Emer: Hello Ciarán, you are my brother and this is an interview for my blog about pole dancing. Tell all the people who read my blog how you got into pole dancing.
Ciarán: Hello Emer, you are my sister and I love you! I got into pole dancing about seven months ago, in November. I was at a party with a friend and after a few brews she confided that she’d love to try pole dancing but she didn’t want to do it on her own. So I said, “I will happily try it with you.” She put me in touch with a brand new studio with an amazing teacher that had just opened up in Galway. I went ahead and bought a one month pass. Unfortunately, my friend had to pull out at the last minute and I was thinking “will I, won’t I?” but I’d paid for the full month and I said, “feck it, I’ll give it a go.” After the first month I was like, “yeah, it’s cool, it’s different, but I’m not sure – I’ll do another month” and then I did another month, and then another, and I think by month three I was like, “I look amazing, I feel amazing, I’m having so much fun – I’m keeping this up!” And I haven’t looked back. I train twice a week, and I’m protective of my training times – nothing gets in the way. I look forward to it; I come out of it exhausted and bruised, but it’s amazing and I love it.
[Cruising for a Bruising]
Emer: So when you first told me you were doing pole dancing I was delighted, but also suspicious of your motivations. I asked you if there was any hot girls in the class. And you replied in a very feminist way, which made me all proud – do you remember what you said?
Ciarán: I can’t remember what I said, but it was probably like, there are SO MANY hot girls, but they are my pole sisters and I am their pole brother and incest is frowned upon. No pole to pole. Pole has a lot of hot people in it, but it’s not just hotness to do with the body: it’s hotness to do with confidence; it’s hotness to do with putting yourself out there. You’re wearing next to nothing, yet you’re so comfortable with each other. It’s platonic. You’re there to exercise. Pole isn’t really sexy when you’re doing it, just when you’re watching it.
Emer: Do you worry that some of the girls there might think that you’re objectifying them?
Ciarán: That was one of my concerns when I first started. I said to my instructor, “look I know it might be a bit strange for some of the girls to be in a class with a guy, they might feel a bit vulnerable – let me know if that’s the case.” But every single girl I’ve met has been so super enthusiastic about sharing a class with a guy, and about the stuff we’re learning to do. We’re so supportive of each other.
I could ask the same question of them – do I feel like they’re objectifying me? Well if they are, then feck it, why not.
[Would you objectify this man?]
Emer: Does everyone in your class think you’re gay?
Ciarán: I think a lot of people when they see a guy doing pole make assumptions about his sexuality. Maybe about his masculinity too. But it’s never really come up – no one’s ever asked me “are you gay, are you straight?” I don’t think people think I’m gay, because I’d be cracking the odd joke about my Tindr profile or whatever, but if they do, it doesn’t make a difference. Although a gay guy did try it out once and he instantly knew I was straight. How? But it was really nice to have another guy in the studio for a day.
Emer: So how do you feel about being a minority in the space?
Ciarán: As you know, I’m a redhead, so I’m used to being a minority. But, like, I don’t mind being the only guy. Sometimes I do get looks where people are all “oh my god, there’s a guy in this class.” But that’s actually made me focus on being the best I can be, to show that I’m not lazy or half-assed about it, and to show other guys who might come into it what you can do in 7 months time with focused training. That’s why the showcase I’m doing Saturday week is pretty important to me. I’ll be the only guy performing, and I think it’s really important for the school to break down those gender barriers, to show that it’s not just aimed at women. Though the majority of the students are women, it’s also a place where men can be comfortable and accepted.
Emer: So, like, Ronan bemusedly slags you off and Mum says that you should take the pole dancing pictures off your Tindr profile, so, even while I am the most supportive sister ever, in our family it has created a minor degree of controversy. How about with your friends or at work or out in the world, have people been shocked or discouraging of your pole habit?
