In her late 50s–even though she knew she couldn’t dance particularly well–writer Ann Zuccardy threw herself into pole dancing. She survived to tell this story.
I am semi-famous in small circles for my lack of rhythm and stiff dance moves.
One would think I might have learned some dance skills from my parents. They took ballroom dancing, and then later in the 1970s, much to my then-teenage horror, disco lessons. They’d clear out the living room and put the Saturday Night Fever album on their portable record player and swirl and twirl. I’d pretend throw-up, but I secretly thought it was beautiful. And it was. All that polyester. All that twirling. I would give anything to see them disco dance again.
But no, dancing was not one of my skills…unless there was tequila involved. And tequila only made me “think” I could dance. I won’t even do the electric slide at a wedding. I simply roll my eyes from the sidelines.
So why, for the love of God, would I subject myself to pole dancing in my late 50s? You know, all the blah-blah-blah about breaking out of comfort zones? I pontificate about it frequently.
I had just moved to Baltimore, part-time, in 2017. I didn’t know a soul. Groupon was my source for weird and wonderful local things, and I scored a deal for a pole dancing class. No one would know me here. Maybe I could start fresh, reinvent my persona. Maybe I could become an elderly pole dance athlete. Given my unnatural sense of rhythm, limber menopausal body, and brain injury history, this seemed a perfectly logical thing to do.
I told myself that I would give pole dance lessons one single try. If the class was full of yoga Barbies, I would be out of there, pronto. The first class I attended was a chair dancing class. I thought it might be safer to keep my feet on the ground and my butt in a chair on my first go. I was delighted to find women of all shapes, sizes, colors, ages, and clothing combinations when I arrived. Not one yoga Barbie in sight!
“Now, straddle Stefan, and flip your hair,” the instructor directed. Say what? Straddle who? What had I gotten myself into? I mastered my favorite pole dancer’s move, the hair flip, quickly, but I was a little uncomfortable about straddling a stranger. It only took me two classes before I learned that Stefan is the Ikea name for a black hardback chair.
After mastering the Stefan straddle, I graduated to the pole. Sadly, it didn’t have a sexy Ikea name. My go-to move when I couldn’t get my feet off the ground for more than two seconds—you guessed it—my signature move, the hair flip. I quickly mastered the pole walk and the various grips, but when it came to aerial moves, I knew they would probably never happen. Even with shaving cream (yes, pole dancers use shaving cream to help make the pole a little sticky for a better grip), I simply couldn’t hurl my body into space for more than five seconds before gravity engaged my butt…on the floor.
Are you wondering about the shoes? I think it may not be politically correct to call them stripper shoes, but I don’t know what else to call them, so stripper shoes they are. Some women wore them; some didn’t. There was no pressure either way. But here I was, a recovering Catholic, stiff preppy white girl from Connecticut, who always did the opposite of what was expected, so I HAD TO HAVE THE SHOES! I bought a pair of pink gold platforms with a six-inch heel. Wearing them, I was 6’2” and I teetered like a protoplasmic Jenga tower. Walking in them was one thing, but dancing in them? I whispered a silent prayer that I would not break my nose or crack my sternum as I had the previous year in a bicycle accident. And I made sure my will and health insurance were up to date.
I was not the oldest person there, as I had feared I would be. There was one woman who was 70. I loved watching her. She could do some aerial moves. She wore thigh-high black boots with a stiletto heel. She was graceful and beautiful inside and out. We became friends. “Oh yes,” I thought, “I want to grow old like that.” I want to be the elderly pole dancer or the senior citizen in a rubber bathing cap at the pool who swims effortless lap after lap. (I had goals.)
Pole dance achievements were rewarded with colorful garters. I never earned one. Think about martial arts and the colored belts one can earn as one advances. The garter system is similar. I have no idea what the color progression was. I would have killed for a garter, but I never even made it to the first level. Now if there was a granny panties level, I might have been a contender, but no such luck.
I did get something almost as cool as a garter.
This was perhaps the most inclusive fitness experience I’d ever had. All women, all supportive, no nonsense. No one laughed at me, but I laughed at myself often.
I found a new sense of sensuality. I found my inner seductress in a safe place to let her loose without fear of judgment. I was taught, all my life, to tamp that part of myself down. The never-ending message of my youth was that you couldn’t be sensual AND smart.
Pole dancing class encouraged me to contemplate the word sensual. So many confuse it with sexy. No, no, no! Sensual is about the senses; reveling in all of them, without self-conscious apologies. Sensual is human. It’s what we were created to do; to enjoy all that life has for us, using all of our senses.
When I speak to students or present a keynote, I talk about how growing our brains and keeping them healthy for a lifetime requires us to try new and unusual things and to embrace our awkwardness with compassionate laughter. My pole dancing skills are still rudimentary and probably always will be, but the experience of laughing, connecting, and engaging my inner sensual goddess (goofy flaws and all) follows me everywhere I go.
I’m still a lousy dancer, but I’m a more compassionate and open writer, teacher, mother, student, and daughter.
Ann Zuccardy is a technical writer for the DoD, adjunct professor of English, brain injury survivor, notoriously awkward dancer, and keynote speaker with two TEDx talks. She began her MFA in memoir at the University of Baltimore in 2022 at 60. Ann’s work appears in Adelaide Literary Journal, Spry Literary Journal, Press Pause Moments: Essays about Life Transitions by Women Writers, In Between Spaces: An Anthology of Disabled Writers and in many blogs and podcasts. Ann splits her time between Baltimore and her house in rural northern Vermont where she hopes to hold writing retreats after she “retires.”