christly conquers: chair dancing
This article was originally featured on Your New Best Friends; a former lifestyle website.
“Dancer” is a strong word. I hesitate to use such a traditionally storied adjective when describing myself, lest Maddie Ziegler spit a mouthful of La Croix across a stage somewhere. In lieu of that, however, I can say with great confidence that I have always been a talented “mover.”
If this skill is a question of nature v.s nurture, here is a case study for you:
Once old enough to verbalize food preferences, Tiny Christly developed an original movement piece inspired by mealtime. As Chef Boyardee’s finest approached her high chair, our subject would perform said piece without prompting, hands and legs wildly gesticulating to an unheard beat.
Unlike the toddler’s bowl of spaghettios, this expression of joy was allegedly organic. I ask you, is there a purer form of dance than that which articulates the utter delight in consuming carbs and sodium?
Dance is in my nature.
For further proof, I urge you to consider genetics. The women on my mom’s side of the family share this same natural affinity. We are a rowdy (and hungry) crew of ex-cheerleaders, drill team captains, and two-stepping queens. At the drop of a beat, the hips sway. At the sight of a cheese plate, the feet tap. When the eldest cousin, Candi, was forced to babysit, it usually meant that the younger ones would observe as she worked on new choreography for one of her mysterious big-girl projects. It was an honor if we got to be a warm body at her disposal. Dance is a family tradition--my little sister has stored her ballet slippers in the same dance bag which my cousin, Stephanie, passed on to me. Our names have all been embroidered on the thinning polyblend, with space reserved for our future daughters.
Since I have been nothing short of honest with you thus far, I feel the need to admit something here, pride be damned: Stephanie is a much better dancer than I.
*pause as we allow Steph to send me a smug text message*
Regardless of what I deluded myself to believe as the annoying enthusiastic younger cousin with something to prove, it has always been this way.
Back then, Stephanie made my every ballet recital. And jazz recital. And hip-hop recital (...I was just trying to find myself, y'all). It meant the world to know that seven-years-older, seven-years-cooler Cousin Stephanie was admiring my moves from the audience. I danced for her recognition, the post-show queso, and the inevitable bouquets of flowers presented at the beloved Gringo's Mexican Cantina. To be clear, my loving aunt probably had to drag Stephanie to these things and definitely forged her daughter’s signature on all of the congratulatory notes; if not for the blinding stage lights, I’m sure I would have been heart-broken to find Steph pouting in her seat, all eyerolls and yawns. Later the positions would reverse as I, a chunky and graceless prepubescent, would stand in awe of Steph’s sassy cheerleading uniform and high kicks from the stadium seating of her high school's football field. It took a few years for nerdy younger cousin Christly to transform into the VERY HIP AND INTERESTING butterfly she is today, and a few years more for Stephanie to admit this fact.
*Pause for Steph to send smug text #2*
Now. Flash forward to present day, Stephanie’s living room. You find Steph and I annoying the ever-living shit out of her poor husband by obsessively Youtubing Beyoncé videos and attempting to learn her dance routines. Looks like we’ve actually got a pretty good grip on “Get me Bodied: Extended Version.” Or, wait, let’s remove the champagne filter….Steph’s got a good grip on it. I need help a lot of help and a glass of water.
I am currently enjoying a promotional membership of a magical little fitness world called ClassPass. For the next three months, I have access to a variety of upscale workout and dance classes which I could not otherwise afford. I’ve used the word “cult” when describing these studios, but the fact of the matter is--I have never been more motivated to exercise and have no idea what I will do with my life when the trial is over. TBH I will probably go back to being a lazy garbage person who talks smack while drinking pickle juice straight out of the jar.
Although there are a number of burlesque studios on ClassPass, I'm sorry to report that I have not yet taken a traditional pole dancing class. I know, I know. You thought you could count on me. What am I even good for?! Please, lower your pitchfork. Thanks to Steph, Christly has been-there-conquered-that. My lovely cousin was badass enough to take classes, dedicated enough to buy her own damn pole, and kind enough to share her knowledge.
