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When I Was a Pole Dancer

May 1, 2012

I’m going to be controversial for just a moment here and state something bold, something you might not want to hear.


I think this pole dancing thing might actually have merit.

No, really.  I do.

First, it’s good exercise.  Second, it promotes cultural understanding.  Third, it’s good exercise.  Fourth, it’s artistic.  And fifth, our kids are getting fat and it’s good exercise.

Did I mention it’s good exercise?

So why not incorporate pole dancing into our children’s classroom curriculum?

Of course I don’t mean that kind of pole dancing.  Of course I didn’t fool you for a second.  And, yeah, of course I know you’re a big mean cheater who looked ahead.

But aside from getting good exercise . . .

What the hell am I doing here?

It’s cold as hell.  I remember.  Cold As Hell.  Look, I’m even wearing a winter coat.  In May.  (In a pair of white tights and dirty tennis shoes.)

And I’m dancing myself silly in a ridiculous attempt to keep warm.  This is how the professional pole dancers feel.

Okay.  Are you ready for this?  Here it comes!  Here comes the exciting part where we release our balloons!

Why?  How the hell do I know.

I’m pretty sure that balloons weren’t around a billion years ago when maypole dances got their start.  Are you kidding me?  People back then were just lucky to have poles.

Poles and maybe two sticks to beat against their heads.

So why are we dancing around the maypole with balloons?

I’ll take a crack at this.  Because everyone in the 1980s loved balloons.  So we therefore had to incorporate them into every activity.  Get this.  Back then, we even had stores that only sold balloons!  (You forgot that, didn’t you.)  That’s why we built shopping malls.  So we could help drive customers into the balloon stores.  You could pick up some cheese popcorn, a new pair of culottes and a Mylar balloon all under one roof — no more than ten steps in between.  Amazing.

Balloons were right up there among many other great iconic symbols of the ’80s — you know, unicorns, dolphins, that Lucky Charms leprechaun guy, Care Bears, rainbow suspenders, that birthmark thing on Gorbachev’s head — symbols of our carefree ’80s joy!  Our President was a movie star, we ate Pop-Tarts for breakfast, and we had stores that only sold balloons!  Oh, every day was a party, my friends.

And speaking of balloons, I remember this kid right here could not release his balloon.  He couldn’t get it untied from his wrist.  Poor little dude.  He screwed up the balloon release and screwed us all.  Because a four-minute delay in the balloon release meant four more weeks of winter.  (I just make this stuff up as I go along but then I later marvel at how true it must be.)

Below you can see our maypole in all its tissue-papered glory.  My apologies for the inky photo blemish.  It appears to be a swarm of angry bees attacking poor Julio.  Rest assured it is not.

A few months after this photo was taken, my family moved away.  To another school, to another town.  A town without maypoles.

Many years later, a new kid moved to my town — he was from the same town as my old grade school.  He knew an old classmate of mine named Kenny.

“You know Kenny?” I asked.  “Kenny was in my 2nd grade class!  Do you still keep in touch?  Did he ever mention me?  Did his dog’s hair grow back?  Did he tell you about that?  Did he tell you about me?”

And then, in an attempt to further demonstrate just how tight I once was with Kenny, I added:

Kenny and I used to dance around the maypole together.

But I probably overshot it a bit there.

And then I learned what Kenny had been up to since our maypole dancing days.

Good ol’ Kenny?  Yeah, he was now a burnout.

Actually, I think his exact response was:

The only thing Kenny is dancing around these days is the marijuana plant.

And actually, as I look back now, it all seems rather obvious.  This is what was bound to happen.  It could’ve been any one of us.

Pole dancing is a gateway drug.

69 Comments leave one →
  1. May 1, 2012 6:15 am

    I had forgotten about the balloon-only stores. I wondered why we had all the empty storefronts in our mall. They were likely all the balloon stores.

    Can I say I am jealous of your pole-dancing skillz. I have never had the pleasure of dancing around a pole. The only thing I’ve done is play that tetherball game. Is today the day to do it? Should I stick a tent pole in the ground and swing my child around it? Of course, I’m not sure where I’m going to get the balloons now. I really don’t want four more weeks of winter. Please advise.

    • May 1, 2012 8:37 pm

      I don’t want to pretend I know anything about business matters — but I think the balloon stores and the iron-on t-shirt stores should’ve pooled their resources together in an attempt to survive past 1987.

