It was the naughtiness that first drew me to pole dancing; I loved the idea of doing something risqué and different. Surprisingly, it was the deep healing that captured my heart and soul and kept me coming back for seven years. In my first class the instructor expertly guided us using visual and kinesthetic (feeling) cues to move and feel. Close your eyes and just breathe. It could have been my own yoga class, with the exception of the darkness, shadows and chrome poles glimmering in the dim red light. The women who came “just to get their sexy on” would get it and move on, and the rest of us (regardless of what initially drew us to pole class) stayed because the depths beneath the surface of “just sexy” beckoned. Through pole dancing, I learned to own my feminine power. I wore more form fitting and feminine clothes, and my relationships with men shifted for the positive. I started to make real friendships with men. For the first time in my life I really understood that I am a beautiful woman. I thank my dance sisters for being the mirror that showed me my own beauty, and taught me to treasure it like a precious jewel.
My pole dancing, as all healing processes do, shifted four years ago. I had to join another class due to schedule changes not knowing this class would mark my life in ways I never imagined possible. My dancing became more raw and real because my new class thrived on honesty and vulnerability. Raw emotion glued us together, and it was through my connection to this class that I survived my recent life crisis.
I was a mother for 15 weeks. I had reached 43 years of age without ever hearing the tick of my biological clock, and only then had my first pregnancy – completely unplanned and shocking – change everything. I search outside myself for signs that it’s ok, but this world doesn’t praise those of us who have made a similar choice as a parent. I hate that I even had a choice, and it still haunts me. I would have preferred to remain ambivalent to having children, walking my path in alignment with my spirit. My path before the pregnancy was clear, no confusion or meandering; I saw my way and kept moving forward with relative ease. Now I question my past and grieve my present on a daily basis. Fortunately one thing the pregnancy did not unravel for me was my relationship. My partner and I were living together at the time, and now we are happily married. If anything this storm brought us closer together. Neither one of us wanted kids, yet we were suddenly having one. We walked around the first few weeks in a dense fog of disbelief and terror, feeling out of control and worried about being able to actually do this thing called parenting. Parents? That was some other couple, not us. After couples’ counseling together and individually, we pledged to bring our child into the world and raise it together. We were going to have a baby. I continued to dance my way through the nausea, and my ever changing relationship with gravity.
When we found out many weeks later that the baby tested positive for Down’s Syndrome, a new rug pulled out from under us. Here we’d just done all of this soul searching and spiritual shifting to be parents, and now we were choosing to let that all go. But was it really a choice? Not for me. It was what I felt I clearly had to do for the good of all involved. At the time, I never questioned my actions, and I still know it was the right choice for me. Yet, I never ever bargained on the weight of this grief that I still carry with me. I guess I thought it would be a small backpack size grief that I could strap on both shoulders and carry with relative ease; instead I got a set of mismatched luggage that varies in size according to the trip and some of the wheels get stuck from time to time. Yet whenever I arrived in dance class, all I ever needed to carry was in my heart -and my neat little dance bag. Dance class, the only place I could be so raw and real.
I spent three months in a grief support group for women like me who had “to choose” to terminate a pregnancy based on some genetic or serious health issue with the fetus. It was good to be around other women who had suffered this impossible choice. Our partners were welcome and I learned a lot from some of the men strong enough to feel and share in our group – my husband came once and it felt so good to hear him speak about his feelings. In the group of some six women, I alone had lots of outside support from friends and family. Most of these women felt afraid or ashamed to tell even their closest friends and family about their abortions. While it was helpful and necessary to go to this support group, it was through my dance class I received unconditional love and acceptance to begin to let go of some of my heavy baggage.
I had my entire dance class of ten “sisters” who knew and supported me throughout this time. And I exposed myself weekly, tearing my heart open in my dance class. I would dance out my demons boldly, without edit in front of these other women every Thursday. We’d been dancing together for three years before I got pregnant. I danced through the entire three month pregnancy, the abortion and recovery. Our class ended exactly a year from the day I found out the fetus had Down’s. Obviously, this was no ordinary dance class or group of women. Hearts and bodies exposed in the dimly lit room with no mirrors. No voyeurs, only all of us voyagers together on this ship of feeling, emotion and self expression. We reveled in the power, the exquisite feeling of being truly “seen” and “understood” – beyond the physical. We lay our deepest fears, concerns, and loves out like a banquet feast. There was no critique or judgement, only acceptance and mirroring. Being this raw and real has unbelievable healing power. I don’t believe I would have been as graceful grieving without this class. Sitting in a circle of chairs talking with others about our shared pain helped me feel less alone in my experience yet never transcendent – I would have been quite literally and figuratively stuck in that group process chair for years without my somatic practice, my Thursday morning pole dance class.
The songs I danced to in this three month period tell the real story words cannot. The last provocative and openly sexual dance I remember was right before I found out I was pregnant. I danced to Peaches “Boys Wanna Be Her”. I stripped off a leopard coat, carried it in my mouth as I crawled across the floor stalking the entire room. This dance screamed – I dare you. The following week after discovering I was pregnant I rolled around on the floor softly and sweetly to “Falling Slowly”, this song about falling in love became my story of a long slow backwards fall from shock to loving acceptance to pride of new motherhood.
On the day I got the call from the genetics department, I went to dance class fifteen minutes later. It was the only thing I really could do in my shock, and I knew the song I’d dance to before I even got off the phone with the counselor. Bruno Mars “It Will Rain”, a song about the devastation of lost love, is forever linked to my own loss of a child. Because of my training and understanding of trauma, I knew that I should move and dance if I could. Like Bruno sings, I had quite literally been brought to my knees. My dance sisters moved around me that day in silent support, and they picked me up and held me as I cried my eyes out. My pain and trauma may never be entirely gone, and I am forever marked by this experience. However, I know that being able to embody my grief immediately and share it without apology jump started my healing. To have women who love me without question hold space for me was beyond anything I might have imagined possible.
Even though I lived it, I am still incredulous about what I went through. Once I healed from the abortion physically, I danced to “Only If For A Night” by Florence and the Machine. Florence wrote the song about seeing her grandmother’s ghost, who she had been quite close to while she was alive. Similarly, one night right after the abortion I had a dream where I said goodbye to a little girl I know was my daughter. For me, as for Florence in her song, “the only solution was to stand and fight/And my body was bruised and I was set alight/But you came over me like some holy rite/And although I was burning, You’re the only light. Only if for a night.” I had a child only if for a night, and I truly hope that someday it will make sense why it was so brief.