I started taking pole dance classes almost 5 years ago. I wish I could say I’m amazing at this point, but I am not. For one thing, my commitment has been sporadic at best. For another, I’m pretty uncoordinated in general, and many forms of body movement do not come easily or naturally to me.

Still, I’ve tried many other forms of “fitness”, exercise, and dance, and none have stuck as much as pole has. I like that every time I go to class, even though I’ve been to lots of classes previously, I always learn a new move. There’s always some novel way to hang or climb or spin. Even just sitting on the pole, you can make all kinds of shapes with your limbs and hips and torso. You can be silly or weird or pretty or just a person making anguished faces because you’ve just smashed the top of your foot midkick, AGAIN. It’s great.

If you’ll allow me a little zen indulgence, lately one of the most interesting parallels I’ve seen between poling and real life is the act of letting go. Many polers are afraid of the spin; they fear falling midair so much that they can’t take the initial, required step. I’ve never had this fear. I fling myself at the pole with abandon, because I trust that even if I do the spin all wrong, the strength in my arms will keep me from doing a face plant. I won’t fall because, at the very least, I can hold myself up.

My problem, my fear, is letting my arms go. In specific sits or inversions, it looks fierce if you can let go with one or both hands. Trouble is, I don’t trust my legs to hold me like I do my arms. I convince myself, as I’m slowly lowering myself backwards, that I cannot possibly, possibly take my hands off the pole. Even though I know logically the ground isn’t far, even though I have never fallen before, even though there are people all around me ready to spot me in a flash, I … just … can’t … let … go. Any and all encouragement is drowned out by my mind just saying no, over and over. I will hold on if it kills me. Which is interesting, considering that letting go probably won’t kill me at all.

To bring this terribly on-the-nose metaphor to a close, sometimes I do finally let go. Oops, spoiler alert. And it’s always the same, after I’ve let go, I am never as afraid as I am in the moments leading up to it. I hold my arms outstretched, or behind my head, and I’m relieved. And then I forget, and fight the same battle all over again the next time.

I know I crave control. So many things in my life feel out of my control, and so much of the time I find myself reaching and grasping and holding on for dear life. It never feels good, but I sometimes convince myself it’s all I have. If I could just hold on tighter, grasp harder, maybe then …

Maybe then what? My life will be perfect? I can finally relax? Loneliness and boredom and frustration and fear will disappear?

At the very least, I expect I would feel the relief of my arms flung wide and my palms open to everything.

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