      Somewhere in your May Day plan you forgot about the ribbon. I’m not sure the best way to incorporate it. Maybe tie it around your neck and let your son swing from it? If you pass out before three minutes elapse, you’ve basically screwed us all out of a mild summer.

  2. May 1, 2012 6:43 am

    I was good. I did not look ahead. I have to say I was disappointed that this wasn’t about the other kind of poles. Not that I’m all into that, geesh. Just really wanted to see where you were going to go with that. But anyhow, we did not have a maypole where I grew up. Evidently, that’s a good thing.

    • May 1, 2012 8:43 pm

      I’m sorry, MM. My heart is breaking. I feel that I really misled you by writing about a maypole dance. If it makes you feel better, I once thought all pole dancing involved ribbons and maypoles. How’s that for being misled?

  3. May 1, 2012 7:24 am

    I read about Maypoles. I didn’t know anyone still did that (since like 1830).

    • May 1, 2012 3:46 pm

      Yeah, same here. I am stunned, Angie. Early 1900s maybe. How old are you?

      • May 1, 2012 8:47 pm

        Maybe none of this is true, Darla. It’s sometimes hard for me to tell what I’ve actually done and what I’ve watched on TV. Right now you’re convincing me I probably fell asleep watching Pride and Prejudice.

    • May 1, 2012 8:45 pm

      Yeah, we also spent a lot of time at pioneer museums, sitting in teepees and churning butter. This is what a wholesome Midwest education has going for it. Old stuff, old rituals and field trips to see dead bodies.

  4. May 1, 2012 7:36 am

    Oh my gosh. I totally remember May poles! I’m so glad I found your blog so you can remind me about all the childhood things I have forgotten about. Like May poles… and tetherball! (thanks to Speaker7 for that one)… and four square… and double-dutch jump roping. Good times. Good times.

    • May 1, 2012 8:50 pm

      You won’t believe this. Those tetherball poles? A couple of them doubled as maypoles here. You can’t tell in the picture but there are actually several maypole dances going at once. The tetherballs and chains were simply taken down and ribbon was added. Oh, I love May Day.

  5. May 1, 2012 7:50 am

    I can’t believe you got to dance around a May pole…WITH BALLOONS!!! I thought this only happened in 3 places: the movies, Canada and my dreams. Once again, you have shocked and delighted me with the wonderland that is your childhood.

    • Emily permalink
      May 1, 2012 9:14 am

      Canadian here–I’ve never danced around a Maypole in my life, with or without balloons.

      • May 1, 2012 8:52 pm

        I’m deeply sad for you that you didn’t have maypoles in Canada.

    • May 1, 2012 8:56 pm

      Since I’m apparently the only one in the Modern Era who remembers dancing around a maypole, I believe now I just dreamed this whole thing up. I think these photos were doctored and are really just kids playing tetherball. I should’ve known. The balloon part was just too over the top to believe. Happy May Day!

  6. May 1, 2012 7:52 am

    .I would like to say right off the bat, that in a delightful reversal of the way things usually go when conversing with a younger person, I (the old gal) have NEVER danced around a May pole. Somehow I was spared that and it does seem to make up for the North Star take offs I had to walk to school in. I can’t remember the brand name but they had only one stripe and they were made with something akin to what a margarine container is made of, that kind of pliable plastic. So thank you for making me feel a little less mortified, by reminding me that I was never seen dancing around the May pole and that in life things have a way of evening out. (Although you, yourself, look very cool in your tennis shoes and white tights. You’d still have been realatively safe in my neighborhood where footwear could make or break you. Your willingness to follow the crowd and yet retain your individuality would have been an asset to be sure.)

    Also, I love all these photos of earlier generations releasing a billion balloons into the air now that we know that released balloons contribute to environmental concerns affecting our oceans and wild life. It gives these particular photos a kind of “Oops sorry factor” or a Crime Stoppers appearance.(Do you have Crime Stoppers announcements in the US?) It might be fun to digitally alter the photos so the children are wearing balaclavas like bank robbers. Maybe a future blog? Like photos showing us as kids smoking candy cigarettes? Or licorice cigars?

    • May 1, 2012 10:46 pm

      “They were made with something akin to what a margarine container is made of.” Love it even though I have no idea what North Stars are, much less knock-off versions. And it always pains me to admit when I don’t remember something. Pains me!

