome card for Christmas. My mom is cooler than your mom.

“Make it bounce!”

There are a few things I’m used to hearing in a fitness group class. Bounce like you’re riding your favorite man is not necessarily one of them. In comparison, my spin instructor Dave tells me not to fear my best… now crank up that resistance!

Lasha, my pole dance class instructor, told me to slap my ass.

It was a Thursday night at fencing when I casually mentioned that I wanted to take pole dancing classes. My friend Madge was in ear shot.

“I’ve been taking classes at S-Factor,” she chirped. “For 10 years. I’ll take you one day and then when you’re hooked, we’ll have to get you a ‘naughty drawer’!”

It’s amazing what you’ll learn about your friends when you think you know everything.

If you’ve been a long-time reader, or if you’re a real-life friend, then you know my mother and you know she’s not your typical buttoned-up, “now, Kathleen, behave yourself,” kind of mother. On my 21st birthday, she bought me my first legal Gray Goose Cosmopolitan (and my second legal Gray Goose Cosmopolitan). Her recent relationship advice sounds like this: don’t go to his place on the 3rd date… show some restraint! Be a Lady. Wait till your 4th…and then make it worth it.

And for Christmas, she bought me pole dancing classes.

Madge was my designated chaperon, and after a flurry of email exchanges, we had settled on a Sunday afternoon.

I rode down to Chelsea, a neighborhood in the city I had watched transition over the years from shady, to “Gay town,” to “familyville,” to home of the High Line and tourist destination. Ambling down 23rd street, with the S-Factor address in my hand, I wasn’t sure what to look for. I’d made my way down this stretch of block before, but couldn’t recall ever seeing what looked like a pole dancing studio. The address brought me to a banal building entrance, sandwiched between a cupcake shop (YUM!) and a bodega/smoke shop. There was no real directory inside the lobby. Was I lost? Could this be any sketchier? This didn’t scream fitness. It screamed house of ill repute.

A pair of other twenty something with long straightened blonde hair and equally confused expressions slipped into the lobby.

“S-Factor-bound?” I asked.

“Yeap!” they replied, and together we figured out what floor and made our way to the elevator and up to the 3rd floor.

The minute the doors parted, a chorus of happy “hellos!” greeted us… along with a mannequin dressed in a g-string with neon pink fringe and light-up, 5-in stilettos.

This probably wasn’t what I was expecting but it was going to be awesome.

I walked into Studio B with Madge as my guide. It was like no other fitness studio I’d been in — there were no mirrors and the only lighting was a single dim spot light in the center of the room and a handful of lamps, draped with red cloths a la your stereotypical bordello. Three poles extended from ceiling to floor and in each corner was a large leather “lap dance” chair.

Clearly, more than my core was going to get a workout.

The class was one of the most liberating and physically challenging 90 minutes I’ve ever been through. Liberating, not because I was free to “feel my curves” or swirl my hips or “do whatever feels good,” but rather, because I had to trust my body to be strong enough to keep me in the air. Like most women, I have a difficult relationship with my body. There’s nothing more terrifying than wearing a bikini in public or taking off my shirt for the first time with Mr. New. But in the low light, with no glass to reflect back on me, and with an acrobatic task at hand, I had to let go of fears of judgement, of self-consciousness, and throw my feet off the floor, and twirl like the pretty, pretty (seductive) princess I wanted to be when I was 5.

In the lighting, I looked this hot and there was no one and no mirror to tell me otherwise.
In the lighting, I looked this hot and there was no one and no mirror to tell me otherwise.

I looked as hot as Demi Moore in “Striptease,” and there was no person or mirror to tell me otherwise.

The next morning, I ached all over, with bruises on my shins the size of bananas, self-inflicted from overly-aggressive approaches to the pole. Few workouts these days inflict any lingering pain. I was sold.

There are reasons to be skeptical about pole dancing your way to fitness. It’s not for everyone, even though I think every woman should try it at least once. Pole dancing is a “feminine movement” movement, not a feminist movement, per say. Taking to the pole is not about upended any power structure between the gaze and the subject of the gaze. There are no men allowed and no one is going to be stuffing dollar bills in my g-string in the near or distant future (even if the extra disposable income would be welcome… #alternativejobskillz.)  It’s not about learning tricks you can bring home to the boudoir, or even about sculpting better abs — though, those are absolutely excellent perks that makes yoga seem soooo 2005.

