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The Friends We Made Along the Way, Etc.

I recently stumbled upon a random “rest easy” postmortem on Facebook. A friend was mourning a gone-too-soon colleague and mentor, described as a “major force in the pole fitness and performance community,” and I was intrigued. My friend, whom we’ll call Gina (because this is her name), owns a pole fitness/aerial arts studio. It’s not inaccurate to call Gina a pole dancer, although what this title entails is vastly different from what “pole dancer” suggests to most people (myself included, until very recently). 

So this is the context in which I found this particular “rest easy” post: Gina owns a pole fitness studio, and a major figure in this community had passed away unexpectedly. I, never one to walk past a rabbit hole without putting my fat head all the way inside, decided to deduce who the man had been, based solely on the tributes of strangers.

Before reading through pages upon pages of posts and comments related to the pole arts community, my assumptions would have largely been the same as many of yours. “Pole dancing” insinuates a connection to champagne rooms and using dollar bills to create faux precipitation. At the very least, I expected this rabbit hole to give me a few harmless chuckles at the expense of people I had never and would never meet. This isn’t what I found. 

The tributes were beautiful, sure, but so was the entire community behind them. Supportive, generous, and very impressive both artistically and athletically. And even though “pole dancing” was their unifying activity, the testimonials made clear that there was much more to their overall connection than my juvenile id was willing to entertain. One person described the community as a whole as “what makes my life liveable.” My assumptions were wrong about them. My understanding had been entirely backwards.

I mention this lightbulb moment because we live in a time when “getting it wrong about communities we aren’t part of” may as well be the national pastime, and where “I don’t get it” can blur very quickly into “I must mock and destroy it.” It’s a problem.

As most Appleton Monthly readers know, a few years ago I gave up drinking. It was extremely difficult. But it isn’t hard now, and I know for certain that it’s due to the existence of similar small-but-welcoming communities that I happened to find at just the right time. There’s “Section Yellow,” an always-growing network of sober Packer fans. I also have groups of sober musicians and sober dads and sober writers who claim me among their number. I might have dismissed any of these three years ago, but today, they make my life liveable. 

I’m not suggesting that the pole dancing community is the same as the recovery one, or the same as any number of other distinct social subsets that might come to mind, be they Crossfit or drag brunches or RenFaire milords and miladies. What I’m saying is that the value of any group is decided by those inside it, rather than by those outside it.

It’s okay to not understand what this group is, or what that community does. It’s okay to say, “Not for me,” and just keep walking. But while you’re walking, keep in mind that although it might not be for you, it is definitely for someone. For that someone, it might be making their life liveable. And that lone notion - that any of us might luck into our own tribe, pole dancers or otherwise - more than justifies their existence.

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