A little while back I read The Pole Story by Claire Griffin Sterrett and I immediately felt, “I’m not alone! Someone else gets why this is so important, life altering and essential to me!” I know I am not alone and that I dwell in a community of people that provide support, guidance and love but after reading The Pole Story, I realized there was another one. There was another wooman who got it. IT specifically being THe POLE LIFESTYLE. Maybe my friends are tired of hearing the musings and epiphanies. Perhaps, to you I have one too many post about S Factor but honestly, I could write for days and days on how this kind of movement has reawakened me, given me freedom and continues to reveal parts of me in ways that astound me! Therefore I am estatic there there’s someone else who makes it their mission to spread the word, educate, teach and lead in this industry. That beautiful, sexy, amazing and inspiring creature is Claire Griffin Sterrett, auther of The Pole Story. Claire graciously agreed to allow me to interview her and I am so happy to share what Claire has offered to us. Please, enjoy and everyone meet the vixen that is CLAIRE!
SLY: How would you describe your pole dancing style? What kind of music to you tend to lean towards? How would you describe your movement?
CGS: My dance style is very erotic, very slow and very deliberate. I like to make eye contact with whoever I’m dancing for and I definitely enjoy teasing them. I have a little bit of everything on my iPod, but for pole dance I lean towards Nine Inch Nails, A Perfect Circle, Scorpion, The Black Keys – anything that has a deep heavy beat and guitar chords that rake like nails. I also love Peaches and Eminem, and King Fantastic. I’m mostly on the floor when I dance but I do love the pole for accents and tossing off a little energy. I get very playful when I dance usually and I smile a lot – especially if I’m doing something a little naughty. I love to touch my body while I dance, pull at my clothes, put things in my mouth. I’m pretty sensual about the whole thing. And I’m actually terrible at choreography and so I always freestyle when I dance. But there is something so cathartic to me about moving exactly the way I want to move, when I want to move. And as far as my movement goes, all of my classmates will say my ass does all the talking. And it has a lot to say.
SLY: How would you describe your sexual/sensual self? (not just as it relates to pole dancing but to the entirety of your being.) S Factor calls it your erotic creature. I personally call it your Inner Siren? Who is she? What is she like?
CGS: And I call it my Inner Vixen. She is pretty messy. She is constantly pushing and pulling…looking to see if you are going to take over, if you can take over. She likes to torture and tease but then ultimately, she wants to be completely dominated. When I dance with someone in the chair, I’m always waiting to see if they will come after me. I invite them to, but then warn them not to. She is a bit tortured! And then there’s this super playful side too, that doesn’t take any of it seriously, that’s just going “Whatever! It’s all for fun!”. She is dirty and bad and she knows she is and she makes you love her anyway because she just can’t help herself and neither can you.
My sensual self has changed a lot since I started dancing. When I first started I had to write about my Inner Vixen – or whatever you want to call it – and she was always very seductive and sensual, even if I couldn’t embody that in my movement quite yet! And I remember feeling really excited that I was being asked to explore that side of me and realizing that I really knew very little about it. I think when I first started dancing I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I just knew that I had experienced something so freeing and so powerful and that I wanted more. Naturally, pole dancing has changed the way I relate to my sexuality inside the classroom, but it’s changed it outside the classroom as well. It’s removed a lot of the stigma around sexiness and helped me to let go – emotionally, physically and sexually. And now there is this whole other side of me – that I believe every woman has – who gets to play and breathe in my everyday life. And it keeps me feeling very alive.
SLY: What’s your favorite piece of costume to dance in?
CGS: I cannot dance without my O-Ring leather collar and my fabric leash. I also really love garters. I like anything I can pull on.
SLY: Who is your favorite pole performer and why?
CGS: Wow, that’s hard. I always love watching The Flying V’s because they are so incredibly sensual and incorporate as much floor work as they do pole work. They also look at each other a lot while they dance – like maintain eye contact with one another – and it’s really powerful. I also love Alethea Austin because she owns her sexuality and she keeps her dancing sexy.
SLY: Where do you want to see pole dancing, pole fitness and pole art in the next 10 years?