It’s about not fearing your best, most beautiful, strongest self. I can’t imagine a better post-workout feeling than that. Now, make it bounce!

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Learning to Run

People often refer to me as “The Redhead,” but in pre-school, I was a blonde. The kind of golden-streaked blonde you’d associate with a child who spent her free afternoons outside frolicking in the sunshine. I wasn’t that kind of blonde.  No, my toddler-age blonde locks were either simply explained by “it’s her first head of hair,” or a recessive Aryan gene that wouldn’t show itself again until my teen years when I developed the kind of tree-trunk like legs I can only associate with those German Recklings  who, I’m sure, also had names like Heidi and Gertrude.

No one gave me this lesson
No one gave me this lesson

I was just never one of those kids who got a thrill out of running around outside.

The pre-school I attended had a playground nestled on the base of a huge, steep hill. Sitting in the sandbox, the grassy slope looked like it stretched straight up to the sky. When I go back now, I think I need a climbing harness to scale it. When my classmates and I were 4, all we needed was our lunchtime chocolate milk. We’d joyfully trek to the top, our teachers huffing and puffing behind. I realize now that they only allowed us to do this because recess was immediately followed by nap time and what better way to tire children out than let them climb up Mt. Everest, without oxygen. Once at the summit, we’d let loose and run, at full speed back to the bottom.

It only took one misplaced step and a badly grass-burned knee for me to realize this was a terrible way to have fun.

Long and short of it, running didn’t suit my build. I was bottom heavy and plump. Plus it caused injuries. But my tumble and the subsequent gauze bandage flicked on a light switch. Why run down the hill when you can roll down a hill?

As a rotund child, trying to power my legs in coordinated circular motions at high-speed seemed inefficient. Rolling, on the other hand, was just a simple case of transferring my weight from one side of my body to the other, in the same direction. Something I did on a regular basis, like when I was getting out of bed. Gravity would take care of the rest. All I had to do was steer away from the occasional rock and keep my eyes closed.

This must have been how the cavemen discovered the wheel: they pushed the fat kid down the hill and watched him roll.

The truth was I hated running. Relay races were the bane of my existence. The only reason I batted clean-up in Little League was that I had learned that if I hit a homerun, I wouldn’t need to outrun a throw to first. In fact, if I hit a homerun, I wouldn’t have to run the bases at all – I could quickly stroll around them. I hit a lot of homeruns. I also walked a lot. I guess you could say my distaste for running helped me develop a “good-eye.”

Running suicides really was suicide for me, and the Presidential Fitness Test’s Mile Run usually put me under for a week — even if I was relatively sporty.

But then came life as a Division 1 Collegiate Athlete.

In college, I seemed to find my legs as a runner. I’d wake up and hit Riverside Park before class. I wasn’t fast, but I had endurance. It was part of my cross-training between competitive seasons. And when I was having a rough stretch in class or in my social life, I’d hit the road and let my legs go until I thought they’d fall off. Running became a way to clear my head and heal emotional wounds. I became rather good at it.

I can’t run anymore. A sport-related accident makes running painful again and to my inner-4-year old’s surprise, I miss it.

On the up side, I can still roll down a hill, carelessly, and joyfully.

panda!

Learning to Ride

“It’s just like riding a bike!” It’s a colloquialism meant to suggest that whatever “it” is, it’s so easy, any old fool can do it. It’s a colloquialism I hate, because it implies I’m the most foolish and inept of old fools in any given set of old fools. Because, why? Well, here’s a secret:

I can’t ride a bike.

this is not a Duchamp knock-off... a bike refurbishing moment
this is not a Duchamp knock-off… a bike refurbishing moment

Well, perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration. In theory, perhaps more than practice, I CAN ride a bike, though it’s been 10 years since I’ve been on one that isn’t stable, stationary and in a spin class.

I was late to bike riding. My parents gave me a neat, new purple 2-wheeler with trainers one Christmas, probably when I was about 4, with presumably high hopes that one day, I’d ride my bike to swim practice. I was excessively excited about the white basket on the front and the handle bar’s streamers. I rode it once. Maybe twice. It was eventually sent up to Canada for one of my younger cousins, who couldn’t believe it wasn’t brand new.

