It is a truth universally acknowledged that a mother in possession of a single daughter must be in want of a husband for her. However little known the feelings or views of the daughter are, the mother regards her right to assist in the appropriation of the object of her offspring’s future happiness as an inalienable right of Materdom – no matter what lengths this requires her to go to.
Disposing of one daughter is a challenge enough, five is positively herculean; but at least Mrs Bennet, although she would no doubt have flatly refused to count her blessings or indeed countenance the possibility that she had any, was lucky to live in a time and place which provided ample opportunity to fling one’s children at unsuspecting male members of society. My Mater is not so fortunate. She suffers, as indeed we all do, the cruelty of living in an age wherein balls no longer exist as virtual department stores for picking up men of good fortune, and has therefore had to be somewhat more creative in her matchmaking than Mrs Bennet, and almost quite as cunning.
Hence what must surely be one of the strangest emails any woman has ever received off her Mater arrived in my inbox a few weeks ago: a suggestion that I try pole dancing.
“Poor old thing” I thought, “she’s finally scraped the bottom of the barrel”. For even Mater must concede that pole dancing is but a pitifully poor substitute for a ball. A woman’s objective at both may be to appear as alluring as possible, but that’s about where the similarities end.
Even had it existed in Jane Austen’s day, you can hardly imagine Miss Bingley including a mastery of pole dancing on her must-have skills list for accomplished young women. And how different the story would have unfolded had her brother chosen to host a party not in the sumptuous surroundings of Netherfield, but in a sleazy Soho strip-joint: a party in which Mr Collins knocks a female partner out cold by swinging around a pole in the wrong direction, and in which Lizzie is mortified when Mr Darcy asks her for a lap-dance. Meanwhile Kitty, despite spending her entire evening dangling off a pole, fails to attract the whiff of a suitor while her older sister Mary, after singing a painfully weak rendition of Beyoncé’s Single Ladies, loses what little sympathy her admirably forbearing audience felt for her by twerking inexplicably against Mr Hurst. When asked the next morning for his reaction to this experience, Mr Hurst simply declared it to be a “damned tedious waste of an evening”.
Alright, so the story might not have been that different, but the point is I chose to give pole-dancing a shot – in spite of the sometimes condemnatory, sometimes wishful-thinking aura of smuttiness and innuendo that surrounds it, and most definitely not because I shared Mater’s evident expectation that proficiency in this particular art would bring hoards of eligible bachelors rushing to my door.
As soon as I arrived at the class, I realised how misplaced my prejudiced preconceptions of pole dancing were. The atmosphere of the room could not have been further removed from a misogynist’s nightclub paradise; if anything it was akin to the sort of ballet studio that might greet Edgar Degas on a bright and fresh Parisian morning. Floor to ceiling mirrors glinted out from behind fading curtains and wooden ballet railings warping with age hung beneath windows opening onto the Victorian terraced housing crowding below. Back inside, a King Charles Spaniel patted across the oak wooden floorboards that were quickly and quietly filling with a small crowd of young ladies, whose utter loveliness and patient encouragement of this particular raw beginner made her feel more like she was attending a Women’s Institute arts and crafts session than a crash-course in pole dancing.
More importantly however, their sweetness also made her feel like she was not a hopeless case. For if I have learnt one thing about pole dancing it is this: it feels utterly unnatural. What looks graceful or, dare I say, “sexy” to an onlooker feels clumsy and awkward to the dancer and therefore having an audience there to tell you what feels wrong looks right is rather important.
Over the course of the hour’s lesson, under this humouring tutelage, I progressed through several moves. From learning how to walk around the pole, to swinging around the pole with one leg, to swinging around the pole with one leg and then swapping to the other to continue the spin. All this I picked up fairly quickly, even if I did step on my own toes more times than not, and even if my face did portray the worry that most people (especially people who are no strangers to skin-burns) would feel on swinging rapidly and almost out-of-control around a pole. This anxiety, and its resultant facial symptoms, is apparently par for the course for beginners. So common in fact is this teething-stage affliction that it even has a name: “pole face”.
My own “pole face” was particularly acute during the final two manoeuvres which I attempted but, alas, found beyond me. The first required me to loop a leg around the pole and swing with both feet off the ground and both thighs splayed out in an uncomfortable ‘V’. The second was superficially simple: to climb the pole. I get onto the pole well enough but I could only stay there by gripping with my hands rather than my thighs, and the necessity of loosening my fingers to ‘climb’ meant that every time I attempted to go up I very quickly fell down.
No doubt a regular attendance would soon build my thighs up to the breezeblock strength they will need to drag me up to the top of the pole and thence to the amazing, some would say suicidal, hands-free feats being performed by the more advanced dancers. Yet those girls did not just have skill and strength, crucially they had the self-confidence to give their moves conviction. Because for all that pole dancing in a classroom environment is nothing more than innocent exercise, to get over the embarrassment of feeling like a clumsy idiot one must surely start to believe at least a little bit in one’s own sexiness. Which I don’t think I could, not when wearing gym clothes, struggling for breath and falling over my own feet after flinging myself around a metal pole.
Besides, even should these classes increase my allure by a thousand-fold, the key difference between a pole dancing class and a ball is that there are at least men to lure at the latter. Their dearth at the former means that were I to choose to deploy my newfound (or rather: future) talents in the husband-hunt, I would have to display them outside the classroom environment.
Yet I can’t really imagine that swinging from the nearest lamppost the next time a potential Mr Darcy walks by will do very much to endear me to him.