"We land softly like a butterfly," the instructor told me. "We don't need to jump."
It was a gentle way of saying I looked like a sack of potatoes tethered to a stick in high winds. I supposed that might not be the look 'Pole Dance Tokyo' was trying to cultivate in its students.
But hey, it was my first time! And it was hilarious.
In case you were wondering what had caused me to suddenly google "pole dancing in Japan", it was not actually a desperate hunt for a side job to supplement my research funds (although let's not totally count that plan out) but this article in Japan Subculture. They made it seem like a really. good. idea.
Situated in Akasaka, Pole Dance Tokyo offers classes in aerial and pole dancing, from techniques such as aerial hoop (acrobatics on a circular steel hoop suspending from the ceiling), aerial tissue (acrobatics using a long length of material... that I sincerely hope is not actually tissue) and a variety of pole dance variations. The class descriptions emphasise strength and fitness, although a few focus on teaching how to --and I quote-- "strut in your stilettos" and "awaken your inner sensual goddess".
Since I didn't own high heels and the latter sounded painful, I signed up for the lowest level pole dancing class. This required you to turn up in long sweat pants, a tee-shirt and socks. No slumbering deity alterego required.
While most of the classes are held in Japanese, one of the teachers conducts a number of different classes in English. Her name was Diana, she was Russian and I spent most of the class staring at her in the mirrored walls both to copy her moves and pretend her arm muscles were my own.
Apart from being surrounded by mirrors, the basement studio had twelve poles that were mercifully firmly fixed to floor and ceiling. For the first twenty minutes, we stretched on yoga mats to prevent the kind of injuries that would require explaining at work. It was all set to music and was a thorough muscle exercise that reminded me that I was a complete slacker when it came to physical exertion.
For the following twenty minutes, we did more stretches, but this time using the pole. The metal needed to be wiped down with a spray and hand towel at regular intervals to stop our hands slipping and depositing us unceremoniously on the floor. If nothing else, it told you this workout was doing its job.
The pole stretches I enjoyed the most. They were different from the ones you can do on the yoga mat by yourself (although my muscles were busy telling me I never did these by myself) and went well with the bouncing pop music. However, we were only two-thirds through the class.
"Now, we are going to learn to walk sexily around the pole."
This third part I was more apprehensive about. OK, so I'd signed onto a pole dancing class. Sexy moves are part of the art. I just didn't think they were part of me. The idea of spending the next half hour attempting smouldering looks at my sweaty mirrored reflection in the tee-shirt my mother had given to me in my early teens[*] did not fill me with excitement. Actually, it filled me with fear that I'd not be able to use a mirror for the next six months.
"There are rules governing how to walk."
Wait. Rules? There were rules on how to move sexily? I'm a physicist. I'M ALL ABOUT RULES GOVERNING MOTION. If we didn't have to adlib based on something we'd seen in Desperate Housewives, I was back in the game!
"We walk one foot length away from the pole. Measure it. This is different for everyone."
And so begun what I am sure was an incredibly sexy strut by me around a metal pole. This is an illusion I maintained by keeping my eyes firmly on the instructor, and not myself. After the walk, we did the hook (one leg wrapped around the pole), a swing using that hooked leg and turns.
Swinging around the pole was sweet fun. Even if that was the point where I looked most like a sack of potatoes. It was a laugh, I like spuds and I'm just owning that vegetable action.
There were only three of us in the basic pole dancing group that day and I confess one of the other two I'd brought along with me. Photos on the studio walls suggested that this class was quiet, however, since the studio has been running for more than ten years and includes world pole dancing champions among its staff.
While I showed exactly zero talent, I'm seriously thinking of returning to try out one of the beginning aerial classes. Because... ribbons, rings, flying and blog posts.
[*] What? It was good cotten. It's lasted really well!