Showing Up Is Enough: Pole Dance, Sensual Movement + Trauma
I never thought I’d be a dance, or fitness, instructor or any kind.
As a kid, I always had my head in arts & crafts. From friendship bracelet-making and coloring as a younger child to beading, sewing and drawing song lyrics as a teenager and then eventually growing up into an art director, graphic designer, and letterer/illustrator as an adult… I was always an “indoors” kid. And what some might call “chubby.” My parents were always concerned with how much I was getting outside and being active. They would force me to come to the park with them and walk around while they ran. And I hated it.
I did dance (tap, jazz, lyrical, ballet, etc.) up until the age of about 15 when I decided a social life was a much better use of my time after school. But I always felt SO AWKWARD. My movement was clunky and never had any of the, what I felt was, natural grace that some of the other dancers (usually with more statuesque figures) had.
So when I found and started to love pole dancing roughly 3.5 years ago when I moved to Los Angeles, part of the appeal was that it was a space where all movement was acceptable. I previously spent years in New York practicing yoga, which had a similarly welcoming message, but I also wanted to dance. In its current iteration as a studio and fitness practice, pole has only been around roughly 15 years, so it is quite new. And therefore, it is somewhat of a blank canvas in all ways. I think I felt this when I entered the pole community. And it was only furthered when I met Carmine.
Carmine Black is a professional pole dancer who specializes in authentic, sensual, erotic and exotic movement, typically on the floor or base of the pole (versus aerial), and she was my first exposure to exactly how raw and creative movement on and around a pole can be. Carmine and I became friends as she began teaching, and we would spend hours after class jamming, sharing music, and talking about how much it meant to us to connect to the music and ourselves through our movement.
I was a baby poler, having only been dancing about 6 months. Technically, I couldn’t do anything “interesting.” I remember a video I watched of my movement during this time thinking, “But, bitch, if you’d just pay attention to your HANDS, this would all be dope!” or “Just be conscious of what your feet are doing!” I didn’t have to engage in any intricate or strength-based movement in order for it to be interesting. But I was so self-conscious of whether or not I could accomplish various tricks that I had seen in class that I didn’t appreciate the incredible beauty of what I was able to offer exactly in that moment.
Someone once told me that I dance like I’m on fire.
Someone once told me that I dance like I’m on fire. I always have. Looking back, I had so much deep, raw, pure emotion that needed to move through me and through the music. And it did. And you can see it in those videos, trapped in a body that didn’t yet know or appreciate itself fully. I was constantly distracted by how awkward I felt in heels or whatever I was wearing, or felt like I should be wearing. Or with how new and clunky the moves presented to me felt or looked on my (what I felt was chunky) body.
I vividly remember the discomfort of those early days, and the feelings that came up as I worked through these new environments and new parts of myself. But they were always tempered by my passion for expressing myself through music and movement and my body. Eventually, the world of pole dance friends who loved authentic, sensual and erotic movement as much as I did expanded as I explored new studios and connected via Instagram, and also started traveling. I can’t imagine how different my life would be if I never found this niche of pole dancing, and movement in general, where authenticity was revered above all. The community was somewhat small and spread out geographically…but it was mighty, and growing everyday.
After Carmine moved to New York to dive into a new chapter of her career and movement, I was forced to give myself what I needed. Here’s the thing: Confronting yourself is never not scary and lonely. Going into open pole sessions with no plan and just…being with myself in whatever state I was in for the purpose of finding my own voice was so daunting. But I showed up. And continued to show up. I left some days feeling lit, and others feeling terrible. But I showed up. And I allowed my community, this community that is glittering and sparkling with humans dedicated to worshipping movement in its diversity, to support me and let me feel tethered. And now, here I am, about to embark on a new chapter as someone who will be holding space for others in this way.
Just like sorting through mental or emotional issues in therapy is uncomfortable and sometimes harder before it gets easier, working through physical issues is both challenging and non-linear. You will find parts of yourself that are dark and sticky. You will hit walls…but only if you’re doing it right. Equally, this work is the most absolutely gratifying and unchangeable work you will ever do. All we have are ourselves. Our wounds, our histories, our stigmas…they live inside of us whether we like it or not. But it is up to us whether or not we are going to do the work to shed light on them. To hear them, feel them, and give them a chance to finally say what they need to say to us and then either be released or stored as more useful and productive information in our minds and bodies.
Sensual movement, authentic movement, creative movement has given me the space — has given me the opportunity to give myself the space — to do this work. To retreat, to rest, to confront, to dive in, to rise above, to move through, be with, or find respite from whatever might be going on in a given moment or day or week. I hope that my classes can provide this space for others in equal measure. I hope that it can be welcoming to pole dancers of all levels, to dancers of all types, to those who are active or those who are not. To those who would never have imagined they’d call themselves a dancer. To those who have never danced. To those who feel “too old” or “too out of shape” or “too awkward” or “too queer” or “too unsure of themselves around the words ‘sensual’ or ‘erotic.’” I hope introducing Safer Spaces policies to my classes establishes values of being sensitive to mental, emotional and physical issues around trauma, disability, and marginalization. I hope that this can be a place where people who have experienced such issues can feel extra welcome and safe to be and feel perfect in their natural state and find gratitude simply in the act of showing up.
Showing up is enough.
Because that’s all it is, showing up. Showing up is enough. And showing up for yourself, well, that is sometimes both the hardest and most worth it thing that any of us can do for ourselves.
Jillian Adel is an Art Director, Designer & Illustrator based in Los Angeles. She is also the curator & publisher of the sex positive art and story zine, Divine, and a sensual movement instructor in her new practice, Sensual L.A.