How to be a Pole Dancer

Article first published on 17/09/12 on

Times are moving swiftly. What was once deemed a socially taboo form of entertainment, indulged by the rich/ famous/ bankers, usually under the cover of darkness, is now mainstream family fun.

The family friendly local leisure centre in the leafy suburban town in which I reside has introduced pole dancing lessons to its weekly timetable. So, in the glare of day light, with sun streaming into the studio through the windows (only partially obscured by the number of curious faces sneaking a peek), the local housewives can get a fix to rival any sexual fantasy in Fifty Shades.

Mr A deems it a sad pastime for either the vain or deluded, harbouring delusions of an inner pole dancer. Just cast a thought to the majority of those exercising their vocal chords on X Factor and you’ll see his point. Having said that, the instructor is a friend of mine and focuses solely on the strengthening aspect of it as a form of exercise – hauling one’s entire body weight round a pole while contorting into various positions, legs akimbo. Forget about the simultaneously trying to look sexy part, I imagine an elephant hanging onto a lamp post might have better luck.

All that I have to go on though is a brief review gleaned from a fellow gym goer who actually partakes in the pole antics. Apparently after the initial self-consciousness wears off (I dare you to deny you weren’t at all embarrassed in your first zumba class!), it’s a superb workout and immensely fun. And then, I also discovered that she is my niece’s class teacher at a local primary school. Oh how the mums must wonder why all the dads are desperate to do their share of that school run!


Jostling with the Jobless at the Local Gym REDUX


[This article was first published on 12th May 2009, on]

I stand corrected. It is NOT just the jobless I am jostling with for treadmill time (see previous post: Jostling with the Jobless at the Local Gym); it appears I am now rubbing shoulders with royalty down at my local authority sports centre.

Well, not royalty in reality but The Queen in her best onscreen guise – yes, none other than Dame Helen herself. I have always thought myself above celebrity worship, or even mere curiosity. But such tangible proximity to the grande dame of drama unleashed my inner Hello!-reading, Celebrity Big Brother-watching alter ego.

In the manner of an incompetent stalker, I surreptitiously watched with interest her every move, while feigning interest in the BBC news on the screen in front of me and trying to stay pace with the tireless treadmill. Unlike me, her pursuits of the morning appeared to be anaerobic, moving from one toning machine to the next (explaining those legendary bikini shots last year), all the while toting an ill-disguised open script.

I say ‘script’ but I could be wrong: A4, dog eared, bound together in a ‘this is not commercially available in print’ sort of way, with the text set out in the style of higgledy piggledy dialogue rather than blocks of text typical of more mundane manuscripts. Overcome with zealous obsession wrought by months of the unextraordinary, I harnessed my gossip girl within.

Seizing my chance when she ventured to the mat to stretch and ab-exercise, I ambled over. I considered commending her on her Oscar winning performance in the role of HRH but for the small issue that I have not actually seen it. Instead I tried to sneak a rather indiscrete peek at her script (MI5 covert mission this was not) while assuming the pretense of fumbling with a disproportionately large swiss ball.

Somewhere amidst contorting myself to ascertain the gist of her reading material, I seem to have lost sight of her presence – she abruptly snatched the script from my line of vision, dragging my gaze with it; breaking my precariously balanced pose and leaving me in an ungainly heap on the mat, swiss ball rolling to an exit to the right.

So it appears even dames are reigning in the spending in these spartan times; after all how better to convey sympathy for the poor populace than to join them? And if it’s good enough for a dame then who is a lowly out of work banker to complain? And one more thing, Ms Mirren, may I please applaud you on looking jolly marvellous – even in a Mickey Mouse T shirt and no makeup.

Jostling with the jobless at the local gym

[This article was first published on 16 April 2009, on]

One of the first things to go, in my post-redundancy existence, were my multiple gym memberships – one had inspirational instructors, a spa, pool and a really good masseuse called David; another was within spitting distance of my desk and allowed me the unparalleled privilege of sweating, spinning and sparring alongside my colleagues. In exchange, I now have just the one membership – at the local authority sports centre (oh how the mighty have fallen). Goodbye to sun salutations in a swanky yet serene surround.

In an attempt to redeem myself from a weekend of frenzied Easter egg eating, I am enduring the drudgery that epitomises pounding the treadmill miles. Observing those around me in the similar pursuit of physical exertion, I realise that the men outnumber the women with a ratio of at least 6 to 1. In the weights area, there is no need for random ratio guesstimates – it is a mass of men and not one representative from the female camp.

So actually the ratios are a bit like those found on the average investment bank trading floor; though the ratio in the weights area is more resonant of the IT help desk. And indeed the average City gym echoes these gender biases.

It occurs to me, while still on my mindless mission to nowhere, that there really is no huge difference between the testosterone-fuelled muscle mania in this less than salubrious local authority fitness establishment, in the heart of the East End, versus its infinitely more plush City counterpart. Regardless of which end of this diametrically opposed spectrum you take, both are essentially filled with members of the male species intent on proving the potency of their physical prowess and pumping weights with a vigour and vanity to rival the model on the cover of Men’s Health.

Another observation gleaned over the months and miles spent on this treadmill is that in the hours of the week typically associated with work, there is a surprisingly constant flow of fitness-seeking faces. The audible grunts from red-faced, vein-popping weight lifters continues unabated. I can only assume that these are my fellow jobless casualties of an economy teetering on the brink. On second glance the majority don’t strike me as City types, past or current. If they were revealed to be local gang members this wouldn’t be entirely unbelievable.

For not wholly unselfish reasons I am hoping for an imminent end to the pesky job cuts over in the City – the prospect of queuing for my turn on the hamster wheel is a dreary one. Still, out here it’s more common to take to the streets for a proper bout of fistee cuffs, rather than in the cosseted confines of the gym with padded gloves and a personal trainer paid to dole out enthusiastic boot camp style encouragement. The average macho (ex)banker might find this real Fight Club rather illuminating. Plus, a street fight doesn’t need an upfront joining fee – though at the same time, it’s not followed by a steam room session, a massage and Molton Brown toiletries to boot.