CGS: I would like to see it move in the direction of becoming a therapeutic tool in addition to the fitness and dance aspects of the movement. I would also like to see it more widely embraced and accepted – without leaving the sensual elements behind. I think it would be a shame for pole dancing to gain mainstream acceptance at the expense of losing its sensual roots. It would be great if pole dancing was as accepted as say, yoga for it’s health benefits.
SLY: When it comes to innovation, progress and change, it seems we as a country and world, move forward at a wonderful speed as it relates to technology, ideas and entertainment, to name a few. However there seems to be an extremely slow progression in almost all areas of sexuality, especially as it relates to women. Why do you think this is?
CGS: Well because it’s scary. I mean as a culture, we have many deeply ingrained biases when it comes to sexuality – female sexuality in particular. And we see the world through these biases without ever realizing it. Pulling out these biases in order to examine them is sort of like removing a thread from a woven blanket. You don’t really see the individual thread until you pick at it.
Take for example the belief that a woman who chooses to share some element of her sexuality in any public forum is disrespecting herself (and other women) or is somehow misguided. It depends on the situation of course, because there are instances where this might be true, but fundamentally, this belief exists because we as a culture don’t know how to comfortably engage with sensual displays of female sexuality. We either objectify the women (Yeah that’s a nice ass and I’d like to f**k it) or we degrade them (What a whore). Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing wrong with admiring the beauty and sexiness of a woman. But there is a difference between admiring it, letting it overwhelm you with desire or emotion and looking at it as something to be controlled or consumed or put down.
Interestingly enough, the ways in which a woman presents her sexuality can play into the culture’s reaction as well. The female body has tremendous power, and we are only now beginning to revisit that power, not as something to be wielded for manipulative purposes, or something to be ashamed of, but as something to embrace, explore and share.
SLY: Some people feel the need to justify pole dancing by creating distance between the dancing/art/fitness form of it and the sexuality of it, especially as it relates to strip clubs, exotic dancers and money. It appears that you don’t see reason to do so. How can this form of movement be accessible, understood and more public if that separation does not exist?
CGS: You know if you take the sensuality out of pole dancing I’m not really sure what you are left with. Gymnastics? Yawn. I mean look, I am totally happy if that makes someone else happy. I think it’s great. But I did not get into pole dancing to become a gymnast. I got into it BECAUSE it’s sexy and sensual.
You could remove the heels and the bikinis, the hip circles and the ass shaking, and have everyone dance in those glittery ice skating/gymnast outfits and I’m sure that the world might see that pole dancing has nothing to do with strip clubs. But that version of pole dancing, to me, has very little to do with pole dancing. You can dance sensually, you can wear the heels, hell you can take off layers and still not be a stripper.
What people need to understand is that when you dance in a studio the context of the dance is different. Your intention is different. Your audience is different. In a club, your goal is to find out what your client wants, make sure you can sell them the fantasy, get them into the lap dance room and make some money. It’s a sales job. It’s not about what you want, or how you feel, or even about the performance. In a studio however, it’s about you: how you want to move your body, what you want to say in your dance, how you want to dress and undress. And your audience is just there to cheer you on and give you support. That’s what makes pole dancing empowering: it gives women a safe environment in which to explore their sensual selves. We can’t, as a community, talk about pole dancing being empowering for women and then start to strip it of its sexiness just so the mainstream will accept it as an art form. That’s hypocritical and it undermines the very reason so many women got into pole dancing: because it’s sexy.
It’s not that I don’t see a reason to make a distinction – in fact I do. But the distinction I make is much more subtle. And here is my big fat secret: I would really love it if pole dancing began to change the way we viewed stripping. Because I think as long as we are making these distinctions with any sort of one-upsmanship-I’m-better-than-she-is-I-don’t-dance-for-money then as women, we collectively lose. And we rob everyone of the chance to begin to revisit the idea that displays of female sexuality can actually be respectable, beautiful, athletic and empowering for both the performer and the audience.
SLY: I personally believe every form of art has the potential to be powerful & life changing, pole dancing included which I definitely consider an art form. Has there been a particular performer, performance, and/or event in the pole dancing industry that has had this effect on you?
