Confessions of a Pole Dancing Social Worker

by Cinnamon Dupree

My journey in pole dancing began, as many probably do, with a group of friends (in my case social workers) trying something new together. At first I was excited, but as the date approached for our first class I became extremely self-consciousness about my body and worried I would make a fool of myself. What had I gotten myself into?!?!  

Hold on… let me back up and start at the beginning. For me, the beginning of my pole dancing journey began long before my first class. In a way, my journey to becoming a pole dancer began as a child. My childhood was clouded by abuse, dysfunction, shame, guilt, confusion and self-hate. There were many loving moments and relationships along the way, but the outcomes and consequences of the negative experiences often shaped my path in life and plagued my emotions. It is difficult enough to be a female in Western culture, bombarded with images of the ever-changing, unrealistic beauty standards of our society. Additionally, throughout early adulthood my weight fluctuated, and my self-esteem evaporated with every pound I gained. A gal with a history like mine has an uphill battle to loving herself.

Fast forward to 2013 when I attended my first pole dance class: I arrived with too much clothes on and a lot of mental baggage. My discouraging thoughts about myself, excess body weight and general insecurities (and soreness and bruises lasting over a week!) almost discouraged me from returning for the second class I had purchased. Thankfully, my pride and friends (and competitive spirit) influenced me to return and I was hooked, not only on pole dancing, but on all of the dance classes offered by my home studio.

Very quickly I began to reap the rewards of pole and dance classes – yes, I started to lose weight, but to my surprise, I became part of an incredible community among my fellow dancers. I laughed and spent time (usually in only a bra and booty shorts!) with ladies who were also doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers, graphic designers, IT professionals, veterinarians, business owners, artists  and, of course, social workers! These ladies turned into friends, confidants, shoulders to lean on, and my encouragers who always cheered me on. I was in awe of the intelligent women I encountered at the studio; I was both fascinated by and felt lucky to be surrounded by such amazing women.

The positive atmosphere of the studio and the culture of love and encouragement created the perfect environment for me to unleash and begin to break down the internal walls around my heart. It started slowly, with shorts showing a little more booty and forcing my eyes to really see myself in the mirrors surrounding me. There was no denying my body any longer; I learned to love her for what she does for me – for she is strong, sensual and beautiful.

My mindset has changed; I have overcome my tendency to become hung up on what I cannot do in order to focus on improving as a dancer. I look at myself in a different way; my body is a vessel to fuel and condition for achieving a trick or a dance move. There is always something more to learn, a new challenge to meet and it requires me to be vulnerable. Dance is a fluid, constant thing and I see my body as an apparatus of self-expression through movement. The self-conscious person who walked into the first class is long gone and instead stands a mighty woman who embraces herself, flaws and all.

While life inside the studio was flourishing, I was still left to ponder how my new identity as a dancer connected to my role as a social worker. Outside of the studio, I was hesitant to disclose my passion for pole dancing, often feeling the effects of the stigma surrounding pole dancing. I already felt pressured to compartmentalize myself and fit into a box designed by society. There are many layers to this curvy, indigenous woman of color who prefers pretty dresses, yet grew up playing sports and is proud to be outspoken with a hearty laugh! What about the part of me that is a social worker, a partner, an advocate, a friend, a sister, an ally and a survivor? Must I stifle my heart for social justice when I dance? Must I pretend I am not affected and angered by systemic and institutionalized racism in our society when wearing a pretty dress? Must I hide some parts of me when exposing some other “contradictory” part? In short, the answer is HELL NO!

As I navigate this world, every decision I make, every experience I have, every situation I am in, every dance I dance, I am affected by each of my ascribed statuses and identities. The music of a song pumps through me like blood through my veins, touching all parts of my being and flowing out of me in the form of movement and dance. I use dance to process emotions, express myself, have fun and as a form of self-care (a term social workers love to preach, but do not often practice). Without dance as my self-care, I would not be able to be fully present, truly giving of myself to my loved ones and clients because dance recharges my mind. Dance teaches me to breathe and focus, push harder and try again, and allows an outlet to channel my emotions. Dance allows me to connect to my soul and feel the raw sensations of my inner being and because I am better connected to myself, I can continue to help others connect to themselves. Without dance, I could not continue to be a great social worker.

Being a social worker also helps me be a better pole dancer and friend. I see the strength in others and experience true joy as they achieve accomplishments. I receive satisfaction from building up my friends in class and in their journey in pole dancing. But, because as a social worker I am hyper-aware of others and my surroundings, I notice room for improvement. Despite living in a racially diverse city, I see disproportionate numbers in the local pole community and feel we lack true diversity. The pole community is accepting of all body sizes yet this is not reflected in most pole clothing on the market. As a woman with luscious curves, I am often frustrated and disappointed by the limited selection of cute clothes, which requires me to spend extra money to buy a custom made outfit that fit properly. This also carries over to pole dance competitions where ladies with more voluptuous bodies find it challenging to adhere to the rules of covering their gluteal fold, something less concerning to their smaller counterparts.  I do not have the answers on how to improve these matters – I definitely do not plan to start my own clothing line – but rather, these are matters I am aware of and I want to use my voice to advocate for change, just as I would in the field of social work.

Clearly, as a pole dancing social worker, I have many thoughts racing through my mind on any given day and in any given moment. Those thoughts can be hard to nail down, they can lift or dampen my mood; sometimes they frighten me and sometimes they offer me hope. Nevertheless, when I step into the studio, I release the worries, wounds and pain of the day and embrace the healing vibrations of the music, the nourishment of friendships and the beauty of dance. And in the words of Usher, these are my confessions…

Pole dancing taught this social worker to find beauty in her strengths and weaknesses and in her scars of the past and pain of the present.

Pole dancing taught this social worker to love all of her parts and to be unapologetically and perfectly unique.

Pole dancing reminded this social worker she is fierce, strong, fragile, loved and a force to be reckoned with!

Pole dancing helped this social worker to break through the chains that confined her spirit and she will no longer hide or be ashamed of any part of her being!

Thank you Cinnamon Dupree for graciously offering your time and efforts to share your story with Pole Parlour! You're a fierce foxxx! XO!