If Steph were here she would tell you that my hands are too sweaty to be human, let alone to be a successful pole dancer. She would describe how I slipped down the pole in tiny, rigid increments with a disproportionate level of fanfare. Perhaps she would reveal how, remarkably, I bruised in places that never even made contact with the pole.
Luckily for you, I recently stumbled upon a class titled “Risqué Chair” at Revolve Pole Studio. The tagline for the class read, “everyone loves a chair dance!” I booked the class. Who am I to challenge the opinion of literally everyone?
I asked my neighbor, Katie, to join me on my adventure. Because if a sexy tree falls and nobody is around to hear it, it basically didn’t fall. Katie and I discussed expectations and attire via text message. We were on the same cycle (so cute!) and both hoped that this class would cure our period blues. It was pivotal, we agreed, to wear whatever would make us feel hawt. Katie planned to wear “booty shorts” and I, a chic new sports bra that I would otherwise cover with a tank.
As class time approached, the cramps and bloating were making me feel less like my inner Dita Von Teese and more like Velveeta Von Cheese. But alas, a woman of my word (and also a woman unwilling to pay the no-show fee), I would have to suck it up and blast Beyoncé at full volume in my car as I made my way to Revolve.
The studio was nestled in a shopping strip, cozy beside a police precinct. I imagined policemen click-clacking on their keyboards and daydreaming of the click-clack of heels next door. I wondered if I would be in the company of an off-duty officer who was ready to let off steam after another tough day of crime-fighting.
Unsurprising to both parties, Katie beat me to the studio and was already checked in when I got to the welcome desk. I made small-talk with the receptionist who warmly directed me toward the studio space where I found myself at the threshold of a room much larger than I expected. The tall ceiling rested on a forest of silver poles that seemed to stretch out into infinity thanks to large mirrored walls. Low lighting lit deep red walls the color of Christina Hendrick’s favorite lipstick. For a moment I felt like a bumbling imposter, fighting the urge to blurt “sorry, wrong number,” and scuttle away with my hand covering my eyes. I brushed off the misplaced guilt; I would own my space here. Physically speaking, I found this space to be between Katie and a group of ladies whom I assumed were fresh off of happy hour. Their quiet melody of giggles that accompanied the moody background music helped wash away some remaining intimidation. A few brave loners stretched beside their chairs, stripped down to sparkly bras and spandex shorts. This was not their first rodeo. Among these seasoned cowgirls, I was beginning to feel like the unglamorous rodeo clown. I turned to Katie and she flashed me a devious smile that said “saddle up.” We were gonna have us some fun.
Instructor Yasmeen bounced into the room and began her introductory spiel as she scrolled through song selections on a prehistoric-looking iPod. “My music is filthy,” she warned, “but if it offends you, you should also know you’re in a chair dancing class.” I guessed that she was in her mid 30’s. She certainly had the kind of confidence that comes with age...or, I suppose, with teaching burlesque. Yasmeen asked for the first timers to raise their hands. We were deemed a majority “virgins.” This joke was awarded with a round of hesitant laughter, which Yasmeen encouraged. Girl had a tough job. I know from first hand experience that warming up a crowd is no small task. Only, any time I’ve had to play MC, everyone involved was fully clothed. Yasmeen, unaffected, assured us that the routine would be simple. If we were to get lost, we should simply dance like nobody’s watching, “because no one is watching. They’re all too busy watching their fine selves.” I took Yasmeen’s advice to heart, but I kept my shirt on. I wasn't ready to drink the kool aid just yet.