CGS: Why yes! Tara Moore from Simply Seductress was my very first pole teacher. And when she came in to teach an Intro, I was floored. I went into that class rolling my eyes and snorting about being a self-respecting feminist. And then I started moving in class and something just clicked. I watched Tara dance at the end and I felt like I had been let in on a little secret. It was so powerful and so inspiring to see her own her sexuality that way. She was also incredibly grounded and spoke extensively about the power of the female body. I had just started my MA in Somatic Psychology (which looks at psychology through the lens of the mind-body connection) and everything she was saying made so much sense.
SLY: In your book you speak on pole dancing, more specifically dance & movement in general being one of the best ways for women to explore many aspects of their sexuality. While I am bias and think EVERY woman should try one pole dancing class, what would you say are two other ways for women to explore their sexuality? Perhaps pole dancing just isn’t for everyone.
CGS: I definitely think pole dancing isn’t for everyone – but only because people relate to their sexuality in many different ways. I think tantra is another effective way for a woman to explore her sexuality. It still has the mind-body aspect to it, but it is less overt in certain ways. Or I guess a better way of saying that is that it falls under less threatening gender stereotypes and is not affiliated with sex work. There are also very basic exercises involving the senses that I teach in my workshop that can be very helpful for reawakening a woman’s sensuality and her capacity for pleasure. And they have nothing to do with movement per se. I do think that no matter what, your exploration needs to include the body. Reading about sex and sexuality is fascinating, but it’s a bit like reading about how to sail a boat – you don’t actually know how to do it until you get in the boat and try.
SLY: In your book you wrote “the quickest way to rob a woman of that power is to shame her out of it” as it related to pole dancing in performance and the power the dancer has. When I read that, not only did I think it was GENIUS, so true and resonated with me but I also thought of other instances such as robbing a woman of her assertive character by shaming her into thinking it’s aggressive bitchiness or robbing a woman of her aspirations and dreams by shaming her into thinking she’s selfish. What other examples can you think of?
CGS: Aw! Well thank you. Hmmm I love where you are taking this…let’s see. Robbing a woman of her intuition or internal compass by telling her she is crazy. Robbing a woman of her wildish nature by restricting her choices. Robbing a woman of pleasure – any pleasure – by shaming her into thinking she is bad or selfish for wanting it. I have even seen this with mothers who feel guilty taking time for themselves when they have children – as if somehow this makes them bad mothers.
SLY: What projects are you currently working on?
CSG: Well, I am currently Editor-in-Chief at Vertical Art and Fitness Magazine, which is a big project! I also am hosting a book launch/fundraiser at Movement Studio LA on October 14th to benefit The Young Survivor Coalition for breast cancer awareness month. There will be cocktails and a book signing as well as a pole dance performance by The Flying V’s. And gift bags and a raffle! I’m working on coordinating a pole dance show for The Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton but I’m still waiting on final approval. Fingers crossed! I will be teaching at Movement Studio LA and Polistic Dance Studio starting in October as well as doing some small classes on base for the Marine wives. I also have several speaking engagements in the works.
SLY: Of what, are you sure?
CGS: Not a lot. The more I live life, the less certainty there is. So I am sure of change. And I am very confident about the heart – as long as you have a little moderation from the brain it can be an amazing guide.
SLY: What legacy do you want to leave?
CGS: A place where women are teaching themselves, their mothers, their sisters, the daughters, their friends how to be fully present in their sexual bodies, how to work with this power and own it fully and how to be proud, sensual, courageous women. I think we need to heal the Madonna/Whore split for good. And I think pole dancing can help with that.
Claire, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. They have been enlightening, inspiring and very thought provoking. I feel like I need to just take a day and do some deep thinking, writing and then dancing in regards to my own sexuality after all this. I really just want to sit at a coffee shop and talk for days with you or take all of your workshops. You are such a wonderful woman and its an honor to have you featured here! Your answers have made me think of even more questions, so my readers are going to have to stay tuned for a part two to this interview. If you have questions you’d like me to ask Claire, please include them in the comment section below. I’ll be sure to include them in part two.
Claire is the auther of The Pole Story which you can find all over.
Website: The Pole Story
Blog: The Pole Story
Facebook: The Pole Story
Twitter: The Pole Story