      Yes, back then we loved to release balloons and simply hope for the best. Turns out the best was death. Being the bleeding heart animal rights zealot that I am, I thank God every day for the kid with the delayed balloon release. No doubt it gave some poor sea creatures a few more minutes of life. Which is like a few more years in sea creature life.

      • May 2, 2012 5:56 am

        North Stars were a cheap imitation of the Adidas shoe. Adidas had three stripes, while North Stars had just two, and the soles of North Stars were more or less an eraser on the bottom of your foot. They wore off in days, so after a few days of being able to rub out pencil with your foot, you had to walk around with your toes scraping the sidewalk. Then for those of us with economical, (or as at that time we liked to say “thrifty”), mothers things got even worse and there came out the imitation North Star. None of us kids could believe there could even be a knock-off of a knock-off. It was like a nasty trick played on us.These knock-off knock-offs were really something. They were made of plastic-like material that cracked after a while and the heels always ended up squished down at the back so you had to walk with a bit of a shuffle. It almost made you cry having to lace them up that first time, while your mom went on and on about kids in mud huts who didn’t have any shoes.

      • May 4, 2012 7:34 pm

        I remember erasing pencil with my shoe — I thought I invented that. It was a great party trick that earned me friends. Imitation of an imitation you say? How pathetic and cruel. Hard plastic shoes sound like torture. Although, I can sort of relate since I came out of the jelly shoes generation.

      • May 2, 2012 7:27 am

        I googled North Stars and found this shocking news.

        “What proper Canadian ex-kid doesn’t have sepia-toned memories of this puberty-drenched rite of passage? That’s just the kind of post-ironic hipster nostalgia that Torontonians Adrian Aitcheson and Pablo Mozo tapped into when they relaunched North Star in July.
        It’s true, Bata’s once-iconic shoe brand — which exploded during the last days of disco but faded during the rise of rap — is back, with a decidedly up-market spin. “(Globe and Mail)

        Up market spin? Next, I’ll read that the knock off knock offs are very popular among the trendier sects.

      • May 4, 2012 7:49 pm

        Why did I not live in Canada? Why? I missed this trend completely, and I’m not half the person I might’ve been had I owned a pair.

  7. May 1, 2012 7:55 am

    Anyone who can work pole dancing and culottes into a single post has got some skill :)

    • May 1, 2012 10:48 pm

      Thanks! I think I can work culottes into anything. Search the word culottes on my blog and you’ll see what I mean.

  8. May 1, 2012 8:25 am

    Carebears, May poles, baloons – how far our poor society has fallen from those glory days! We’ve got to get those kids exercising again… bring out the pole!

    • May 1, 2012 10:49 pm

      Thanks, Audrey. Hear, hear! Does someone have a petition we could pass around?

  9. May 1, 2012 11:10 am

    “This is how the professional pole dancers feel.” Ha! If Kenny’s hitting the wacky weed, what the heck do you think happened to the kid who couldn’t release his balloon??

    • May 1, 2012 10:52 pm

      I don’t know what happened to the kid, but Peg-o-Leg had a good theory about what happened to the kid’s hand. If that’s the case, I’d hope Kenny would share his stash.

  10. Timoree permalink
    May 1, 2012 11:26 am

    In my hometown we had a store that sold balloons, cheese popcorn and cotton candy. And yes, it was in the mall. Talk about living the high life. I know this store sounds like an urban legend, but it really did exist…

    • May 1, 2012 10:54 pm

      All in one place? All that joy? That does sound like an urban legend. It sounds a bit like Willy Wonka’s factory.

      • Timoree permalink
        May 4, 2012 9:44 am

        If Willy Wonka was a old fat lady who I am pretty sure smoked Virginia Slims cigarettes while she made the cotton candy and swore excessively, than yep, that sounds about right.

  11. Tony permalink
    May 1, 2012 11:40 am

    Why didn’t our class get to have this kind of fun?? Nice to see the old playground in the background. It was a wasteland and recess there was so boring that we had sticker fights to pass the time.

    • May 1, 2012 10:59 pm

      I recall our playground there consisted of tetherball, some large concrete tubes, and some metal bars. I completely forgot one thing though until I looked at these photos. Because if you look in the background of the photos, you will see we also had wooden stumps of varying sizes placed in a row. It was practically Disney World right outside our school.