It wasn’t until I was 16 that I legitimately learned to ride a bike… but I could only ride straight, and I had to start by sorta scooting on one foot until I built up some momentum to get both feet on the pedals. Then I’d half fall off and half to start again. It was awkward and nonathletic. I couldn’t turn around, so when I came to the end of the street, I had to step off my bike and waddle it the 180 degrees it needed to turn so I could go back to where I came from. And going down hill sent me into a slight panic.

But those (many) handicaps didn’t stop me from riding the (paved, straight) bike path 20 miles every weekend.

The last time I rode a bike was summer 2004. That was the year I had a crush on an upper classman named Jake. He was a competitive cyclist from the West Coast who liked to study with me for our French exams. Our Professor compared us to Peanut Butter and Chocolate. I’m not sure Jake was as amused by that as I was, and one might assume the 10 years of neglect my bike has seen is a fairly good indication of how that little “romance” fared. My lapse in riding had nothing to do with Jake, but rather a Provincial Holiday bike ride through Vancouver’s Stanley Park. It was traumatizing.

Then this summer, after declining several invitations to ride borough to borough seeking art, I booked tickets to Amsterdam. How could I go to the bike-riding capital of Europe, where pedaling along the canal houses is on the “Must-Do” list of any traveler, and NOT partake?

I had 3 months to get ready. I went a hunt for the bike that had seen better days. The tires were flat. I needed new tubes. The dust was so thick I had forgotten the frame was really a forest green, not gray. The padding in my helmet had rotted out. The initial investment to refurbish was more than I had expected.

But upgraded and with 10 years of spin classes under my belt I was ready to beat my teenage shortcoming.

The good news is I haven’t fallen off yet. I’ve learned to turn around in a circle. I can start without the awkward scoot-fall-scoot. I only start a mild panic when the gradient points down. I don’t know I’ll feel confident enough to ride in a city where bikers ride like motorists in cars, aggressively, but at least now I can say “It’s just like riding a bike,” and mean it.

New helmet (NY Pride). revamped bike. Let's get riding.
New helmet (NY Pride). revamped bike. Let’s get riding.

 

 

Talking Burpee Before It was Fashionable

There’s a chance you read the recent NYTimes Sunday Styles piece called “CrossFit Flirting: Talk Burpee to Me.” I read it too and rather than inspire me to use my morning work-out site as a potential pick-up spot, I was reminded of the story of the rugby players and the tea cups, or how I earned the nickname Tanya Knockyourballsoff…

Real men play rugby... and drink herbal tea.
Real men play rugby… and drink herbal tea.

When I was in college, my father volunteered to help coach my school’s men’s rugby club. He had “professionally” and briefly coached a rival college team when I was in high school — I think he thought helping the fledgling club at my college would be a good way for us to “bond.” (I hoped this would lead to a hunky piece of arm candy,  while he hoped it would mean I would have a team of bouncers keeping other college men off me when I went out on a Friday night… much to my chagrin, my dad’s plan won.)

While my father was up in Riverdale teaching former football players how to tackle like real men, I was in the Varsity Weight Room in Morningside Heights with my female team mates… and the football team.

“Yesterday, I worked in an extra set of push-ups with the 25lb plate,” the girls and I were swapping training stories one afternoon when my father offered to play the part of father and give us a ride back to campus after we came north to watch a rugby match.

“I really like the new plyometeric work-out with the resistance bands the trainer gave us. Think it would be too much to do that with the other lower body work out we’re already doing?”

“Did you see the plan for next week? 150 abs warm-up. I can’t wait!”

etc.

My father, who couldn’t help eavesdropping burst out into almost uncontrollable laughter.

“What!? What’s so funny? Get a hold of yourself, you’re going to drive into a lamppost,” I shouted.

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Getting good at picking things up and putting them down was how I earned the nickname Tanya Knockyourballsoff

“Well, it’s just, 15 minutes ago I was standing in a huddle with my rugby players,” he started. “There was this big 6’4 Greek, a 6’2 body-builder, and your buddy ‘Bruiser,’ and they were swapping tea advice — you know, green tea versus oolong versus herbal, cups versus mugs, ceramic versus cast iron pots. And now, here I am, in a car with my daughter and her girlfriends and they’re talking about kettlebells and how much they can bench press…”

“Dad, might I remind you we’re not just any girls. We’re athletes.”

