How on earth had an innocuous visit to JJ’s on a rainy Sunday afternoon in November led to this? Why was I now accompanied by two male ‘new best friends’, who were being unnervingly, uncharacteristically enthusiastic about clothes shopping? I couldn’t for the life of me think what had possessed to me to go along with this journalistic assignment, as I stood in the glare of the fluorescent changing rooms looking at my pasty white, over-wintered body which was covered in two little scraps of black material and a slightly larger scrap of see-through red material.
“It will look good in the photographs,” they assured me, and “we need the red for contrast,” they told me, as I walked out of the shop glancing almost longingly over my shoulder at a much more respectable, if not frumpy, pair of shorts. Why was I just about to pole-dance in the barely-there outfit that the boys had so kindly and carefully selected? Then I remembered, and there was no backing out: in a round about way this was my idea.
In JJ’s on that fateful night I made a flippant comment about a possible solution to inquoracy at UGM’s: “Some nibbles and pole dancing should entice the crowds” was my frivolous suggestion. I should have stopped there. I didn’t. I told the boys about my idea, the one to help us shrug off our ‘University of Dork’ image and increase fitness and flexibility levels campus-wide at the same time; ‘The University of York Pole-Dancing Society.’ I thought it was a novel idea, and quite funny. Nouse, it seems, didn’t have the sensitivity to realise that I was joking, even though I might have appeared deadly serious. A suggestion emerged; I should have a pole-dancing lesson and write a feature on it. After a couple of beers it didn’t seem like such a heinous idea, and I never thought that it would ever get organised. Lesson one; never underestimate the stamina of a young male campus journalist, most especially where the prospect of a free ‘perv at pole-dancing’ is part of the bargain.
So, I had called their bluff, I never thought that it would actually happen, but then they told me it was organised. I spent four days wondering what I should wear, whether I should have a fake tan and run the risk of going a streaky orange colour, and more importantly, whether I would even be able to do anything remotely resembling pole-dancing so that the boys could get their photographs and I could scurry back off to my quiet little life where it didn’t matter that my legs were pale and prickly. I even tried to suggest that I find an unsuspecting Polish student and dance around them. “It’s a really clever play-on-words” I opined, but they were adamant that I couldn’t back out, and the feature was to go ahead in spite of my fear, dread, and deep regret at ever having uttered the words pole and dance in the same sentence.
I didn’t really know what to expect from the club, but I was reminded of the thoughts I have on more sober nights in Toffs, when I imagine how awful the place must look in the cold light of day; grubby, sticky carpets and the harshness of the daylight showing every tired stain of partying on every surface accompanied by the smell of stale booze. I didn’t know what kind of venue had been lined up for my lesson, but felt much better when a rather-too-large entourage led me to Purple Door. It has a smart tidy looking frontage with a purple door and unimposing sign. Inside, the horrors of Toffs in daylight didn’t materialise. The downstairs bar area was smart and spotlessly clean and very much like other bars, were it not for the small, and not too imposing corner stage complete with pole and strategically placed mirrors.
As I put on my carefully selected, and now seemingly even smaller, outfit and slipped on a borrowed pair of Perspex soled stilettos I reminded myself that I’d wear less on the beach, but it didn’t make me feel any more comfortable when I returned to the bar area and a gallery armed with cameras. So that I had an idea of the kind of thing I could do, Hannah, a dancer at the club, took to the pole first, much to the delight of the largely male audience. Now I knew why they had worked so hard to find a compliant club and make this feature a reality! All too soon, both for me and the boys, Hannah’s song had finished and I had to leave the relative safety of having my back to a pillar so that my backside wasn’t on show, to trying out the little corner stage for myself, where I could hide from no-one, not even my reflection.
You know when you’re at a club or party, and you haven’t had enough to drink to make you not care that you’re crap at dancing and you feel really self-conscious? Right, well multiply that feeling about a billion times, include two cameras, five people staring at you, very little clothing to cover your modesty and add to that that you have no clue what you’re doing, and you might have an idea of how I was feeling. But then after a few attempts I managed to cling on for dear life and spin round and round on the pole, albeit perhaps not in the most flattering of positions, and I was hooked. I felt less and less self-conscious as my exhibitionist, but ‘usually-only-seen-when-horribly-drunk’, side took over and I pranced around the stage and kept trying to master pole-dancing tricks almost, but perhaps luckily not quite, oblivious to the cameras and people around me. It was tiring, and soon my biceps and thighs were screaming ‘no more!’ as I attempted to master basic pole-dancing moves again and again. It is certainly good exercise, and works unusual muscle groups to which my aching arms and, oddly, only one stiff calf were testament the day after. Most of all though, it was fun. I left Purple Door thinking that I might have found a means to all the new clothing I covet and usually can’t afford on my meagre student finances, as well as a form of exercise far more exhilarating and appealing to me than step aerobics.
One of my initial aims for this feature was to highlight the lengths students will go to when battling against student debt throughout their university careers. This issue is set only to increase if, but more probably when, the new top-up fee proposals are implemented. Highlighting the fact that some students pole-dance to fund their University careers was to some extent intended as a shock feature, illustrating that people are driven to such lengths in the face of spiralling debt. “What do you say to this Mr Charles Clarke?” I was going to ask. However, I now realise that pole-dancing is not shocking, or sordid or sleazy. I didn’t feel that the dancing was any more provocative than what you see on MTV at any time of day, or in Toffs on a Tuesday night! Nor is pole-dancing tantamount to prostitution as seems to be a fairly common misconception; the dancers dance, that is all. I now realise that reporting a supposedly shocking means of employment to demonstrate what students feel they must do in the face of debt is not focusing on the real issue. It is not a question of whether students are working pole-dancing, in a bar, or in MacDonald’s. The issue is that students often have to work, and have to work long hours, in order to fund their education, arguably to the detriment of their academic potential, or alternatively they may face huge debts. It doesn’t matter where students are finding employment Mr Clarke, the problem is that they are having to, and that more and more will have to under New-Labour’s manifesto-belying proposals.
The Purple Door is located just five minutes walk away from Leeds train station.
The address is The Purple Door, 5 York Place, Leeds
Enquires about the club call: 01132 450556