Maggie Wright laughed and told me that I probably wouldn’t have to go out and buy any particular uniform to start my month learning about pole dancing. I didn’t need booty shorts or anything extra clingy.
“Athletic shorts will be fine,” she said. “You just need to have bare skin from maybe your mid-leg on, but don’t put on any lotion within 24 hours, OK?”
I explained that I didn’t think I’d used any skin lotion in a year, except for tanning lotion and the gunk I’ve been putting in my beard lately to make it less wiry.
Over FaceTime, Maggie laughed, and told me that maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to leave out the beard oil the day of the workshop, though my beard shouldn’t come into play.
If, while swinging around a chrome pole, I wound up rolling my face into the bar, I was absolutely doing it wrong.
Maggie owns and operates Vertical Vixens Pole Fitness in Clarksburg, where she teaches pole dancing, power vinyasa yoga and cardio boxing.
Over the past couple of years, she’s come to Charleston a few times to do workshops teaching pole dancing.
This particular topic had been a long time coming for me.
Years ago, before “One Month at a Time,” I’d taken some delight in occasionally pitching story ideas to then-editor Rob Byers that I knew he’d never go for.
Rob is a stand-up guy, but he had a rigid exterior and reminded me of my best friend, Brad, from back home.
Every now and again, like Brad, I’d try to wind him up a little.
One time, I’d heard about a pole dancing/pole fitness competition and convention in Morgantown. I asked Rob if I could go cover the thing and bring a photographer.
He’d looked at me, shook his head and said, “We’re not sending you to Morgantown to go watch strippers.”
I remember arguing that these weren’t strippers, but fitness professionals. Pole dancing was an exercise sensation. People needed to know.
Rob just said no and then told me to go away.
It had been a joke for me, though I’d have gone and covered the convention if he’d called my bluff.
But the truth is that pole fitness is a legitimate form of exercise and I was just being a thick-headed jerk.
Pole dancing has traced back at least 800 years ago to India, where it was more of a sport practiced by men.
Later, pole dancing was introduced to America through traveling carnival sideshows where it eventually gravitated (or gyrated) to burlesque performances, bawdy bars and eventually strip clubs, where it became a staple among the dancers.
Then pole dancing did a funny thing: it cross-pollinated with dance, aerobics and gymnastics, and pole fitness emerged.
Maggie told me there wasn’t a workout like it. Pole dancing was a great full-body workout. It offered good cardio and strength training. It refined or helped train a person’s natural agility and it focused on core muscles like few other exercise programs.
And it wasn’t just for women.
“I don’t get a lot of men in these classes,” she said. “But I’ve had a few.”
I’d come to pole dancing through a roundabout path, actually through a broken trail.
In October, my editor Maria and I had been talking about the 2021 roadmap for “One Month at a Time.” She wanted some idea that I had a plan for what was going to come next year, what I’d be working on. But I was hemming and hawing.
I’d had all kinds of plans for this column in 2020. I’d made a list.
This was going to be an outdoorsy year, I’d planned.
I was going to camp, bicycle and hike. I was going to kayak. I was going to take part in the West Virginia Trilogy, a grueling, three-day 90-some mile trail run.
To me, this seemed like the only thing that could top the Spartan Beast Race I’d run in 2019.
The pandemic changed everyone’s plans. The trilogy was canceled, and my list took some hits.
I figured I could pick up the trilogy in 2021 with hiking, maybe trail running or ultra-running, but Maria wasn’t so sure that I ought to.
“Isn’t it kind of redundant?” she asked. “You’ve done so much of this stuff.”
I wasn’t completely convinced, but I could see her point. When I’d started “One Month at a Time” in 2016, I’d been a different guy — at least, I looked different. I was heavy, ate whatever and exercise was spotty.
Through learning and writing about exercise and fitness, I’d changed my diet, gotten into fair shape and run a couple of races.
Would running 90-some miles over the course of one weekend really be that much of a challenge for someone like me?
Yes, I said. Yes, it would be. That sounded like murder (and there was camping, which made it that much more awful), but we agreed that when I picked an athletic or sporty topic, it had to be something substantially different than what I’d already done.
If I wanted to run a plain, old marathon or take part in another obstacle course race, I could do that on my time.
I held out that the Trilogy was substantially different, but we didn’t agree on whether I would give that a try or let it go.
A week later, I saw the advertisement for a couple of pole dancing workshops at Butch Hiles Brazilian Ju-Jitsu in Charleston.
That seemed pretty different.
I took self defense classes at Butch’s gym for a little over a year. I wasn’t sure how pole dancing fit into the punches and kicks I knew and loved, but I wondered if maybe I could take the workshop?
Before I did anything, I tried the idea out on a couple of editors. They thought it was a great idea. One of them knew someone who’d done a bit of pole dancing in college. It was apparently harder than it looked.
I could imagine.
My own experience with pole dancers had been somewhat limited, just a couple of bachelor parties in my 20s and one very strange night out with Brad, following a divorce.
Brad took me out (allegedly) to cheer me up, but one of the dancers on stage turned out to be one of my college newspaper editors. While doing her routine, she stopped mid-song and we caught up through the next couple of songs — where we’d been, what we’d been up to the last few years.
She’d taken some time off from school but hoped to get back soon, though maybe not work in journalism. She heard the money was pretty bad.
I told her I was going through a bit of a rocky place personally, but I had a job in radio, writing commercials.
The other men glared at me.
Finally, when her songs were finished, she told me she had to go, but that we ought to finish catching up sometime. Then she sauntered off, collecting dollar bills.
Brad, baffled, looked over at me and said, “I can’t take you anywhere.”
We left after that, and I hadn’t seen anyone else dance on a pole since.
I contacted Maggie and Butch. Butch said, “Sure. Come on.” Maggie said the same, but was adamant that I couldn’t come to just watch. That was creepy and weird.
If I came, she said, I should come to learn.
I told her I couldn’t wait.