Stripper 101: Pole Dancing for the Underachiever

Google Portland, Oregon and you’ll discover our city has a reputation. A good one! Forbes Magazine, for example, ranks Portland as the third best city in the nation for career growth, and Reader’s Digest lists Portland as one of the top ten sharpest, smartest cities in America.

But we’re not without our flaws, Portland boasts a few dubious honors as well. Along with our well-known addictions to beer, coffee and cycling, we also have a fondness for strip clubs. Thanks to the Oregon Supreme Court stripping is protected as a form of free speech. (Like mime, but with sexier costumes.) As a result, Portland is now home to more strip clubs, per capita, than any other U.S. city, outranking even Las Vegas, Nevada.

But it’s not just the pro’s up there shaking their moneymakers; a number of bars in Portland have installed stripper poles for their more flexible and inebriated customers. And pole dance-fitness, all the rage with Hollywood A-listers, has now gone mainstream. Forget that dull book club, ladies. Simply slap up a stripper pole in your living room, call the neighbors, and let the good times roll.

With our rep for indulging in fringe behavior, is it any wonder that Portlanders have embraced pole dancing with the taut grip of a g-string full of bills? Curious as to where a neophyte like myself might go for a tutorial, I perused Yelp and found more than a dozen dance studios offering classes. For the nominal fee of $25 I could drop into an amateur class at The Brassy Butterfly Dance Studio in North Portland. Intrigued, I jumped in my bug and sped to NoPo for my first stripper class.

The studio was located in an industrial area of town, deep within the bowels of what appeared to be an old boarding house on the verge of collapse. Girding my loins I locked my car and headed into the building. It was now or never.

I quickly located The Brassy Butterfly Dance Studio and was greeted by an athletic-looking young woman by the name of “Bella” who ushered me into a dimly-lit dance hall filled with students.

The studio was lined with overstuffed velvet couches draped in feathers, scarves and fringe. It seemed an appropriate, if not inviting, refuge for students weary from the rigors of pole dancing. The walls and ceiling were awash in mirrors and in the center of the studio a dozen silver poles had been suspended from floor to ceiling. I imagine if Elton John’s closet threw-up it would look much like this studio.
After a quick round of introductions our instructor explained that “Bella” wasn’t her real name, it was her stripper handle, and that we’d all be choosing our very own stripper names. Awesome!

Dressed in nothing more than a bikini, Bella pointed out the obvious; pole dancing required a lot of skin. No kidding! All eyes instantly fell on me. In my sweats and running shoes, I was a little overdressed. Okay, I was a LOT overdressed!

Bella suggested I remove some clothing. The other students all dressed in spandex hot-pants, bras and hooker heels, waited while I made a few adjustments. I must admit I felt intimidated by all of the sexy spandex in the room, but figured I’d come this far, what did I have to lose? Quietly setting my dignity aside, I stripped down to my utilitarian sports bra and ratty boy shorts. I was now ready rock that pole!

The first order of business was choosing our stripper names. Based on the first pet/street rubric I was christened “Samantha Nevada”. Not too shabby, I thought. I could feel my confidence building. So far this stripper stuff seemed pretty easy.

That was the last time anything that night would seem easy.

What I would learn over the next two hours was that pole dancing is a physically demanding, rigorous exercise, requiring tremendous core and upper body strength. Sadly, it turns out I have neither one.

Class began with a challenging strength-training workout, followed by an hour of instruction in basic stripper moves. These looked deceptively easy, but I come from a fairly uncoordinated gene pool and soon found myself twisted like a pretzel around my pole, gravity repeatedly dragging me ass-first to the ground.

One of the more experienced students shinnied all the way up her twenty foot pole, looking like a bleach-blond caterpillar in hooker heels. Watching her wriggle up the metal pole, I was suddenly transported back in time to third grade gym class and Coach Star’s dreaded rope climb, where my fear of heights and general distaste for public sweating kept me from ever getting more than four feet off the ground. But time passes and we tend to forget our limitations.

Inspired by the blond caterpillar, I threw myself at the pole and for the next two hours sweat and heaved my way through class attempting to master moves like the Back Hook, the Pendulum, the Fireman, the Crucifix, the Chair Slide and the Sun Wheel. By the end of class I was banged bumped and bruised from stem to stern. My bruises even had bruises!
As class concluded Bella and I regrouped on one of the velvet couches for a chat; stripper to stripper. I had to know what had led a girl like Bella down the Gypsy Rose Lee path. Bella proceeded to explain that like many young college students, she’d struggled to make ends meet. She’d started stripping, and teaching pole dance, in order to put herself through school. As fate would have it, ours was her last class. She’d landed a job as an ER nurse in Seattle, Washington and was ready to hang up her hooker heels for good.

I left The Brass Butterfly with sore muscles and a new friend; Bella, the talented stripper/nurse with a heart of gold. As Bella and I hugged and parted ways I knew neither of us would ever return to The Brassy Butterfly. She’d traded her feather boas for a set of scrubs and my complete lack of coordination had dashed my stripper dreams.

Okay, so maybe I didn’t have any dreams of becoming a stripper, but my alter-ego, Samantha Nevada did. She still lurks somewhere beneath my calm suburbanite exterior, and if given the right motivation or enough vodka, Samantha just might bust out a kick-ass Sunwheel or two at the next neighborhood barbecue. I’m sure Coach Star would approve.

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