Over the past year, I've thought a lot about who I am, who I want to be and how I can get there. Subsequently, I've also thought a lot about growth that is deliberate and intentional. My mindset is this: Instead of simply growing up and letting my experiences shape who I eventually become, I can take some control over my experiences. I can shape the experiences that are shaping me.
I've taken several steps toward this lofty goal of self-discovery and self-enhancement. They've included starting a book club to explore my passion for reading, taking on a work project that landed me in Japan for weeks at a time and going on more first dates than I can count. One common theme throughout each of these action steps is pushing myself outside my comfort zone.
I've always been shy, reserved, introverted and quiet. This will never change. I've also, like most Millennials, had times when I struggled with my self-confidence A lack of self-confidence can be debilitating, both socially and professionally.
But as I aimed to grow myself, I realized it was a part of myself that I wanted to change. I can accept being shy, quiet and introverted, as long as I'm doing it confidently. So, as a way to gain more confidence in myself, my being, my body and my person, I have aimed to put myself in challenging, uncomfortable situations.
With this in mind, as an exercise of both body and mind, my roommate Britt and I went to a pole dancing class at Crunch gym. In my typical, worrisome fashion, I called ahead to ensure the class would be skill-level-appropriate for us.
Namely, we both had zero skill. The woman on the other end of the phone assured us we would be attending a pole dancing class aimed at teaching people how to pole dance. There was no experience required.
Britt and I showed up for XPole with Manuel A. with five other girls. We started with some basic stretching. This is when we realized we were out of our league.
It became clear from the start that Britt and I were the only two non-dancers in the class. While the aim of the class might have been to teach people how to pole dance, Britt and I were the only two people who were brave (read: naive) enough to actually treat it that way.
Once we got through the stretching and the warmup, each participant went to her own pole to start learning how to dance on it. Some of the more advanced girls – aka, everyone except for me and Britt – worked on climbs, chair spins, genies and twirls.
We, on the other hand, were instructed to work on walking around the pole. This was a deceivingly complex and difficult task. It took many unsuccessful attempts. But once we were good enough at walking around the pole, we were allowed to progress to swinging around it. It would only get more challenging from there.
Here's a fun fact: The key to successfully swinging around the pole while you're pole dancing is to pull your outside leg as far from the pole as possible. This widens your swing, so that you avoid slamming against the pole. It also gets your footing right, so you don't end up tangled around yourself and the pole.
You simultaneously not only look graceful, but also somehow sexy and poised. I struggled with this, as was obvious by the bruises that covered my shins and inner thighs for weeks after class.
Throughout the class, I would often glance self-consciously and enviously around the room as the other girls whirled and twirled gracefully around their poles. They began climbing, spinning, stretching and flexing in ways I knew my body never could. At these moments, I would look at Britt with a wary, “What did we get ourselves into this time?” grin. Then, I would go back to work on my pole.
The next move Britt and I learned was the backwards spin. The instructions were as follows: Step on your outside leg. Lift your leg that is closest to the pole while turning your back to the pole. Pull it outside and around your body to generate momentum for a backwards spin. In the meantime, your outside leg (that you initially stepped with) stays grounded and wraps around the pole.
As you can imagine – based on how much I struggled with the basic twirl – this was extremely challenging for me. I got it wrong at least 15 times. I was ready to give up.
But then, Manuel, the instructor, came over and reminded me I was using the wrong foot to propel myself. This made it literally impossible for me to accomplish the backwards spin successfully. (Damn my lack of grace and, apparently, my memory as well.)
“One more time,” he suggested. Then, through some sort of pole dancing miracle, I did it successfully. (Although, I maybe didn't do it as gracefully as he expected.)
In that moment, regardless of what everyone else was doing, I felt like the sexiest person in the room, in the gym and in New York City. But, I quickly went back down to earth when we started working on climbs. That was just a nearly impossible task that was not designed for normal humans.
The best part of the class was the last two minutes. Manuel told us we would get those two minutes of free dance time to work on any move or routine we so chose. He dimmed the lights, put on some slow jams and let us do our thing.
I walked, spun, whirled and twirled for two whole minutes, with little regard for what the others in the class were doing. I didn't care that my shins were bruised for weeks, or that I may have looked stupid to the janitorial staff, who were waiting to come in and disassemble the poles before the next class started.
I didn't even care that I only got one out every six or seven moves right. I felt accomplished. I felt like the queen of the pole.
While pole dancing probably won't become my exercise of choice, it was uniquely challenging, both mentally and physically. It reminded me that the greatest growth often comes from outside one's comfort zone. It pushed me to feel more confident with regard to taking on new challenges. For that, it will always hold a special (although one time only) place in my heart.
This article was originally published on the author's personal blog.