I'm sure people imagine that going out with a pole dancer guarantees you wild, contortionist sex and private dances on demand. Maybe it is like that for some pole dancers. Maybe other pole dancers don't drag themselves through the front door after a class or performance, limping, smelling a little sweaty, make up smudged, false eyelashes a bit wonky, and either demand a deep tissue massage or go straight to the freezer for an ice pack. Maybe other pole dancers come home and put their cute pole costumes to good use, by pouncing on their partner in a frenzy of sexual pole dancer energy.
But I'm going to come clean here, in the interest of honest blogging, and put it out there: my boyfriend hates pole dancing.
It's not that he's against what I do. He's very happy that I'm so happy doing what I love. And it's not a jealousy thing either. I honestly can't believe how lucky I am to have a boyfriend who lets me perform the way I do in public, and never hassles me for being too, umm... provocative in my performances. He has one rule: no stripping (as in, taking clothes off is fine, so long as I at least keep a top and bottom on at all times, no matter how small). Which is fine because I have no need or desire to strip anyway.
I think that in the beginning, he was pretty into the idea of his girlfriend being a pole dancer. But his interest has definitely waned over the past five years of coming to watch my shows, being made to watch clips of me performing variations of moves that only a trained eye would know were different from each other, listening to pole-itical discussions about who should have won which competition, and having to sit through hours of pole analysis every time a pole dancer comes to stay at my house. Now, the second someone mentions the word pole, his eyes glaze over.
To be really honest, the whole issue of pole has at times been a real source of conflict in our relationship. I guess it's because I want him to love it as much as I do, but at the end of the day he just doesn't. For me, pole dance is the most inspirational, sensual, beautiful, athletic display of strength, flexibility and emotion. For him, it's a bunch of people jumping around a pole in their undies.
I've asked myself many times over the years, why doesn't my boyfriend appreciate pole? I think about whether or not I could handle watching endless football games if he were a professional football player. Although I hate watching football, I think that if he were playing, I would learn to appreciate it. But then maybe I wouldn't (I really do hate football).
I can freely admit that pole dance is not just my passion, but also my obsession. I think that obsession can be a double-edged sword - it provides you with the drive you need to achieve your dreams, but at the same time, it can isolate and frustrate you. Being in a relationship with a non-pole dancer means you have to make a real effort to avoid being swallowed by your obsession, or else risk having nothing at all to talk about with normal people. As a pole instructor, I've actually seen the topic of pole dance cause relationship break-ups amongst my students. It's almost like their partners no longer recognise their new, confident, pole dancing girlfriends - and some of them decide they don't like what they see.
It's not just female pole dancers who deal with this issue. One of my male students (and incredible performer) David Helman has a partner who is not a pole dancer. David says:
"It was particularly hard when we first met, because he didn't understand why pole came first, and why if I didn't do it I would get cranky/sad/mad. He's gotten better and he’s now more supportive, but he still feels left out if I'm with a group of pole people and we talk about tricks and moves and performances etc. He still finds it difficult to understand that I’d rather spin on a pole than go out to a party. Also it doesn't help that sometimes he’s scared to touch me because I'm always in pain in some way! Especially when I dislocated my shoulder.”
To make it fair, I called David's partner, Steven, to get his view. Steven says:
"I appreciate the sport and his love for it, and I love that he loves it so much, but it definitely impacts on our relationship. If we’re out with a group of pole people, and they’re talking about pole, the conversation is often on a completely different level and I can’t understand a thing. They’ll be talking about pole tricks, and I’m thinking what the hell is a phoenix? Some kind of bird move? I don’t always want to ask what they’re talking about because then I feel like a kid sitting at the adult’s dinner table. Sometimes can deal with it, but other times I’ll throw a tanty and go home. David wants me to be involved, and I try, but I can’t always do it. It’s hard, but we find ways to make it work."
On this topic, my sister Maddie has a pretty good perspective, I think. She says that just because you love two things doesn't mean that if you combine them they will work well together. She says there's nothing wrong with keeping your loves separate. I think she's right about that. But obviously, it can be hard when you want to share your excitement with the person you love, only to find them staring blankly at you as though you were speaking a different language (which possibly we are).
And then there's the Holy Grail of pole love - two pole dancers in love, training, performing, competing and instructing together... Can such a thing exist? It can, and it does, in Suzie Q and Toby J. Those of you who have seen their doubles pole or trapeze performances know what I'm talking about - it's so beautiful to see the trust, love and magic that they put in to every one of their performances. No doubt there's a lot of yelling and shouting that goes into their training sessions, but it must be worth it to share that thrilling moment onstage together when the crowd goes wild after a performance.
Suzie Q says: "I've dated pole dancers, and non-pole dancers. I definitely appreciate the fact that another pole dancer really "gets" what I do - because he does it too!"
And Toby J adds: "I like sharing performances together - I also think it enhances the trust levels in our relationship. Plus it makes for some cool party tricks when the two of us bust out something acrobatic!"
But if your boyfriend or girlfriend would sooner have their teeth extracted un-anaesthetised than consider performing on a pole in public, you're going to have to find some other way of making sure pole doesn't become the third wheel in your relationship.
In the world beyond pole, it's often the case that women get a bit of a social status boost from the success of their husbands. In the UK and in Australia, cricket/football WAGs (the wives and girlfriends of cricket/football players) have their own status and celebrity, which they derive solely from how nice they look sitting on the sidelines while their other halves chase a ball around for large amounts of money. Although unfortunately it doesn't really work the other way around, I think pole boyfriends and husbands deserve their own title, just like the WAGs. Let's call them Polar-BAHs.
When I was at Worlds in 2011, I had a fair amount of time backstage to do nothing but stretch and wait. During this time, I had a bit of a chat to Nic Judd, Zoraya's partner, who is possibly one of the most supportive Polar-BAHS in the pole industry (along with Suzie Q's partner Toby J, Jenyne's partner Andrew Ball, and probably a few others I don't know about). I asked him if he got sick of all the pole events he has had to go to. He surprised me by saying something along the lines of:
"I don't care about pole dance. It's not my thing. It's her (Zoraya's) thing. But she's my passion, and pole dance is her passion, so I make it my thing."
I can't tell you how much what Nic said affected me. All I could think was, my God, I wish my boyfriend felt that way.
But since then, I've come to realise that what works for others doesn't always work for everyone. My boyfriend doesn't enjoy attending pole dancing events, and I'm coming to accept that I can't, and shouldn't, try to force him. He may not love pole dance per se, but he's supportive of me, and he comes to all the big competitions to be there for me. Whenever he does compliment me on a performance, I know it means that I've really killed it, because he wouldn't say so otherwise. I remind myself that if he tried to drag me along to football games every weekend, I would probably explode. And I'm pretty certain that his aversion to pole dancing means I'll never bust him going to strip clubs with his boys.
So, until the day comes when Polar-BAHs have their own special status as the privileged partners of pole dancers, I guess I will just have to accept that the reality of being a Polar-BAH is probably a bit of a drag for most of them, or at least my boyfriend. Having to share your lady with an inanimate metal rod must be pretty tough. Especially if he suspects that, judging by the amount of time she spends embracing it, she may be more devoted to the pole than she is to him!
To my boyfriend: I love you and thank you for the support you show me in my pole pursuits. I get that you don't get pole. That's ok. But darling, can't you just fake it a little bit from time to time? For me??? ;-)
PS As you can probably tell from this post, I'm still trying to work this topic out for myself. I'd be really interested in hearing how your Polar-BAHs cope with your love of pole - so please feel free to comment and share your own story/advice :-)