What I Once Was…

Ran across some old photos and videos. I sure am anxious to get back to being active. I’ve had to learn to take it down a few notches in the last 9 months, which has been humbling, challenging, frustrating, and also refreshing. All in all it’s made me a stronger woman, and I’m grateful for how much I’ve had to transform through learning my own limits. Yet, I can’t help but anticipate the possibilities when I see these:

Love this photo. Definitely my inspiration.

Gracias a mi cuerpo…

As women, we constantly have messages communicated to us about why we aren’t beautiful. We either aren’t skinny enough, aren’t curvy enough, don’t have the right hair or eye color, have too many tattoos, have too much acne, etc. I have struggled…oh have I struggled…to feel secure in myself.

If you can manage to find love and appreciation for your body despite these messages, you’ve achieved the ultimate victory. I’m striving for this myself.

As I work toward this, I want to offer a message of gratitude to my own body for all it’s done for me. I didn’t always fuel my body properly, I (still) utter negative comments in my mind while looking in the mirror, and I have allowed others to make me feel ashamed of my shape, my skin’s color, and the texture of my hair. Despite these things, my body still stretches and rises out of bed each morning, my body powers through workouts, my body heals itself when it gets sick, and it hasn’t shut down on me no matter how many sleepless nights and early mornings I’ve put it through. Let’s not forget it’s also housed one healthy baby, and allowed me to breastfeed for 12 consecutive months afterward. My body is amazing!

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Thanks to my body, I have achieved things I thought weren’t possibilities for me. Thanks to my body I am stronger, faster, more flexible, and more confident.

As I’ve learned to appreciate my body more – through coaching, through working out regularly, through cleaner eating, through pole dancing – I have come to see how imperative it is that I feed my body with what it needs, and none of what it doesn’t. On the surface, this seems like a dietary vow, but it’s much more than that. I’m making a pact with myself to stop taking in such negative messages about what I am or what I’m not. I already know what I am. I refuse to poison myself with what others may project onto me. My body isn’t shameful; it’s a useful and remarkable tool.

Yeah, I’m a pole dancer.

I suppose this confession has been a long time coming. Everybody kind of already knows, but I haven’t ever truly confirmed publicly that this is indeed what I do – one of the many, many things that I do. So here you go: Yes. I am a pole dancer.

I’m also still a wife, a mom, a professor, a God-prasier, and graduate student. (Yes, naysayers. It’s possible to do all of those at once.)

Let me start from the beginning.

It was October 2014, and I was sitting in my parents’ living room on a warm fall evening. At the time, we were all living with them after moving here from California. My primary job hadn’t officially started yet as I was still in the training phase. Fabian had only been working a couple of weeks. I could feel myself beginning to buckle under the weight of my father’s rules and habits at his home, just as I’d predicted I would after living with him again for a few months. I hadn’t started the MBA program yet, but was slated to begin in a matter of days.

I needed to find a way to get out of the house for a while, alone. I was going stir crazy. Wake up, feed the baby, attempt to spend time with my spouse while watching my parents’ television, in their living room, of their house. Listen to music, but not too loud, because it’s still mom and dad’s house. Go take a walk, but let someone know where you’re going, because you know, you still live at mom and dad’s house. Break. The damn. Cycle.

I started cruising the Internet for deals or events in my area that I could throw myself into. Starting over means everything – new group of friends, new residence, new driver’s license, and new hobbies. Groupon and LivingSocial were my best friends in those days (truthfully, they’re a couple of my mains forever and always, but ever so clearly then) and I was desperately searching for new restaurants, new play groups to take Kennedy to, new ways to connect with this new town I lived in.

I saw a Groupon for “pole fitness” classes offered at a premier studio in Gainesville. The photo had some bright and happy looking chick, doing Lord knows what on the pole, but she looked graceful, classy, and happy. It was $54 for three classes. I figured if I wasn’t feeling it or her I’d just bail after the three classes. I purchased the Groupon and let it sit for a few days before calling to schedule my classes. Even after they were on my calendar, I gave myself permission to back out.

The first night I showed up and met Jacqueline Valdez at her small home studio. No other students attended this night. I’d washed all my lotion off my legs per her rules and made sure to show up on time with a yoga mat in hand. I was wearing what I thought were short shorts at the time and I nervously did floor work with her to warm up my arms, hamstrings, ankles, wrists, and pelvis.

That first class, we started with basic walks around the pole, with stepping and dragging the feet. I looked ridiculous in the mirror, but I tried not to focus too much on how I looked, rather just on what I was doing. She taught me a few simple moves, like 360 turns, none of which I got, and then showed me a few more advanced tricks (advanced by my skill level then) before concluding class with me, bidding me farewell until that Thursday, three days later.

Class two was a lot like class one – me stumbling around the pole trying to keep up with the most basic of moves, her reassuring me that not everyone picks up things easily and quickly. We scheduled one more class meeting to satisfy my Groupon purchase, and I returned the next week. Once again it was just me, and we chatted a bit about the soreness I was feeling in my body from my previous lessons, but Jackie assured me that it was all normal. It was on this night that we stepped to the poles again to run through basic tricks, but something was different for me – I nailed my 360, and I even managed a pole sit. She let me take a selfie in the mirror on this night.

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Pole sit selfie. I only had the bruises for 5 days afterward.

“You’ve progressed,” she said to me with a straight face. Knowing her as I do now, I realize that she was recalculating her plan of action for what she’d teach me moving forward. I identify that as my “hooked like it’s cocaine” moment for pole…

We continued that way for six months with a slight break in between while my husband and I moved out of my parents’ home and into our own place. As we dug our feet into Gainesville as our home, I dug my heels (and ankles and thighs) deeper into pole.

When I first arrived in Gainesville, I was depressed, lost, and conflicted. I had a good life in San Diego, and I left it all behind so that I could bring my family together again. I gave up friendships, familiarity, and my home so that my daughter could grow up near her grandparents and my husband and I could have some backup as we continued to grow our family. In some ways, I view myself as arriving in Gainesville empty handed, and when I started pole, suddenly I had something to hold onto again.

Even more than this, though, is what pole does for my character. Yes, it sculpts my body and makes me stronger physically, but pole dancer Antoinette holds her own much better than non-pole Antoinette ever did. Because pole dancing carries such a negative connotation, the people who do it have to be really motivated to practice it constantly and want to progress in it. The ante is doubled for those who choose to share their craft with the world. Because I know what the majority of the world has to say about my practicing this as a hobby, it truly is something I have to do for myself. For the record: I do not do this for my husband. I do not do this out of rebellion. I do not do this out of desperation. I do not do this because I’m trying to be someone else. I do pole for me and me only. It is my selfish indulgence.

Pole allows me to unashamedly claim the right to be sexy. Men are allowed to be sexy without consequence – nobody throws shade on the male manager that all the females in the office swoon over. Women must always pay for being sexy – in labels, in whispers they think we can’t hear, in missed opportunities to be taken seriously. No thanks.

Pole frees me. ALL of me.

Plus, it was either this or join a fight club, and I like my face too much for that.