Ciarán: I think anyone who knows my personality is not surprised. But having said that I’m not very vocal about it, because people will jump to conclusions – people think of sleaziness, stripping, that there’s something overtly sexual about it. That’s what pole dancing is to a lot of people, and, y’know, it is grounded in strip clubs and that, but it really is becoming more of a sport as opposed to something that requires a darkened room and middle aged business men throwing bank notes. And it’s not their business anyway. It’s the same thing as if someone was really into, I don’t know, salsa dancing – you might not tell everyone that you meet.
Emer: But a boy salsa dancing isn’t quite as controversial as a boy pole dancing.
But okay, this brings me to my big philosophical question that I’ve been thinking about, because when you told me you were doing pole dancing I was happy because it’s gender bendy – I think it’s really rad that you’re like “fuck it, I don’t care that this is usually for girls, I like it!” But I will admit that when other friends of mine have told me they’re doing pole dancing and that it’s so empowering and it’s really about fitness and all this stuff, I have historically been a bit skeptical. Because pole dancing does have its roots in strip clubs and the sex industry – and while I’m not knocking strippers or sex workers – I’m skeptical of the faux-feminist rhetoric of “oh look we’re so empowered because we’re writhing around in a way that’s sexually attractive to men.” And then I was thinking about how if you were my little sister rather than my little brother and you had told me you were doing pole dancing I probably would have been a bit more judgey, like Mum and Ronan, and a bit less encouraging, like me. Does this mean, Ciarán, that I’m a massive sexist?
Ciarán: I don’t think it means you’re a massive sexist. We’re dealing with differences in gender conditioning. And, you know, something like that is also much safer for a man to do. Say a male life model in a room full of thirty women who are drinking and sleazing on him is a lot safer than if those roles were reversed. I’m not saying that men can’t be raped or sexually harassed – of course they can. But there are differences.
[Graceful like a big ginger upside-down swan]
Hey, y’know Clarisse (Ronan’s partner) took up pole, and it’s almost become a problem because every time myself and Clarisse are together all we do is talk about pole, and Ronan’s like, “can we please talk about anything other than pole?”
Emer: Might that also because you like to demonstrate technicalities from your conversation on street poles in public, and that makes Ronan uncomfortable?
Ciarán: Well that’s to do with Ronan, not me.
Emer: He’s got to deal with his own shit.
Ciarán: He needs to break down his prejudice.
Emer: I feel like if Clarisse had told me that she was doing pole dancing without you doing pole dancing, I would have been outwardly cool about it, but I would’ve also been – to my shame – secretly a bit judgey. But because you were doing it first, I didn’t feel like that. And then that makes me uncomfortable because I’m devaluing stuff that women do and I only think it’s okay if guys do it too. I’m not sure I quite agree with you that I amen’t a big sexist. But your pole dancing has definitely helped me to work through some of my sexism.
Now – tell us about pole dancing with hairy legs.
Ciarán: It is a nightmare. It is so painful to the point that I was seriously considering going down the Veet or Gilette route, because the friction and the feeling of having the hair pulled out from your legs is excruciating. But much like everything else, you get used to it, it doesn’t hurt as much, and now I don’t even think about it. So don’t be afraid of having hairy legs when pole dancing!
Although there are still times, especially when I’m doing things where the pole is between my inner thighs, which is a pretty sensitive area anyway, where the hair gets ripped out, and sweet gentle Jesus, it’s agony.
Emer: That’s nothing compared to a Brazillian – just to let you know.
Ciarán: I will take your word for it. I feel no need to experience it.
Emer: Do you have any final words of advice for anyone – male, female, gender non-binary, trans, cis, and everything inbetween and above and below – who might be thinking of taking up pole.
Ciarán: Do it! It’s fun! It’s outside the box. It’s massively supportive. It’s like so many other kinds of performance – it’s all love and support and all good vibes. And I’ve got to say, I’ve done lots of different things – martial arts, gym, whatever – and I’ve never felt as comfortable as I do as the only guy in my pole dancing school.