The warm-up was familiar; head rolls, shoulder rolls, chest and hip isolations. I studied myself in the mirror. The movement looked as natural as it felt and, most notably, I liked the way I looked. These last few months I’ve worked hard to build back the strength and confidence that I lost in a lonely postgrad bubble. In the mirror at Revolve, I saw that my work was paying off. Sure, I wasn’t the super-fit girl that I was in college, but I looked strong and womanly--two things that I’ve learned are not mutually exclusive. Yasmeen began to introduce us to a series of basic moves including “the sexy O” which involved leaning over the seat of our chairs and drawing circles in the air with- you guessed it- our asses. Inspirationally, Yasmeen punctuated the move with a “love tap” to her tush. After learning a sequence of about ten steps, our fearless leader threw us into the ring. The plan was to grab our heels and perform the combination at our own pace to several songs. We would all dance at the same time, but what we did in that time was our own individual prerogative.
The music beckoned.
What followed is a truly perspective-altering experience that I have wrestled to pen down on paper. In fact, up until a few days ago, I was going to keep this little light o’ mine under a bushel for fear of coming off as arrogant. Here’s why: I killed it. For those fifteen minutes, I felt like a sexy powerhouse, ground-shaking electricity emanating from my six-inch pumps with every strut. Time froze as my hot ass reflection and I danced our hearts out. I was what Ms. Minaj might call “feelin’ myself.” I would like to think The Queen of Rap would support my decision to screw humility and write this article. I'm sure she would also have had some constructive criticism in regards to my moves. But that’s beside the point. The reality is that, after a rough transition out of college and into the real world, I needed to feel good about myself and it needed to come from my reflection.
At some point the top came off.
I may or may not have winked at myself in the rear view mirror as I was pulling out of the parking lot. I also may have left my pumps at the studio, realizing this when I was a good three miles out. Maybe I attempted to chase after Yasmeen while she drove off in front of the police station, waving a half-tied sneaker and yelling “Hey! Wait! Stop that car!” Did a group of teenaged skater kids watch and laugh as I failed to get her attention? Perhaps. Did a strong, handsome cop emerge from the shadows to save me? Absolutely not. Regardless of what went down in that parking lot, I was a perfect goddess.
Out of all that I have gained from this chair dancing experience (a sentence I’d never thought I’d type), what surprises me most is my renewed appreciation for the strong, audacious women who raised me. No matter what hell they’ve seen--and they could write a book--my mom and her two sisters have managed to become immovable pillars of strength and love for their own husbands and children. I once believed that this was due to a selflessness that could only belong to a saint. As I get older I realize that, while they have certainly made innumerable sacrifices, it is not without a strong sense of self and an acceptance of each their own humanity that these women have become the incredible matriarchs that they are today. Together, the Simmons Sisters have risen from the ashes of a past more difficult than I can articulate here and more complicated than I will ever understand, all the while preserving their own individuality and self worth. I remember watching the trio from the kid’s table at Christmas dinner, wishing I was older so I could be nearer to their magic. Aunt Retta, the most fabulous blond I ever did see, cracked borderline inappropriate jokes and enjoyed her food with audible mmmmm’s after every bite. Sherrillenne, “Nanny” to me, orchestrated the meal with grace and always knew exactly what to say to put the Fear of God in you, while simultaneously being the one you run to when you get hurt. My mom was and is the heart, perhaps not as outspoken, but certainly steadfast. At those dinners, I was learning what it looked like to be a confident, powerful woman. My cousins have clearly been affected by their mothers’ example; Steph and Candi constantly remind me that I should never apologize for who I am. They are bold and ambitious, even when the fire rages.
Throughout Risque Chair, Yasmeen encouraged us to revel in the power of our womanhood. I encourage you in turn, dear reader, to do whatever reminds you of your power, and do it often. Take a pole dancing class, grocery shop braless, wear red lipstick, wear not a stitch of makeup, go for a run, swipe through Bumble, book a flight, save your money, sit at the bar by yourself, post that fire selfie on instagram, go back to school, change your mind, ask for a promotion, say yes, say no. Whatever it is, don’t apologize. You are woman. You are enough.
P.S: my heels are still at Revolve. If you’re in the neighborhood, would you mind grabbing them for me? KThanks <3333333333