      • Tony permalink
        May 2, 2012 8:44 am

        There were also a few tractor tires filled with sand. (The first time I was ever racked was while playing with this jerk-kid on those tires.) Besides playing in the sticker patch I also remember making snowmen in the winter. It goes below 40 degrees here and they don’t even allow the kids to go outside!

      • May 4, 2012 8:03 pm

        I forgot about the sticker pit! Awful! That playground doesn’t seem real to me now. Like I watched it on a documentary about 1980s Romania or something.

  12. May 1, 2012 12:12 pm

    When I was in college I was part of a folk dancing group. We had to stop doing the fertility dances because two of the girls got knocked up. There is power in the dance.

    • May 1, 2012 11:04 pm

      Holy maypoles! Yes, the fertility ritual thing might explain how maypole dancing led to the professional pole dancing. Was this the same dance you did somewhere in Southeast Asia? What a lovely diplomatic endeavor.

  13. May 1, 2012 1:11 pm

    Wow! I swear, I only heard about kids dancing around maypoles in books…Thank you. You are living proof that this truly does exist. ;)

    P.S. Is it terrible that as soon as I read “When I Was A Pole Dancer” in my inbox I totally clicked the link right away??? I was intrigued. Very eye catching and clever title!

    • May 1, 2012 11:10 pm

      Thanks, Ms. Jolly. I can’t wait to see what will be going down in my search engine referrals next month. I’m pretty sure that those googling “pole dancing” will be letdown to end up at a May Day festival.

  14. May 1, 2012 2:51 pm

    That poor kid had to have his hand amputated because the balloon string was so tight and they couldn’t get it off. That was the end of the maypole dance after you moved away.

    Why are there SO many pictures of you as a kid? Did your parents work for Kodak? Not that I don’t love them – I TRULY do. It’s just that there seem to be an awfully lot of them in the world.

    • May 1, 2012 3:50 pm

      Yeah. I was thinking this too, Angie. Before you pointed out that you were in the pole dancing picture, I said to myself, this had better be some stock photo because if she is actually in another picture (this one with a maypole from 1910 no less) I am going to ask my mom why there are only a few pics of me and I’m eating peanut butter toast in all of them.

      • May 1, 2012 11:41 pm

        You have a lot of great pictures, what are you talking about! The fact that I can name off your two Barbie horses via your family photographs is worth a lot to me at least.

    • May 1, 2012 11:17 pm

      Thanks for filling in the missing pieces on the jerkoff who screwed up our balloon release. Now that I know this I feel bad that I just now called him jerkoff.

      I really don’t know why we have so many photos. I really wish we’d have fewer photos and more organization. It’s a little known fact that The Marcia Archives is just a lot of shoe boxes. Empty albums everywhere and shoe boxes filled with photos.

  15. May 1, 2012 3:45 pm

    I love your made-up facts, but hate that you ever knew Kenny, because if he’s dancing around a medical marijuana plant, he is a very, very bad man. Kudos to your mother for her photog skills, and lastly…..oh, wait, I got sidetracked by an ad for Pad Thai noodles. Sorry.

    • May 1, 2012 11:26 pm

      I was friends with plenty of Kennys in college. Too many. I think the original Kenny burned out long before he reached college.

      (By the way, Kenny, if you’re reading this you’ll note that I did change your name to protect you identity so you can keep buying weed.)

      Every time you click on the noodle ads, a new baby kitten will be knit a sweater to help keep it warm.

  16. May 1, 2012 3:53 pm

    You know how sometimes people leave comments stating they “spit coffee out all over their keyboard” or “snorted milk out their nose” while reading something funny? Yeah, well when I got to the line about Gorbachev I happened to be drinking a rather large sweet tea from McDonald’s (don’t judge) and did in fact choke and dribble some of it out onto my shirt. So thanks for that.

    • May 1, 2012 11:29 pm

      At one time I could perfectly visualize the shape of Gorby’s birthmark and could tell you what type of cloud animal it looked like. It’s been too long and now I’ve forgotten.

      • May 2, 2012 8:59 am

        Don’t believe Darlonica – she was swilling some cheap wine that she just picked up at WalMart when she blew it out her nose. That had to sting a little.

      • May 4, 2012 8:05 pm

        That sounds like a lot of fun. And I think I even remember Darla once saying, “Cheap wine is better than no wine.” Or maybe that was 1996-Angie.

  17. stephanie permalink
    May 1, 2012 8:19 pm

    laugh every time, EVERYTIME!