The following week my father sent me a note to say one of his players was in a bluegrass band and that I should go to his concert.

“He likes tea and plays the guitar. He’s sensitive… but he’s also one of our best guys on the frontline, so he can pick things up and put them down. You can talk to him about how many burpees you can do, Tanya Knockyouballsoff.”

Tanya Knockyourballsoff was, according to Dad, a Russian female shot-putter. My affinity for kettlebells, apparently, inspired this new nickname…

Meanwhile, I put his note about the burpee pick-up line in the “shoulda listened to my father” column, along with his suggestion we open a father-daughter business together — a gourmet hotdog shop called Kat’s Dawgs… maybe next year #FathersKnowBest

 

 

 

 

Driving Home for the Holidays? How a Highway Pitstop can keeps those Holiday Pounds in Check…maybe

It’s the final week before Christmas. People are grabbing their kids and packing up their hybrids to head home for the holidays. We all know what that means: “From Atlantic to Pacific, gee the traffic is terrific!”

After hours slogging along the interstate in bumper-to-bumper traffic, rest area visits are a given. One thing I learned while making my way around the eastern seaboard this week is that a pitstop on I-95 can not only revive the spirits, it can change your life.

Freshen up. Refuel. Grab a latte. Check your weight. Receive an inspirational message from the Virgin Mary.

Wait, what?

For 25cents, get your weight, lucky lotto numbers, and an inspirational message from the Virgin Mary

Have you ever noticed that, in addition to food and gas, highway service plazas always have a pay-for-your-weight scale in the bathrooms? Considering that TCBY, Cinnabon, Burger King, and McDonald’s account for the majority of the food vendors at these interstate pitstops, I thought the scales might be the federal government’s feeble attempt to curb the obesity problem in America. Want a double-whopper with extra cheese and a super-sized fries to eat en route to grandmother’s 4-course holiday feast? Why don’t you check your BMI first?

Over the years, I’ve frequented many a highway rest area, but never before had I seen a coin-operated scale like the one in the Clara Barton Service Plaza on I-95 South.  Sitting in the entrance way to the ladies bathroom was a bilingual machine with a technicolor image of the Virgin of Guadalupe plastered front and center. There was a scale in the men’s room too, but it was plain vanilla white with “Get Your Exact Weight!” scrawled on it in purple. Was someone trying to send the ladies on I-95 a message about ideal femininity? Thin, pious, and virginal?

For a quarter, you can get your “exacto peso,” an inspirational message, and today’s lucky lotto numbers. Being an intrigued sucker, I dropped in the change from my grande awake tea latte. Considering it’s the post-Thanksgiving, pre-New Years Resolution 30-day all-you-can-eat challenge, this was probably not the best idea for my ego. None the less, I proceeded. And what did the Scale of the Virgin tell me? That I gained 6 pounds in 2 days.

I guess it’s a good thing I opted NOT to order the venti gingerbread latte with whipped cream.

always a sucker for fortune tellers, there goes my latte change

Obviously, 6 pounds in 2 days is impossible, but being a typical female, I couldn’t help but frantically assess my eating/exercising regime over the last 48 hours. After all, the machine claimed to give me my exact weight up to 500 pounds! But, Kathleen, let’s be sensible.

Consider it: my sweatshirt easily weighed  5oz, that extra-long scarf was an additional 3oz, my sneakers were worth half a pound… my wallet – a long, quilted thing with a heavy zipper, metal embellishments and $5 worth of nickles– clocked in at a pound… and my car keys, I can’t forget my carkeys… together, my accessories surely accounted for about 3 of the 6 pounds. There’s a reason why I generally refuse to stand on a scale wearing anything but my birthday suit.

As for the other 3? Well, those were just a lie. “Exact Peso,” my ass.

Due up next up on the little screen  was my inspirational message. I half expected a note that said “Find enlightenment… go eat a bar of soap, fatty.” Or “Gluttony is a sin. Find redemption through the FRUIT of the earth,” or “Many a martyr found salvation through self-denial. Consider a self-denial of food your path.”

Instead I got “Adore A Dios Sobre Todo.”

I translated it as: “Love God Above All… Particularly, Above All Carbohydrates.”

Love God Above All... Particularly Above All Carbohydrates