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 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.

 

 

The Best Diets I’ve Accidentally Been On

could it be that my new kettlebell workout is already starting to show?

There’s a lady in the ready-to-wear section of Neiman Marcus who, whenever she sees me, tells me I’ve lost a lot of weight. She’s rarely right, and if she was right every time she saw me, I’d be smaller than a size 0 — I’d be invisible. I’ve been on a new eating and exercising regiment since the beginning of the New Year, but out of fear of being disappointed, I’ve refused to step on the scale to verify her observation.

Though it’s not the case this time, the most effective diets I’ve ever followed have relied on meal replacement programs.

Instead of a traditional lunch or dinner, I had alcohol.

In college I went on the Sonoma diet. I lost five pounds in the first week. I wasn’t really allowed to eat anything, but it told me to drink wine. I was constantly hungry. I was also constantly buzzed and five pounds lighter – how could I complain?

In lieu of two meals of deep fried fish parts, I had one meal of Quidi Vidi beer and one meal of fish and chips. I lost 5 pounds in Newfoundland.

One summer vacation, I spent two weeks in Newfoundland, Canada, where they warned me I’d find love and  fish battered and fried is both its own food group and the only thing on most menus.  In an attempt to mitigate the potentially damaging effects of 2 meals slathered in batter and hot fat, I replaced one of those meals with another Newfoundland specialty — Quidi Vidi beer. I don’t know what my arteries looked like, but I came home several pound lighter.

As a curatorial intern at the Museum of Modern Art, I was commuting from Westchester to midtown Manhattan while trying to be a competitive athlete while trying to earn a small income doing freelance projects. I’d come home late at night too tired to turn on the stove, but not too tired to pour a gin and tonic. My “Intern Diet,” as I called it, resulted in my first significant weight loss regime with lasting results since puberty took away my puppy fat. It also resulted in a small stomach ulcer.

That’s the problem with successful diets – they’re often bad for your health.

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