  18. May 1, 2012 9:20 pm

    You take me back, to the 80’s, not maypole dancing. We didn’t do that, but our city park playground did have a maypole-like piece of equipment that I don’t think I have ever seen on any other playground. It was a metal pole, maybe twenty feet tall, with a pivoting wheel at the top to which long chains were attached. The chains reached to about four feet above the ground, and ended in a metal handle. Up to eight kids could grab a handle, and step back (maypole fashion) and then run (in the same of direction) around the circle. When you hit a good speed, you lifted your feet and hung on for dear life as you literally flew sideways through the air (controlled flight, if you didn’t let go.) Clearly it originated as an item of torture, much like the dreaded spinning disk of death also known as the “merry-go-round.” Good times.

    • May 1, 2012 11:36 pm

      Forgot all about that lethal contraption! Add lawn darts to this and you have the perfect props for a battle scene in a Genghis Khan movie. Yes, though I never played on it, I know we had this at one of my grade schools. It’s a wonder any of us survived childhood.

  19. May 1, 2012 11:28 pm

    You know, I was fine with the post – pole dancing, everything – until you brought the care bears into it. Whydya have to go there?

    Line. Crossed.

    • May 1, 2012 11:38 pm

      Hey, but I didn’t write that the Care Bears were pole dancing. Now that would’ve been what you call crossing a line.

      • May 1, 2012 11:41 pm

        Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh… you had to go THERE. Oh. No. You. Didn’t.

        Thanks so much. Now I’ll have night terrors. I was just about to go to bed too. Great. *sigh*

      • May 1, 2012 11:45 pm

        The Lucky Charms leprechaun? Gorbachev? They need exercise too.

  20. John-Paul permalink
    May 2, 2012 5:21 am

    I’m with the Canadian. Maypoles don’t exist.

    • May 4, 2012 7:31 pm

      You might have a point there, JP. I think I just dreamed them up and then doctored the photos to reassure myself. I can’t even verify that this child is me.

  21. May 2, 2012 7:49 am

    Point of clarification: Hell is not cold. Well, so I’ve been told.

    • May 4, 2012 7:54 pm

      I knew some wiseass would point this out to me and then I’d have to pull out a reference to Albert Camus and his book The Stranger that I read in a college philosophy course where the devil himself says he’s hot yet he’s also so very cold which launched us into a huge discussion of whether hell would be cold or hot or so cold its hot or so hot its cold. And now you, the wiseass, is the sane one and I’m the complete freak who went all college philosophy on you and this blog post. Forgive me, Lenore. Is it cold/hot in here or is it just me?

  22. May 2, 2012 11:26 am

    What the heck is a maypole? Here in Texas, we did forced square dancing. It was VERY awkward for 4th-6th graders. I’m certain it pushed some into a life of drugs and violence. I survived. To date, I Wii Dance with my kids regularly with only occasional flashbacks.

    • May 2, 2012 12:32 pm

      Shannon, it was cruel of you to mention square dancing. The memories are painful.Unlike the May pole, we did have square dancing here in Canada, and many of us are still scared. Those who emigrated to the US must have been sorely disappointed. We heard it had been banned there. But maybe Texas was just the exception, which would make sense. What was worse was having to perform said dances on special Parents Night Variety Show affairs. You tried so hard to get hit by a car on your way to show.

      • May 2, 2012 1:26 pm

        LOL Oh, Lori-Ann, that is EXACTLY how I remember it. We had to do ours before the annual Field Day event in front of all the parents and teachers…in proper dress, mind you. Kinda like choking down a brussel sprout dinner for that small bowl of ice cream at the end.

      • May 2, 2012 1:47 pm

        Don’t get me started on Field Day!

      • May 4, 2012 8:24 pm

        “Kinda like choking down a brussel sprout dinner for that small bowl of ice cream at the end.” Love it!

      • May 4, 2012 8:20 pm

        I used to use invisible body spray called “cooties protection” before our square dance lesson days. Needless to say, I didn’t transition well to middle school dances.

    • May 4, 2012 8:16 pm

      Yep, we did the square-dancing lesson too. From 2nd grade through 5th grade. Maybe it’s a Midwest thing?

  23. May 2, 2012 12:57 pm

    I miss carefree 80s joy. I think it gave way to 90s angst.

    • May 4, 2012 8:22 pm

      Wow, that is some kind of wonderful right there. Great analogy!

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