Each time I decide to wear my high heels I will document and share my experiences with you; from the different genres of dance classes I take, to the physical and emotional responses I feel, and the reactions I get from others. I intend to use these experiences and my own self-discoveries as fuel for the choreographic and creative process of with my partner on this subject. This is primarily a movement study based around the use of high heels in dance but because dance is an artistic and thus emotional expression, I feel that it is important to understand the social connection to the subject as well, since that can have a significant affect on the emotional development. For this reason, I will also be wearing my high heels outside the dance classroom in the social settings of everyday life.
|Posted on December 10, 2014 at 2:30 AM||comments (1)|
Words usually associated with pole dancing: erotic, night club, sex, stripping.
Words I associate with pole dancing: strength, flexibility, sensual, bruises.
When I walked into my first pole dancing class at Body & Pole NYC, I was the only guy which didn’t surprise me, however, I was surprised by the fact that there were women of all ages and body types, not just the voluptuous feminine figure we tend to associate with when we think of a pole dancer. There were some women curvy, some heavy weighted, some lean and thin and some quite muscular in their build, even more than me! Ages ranged from 18 to 60. When I entered the room I was nervous because I have to admit, I felt I would be in a domain where perhaps a masculine presence, for whatever reason, wouldn't be welcomed. Oh so to the contrary! When I entered, one of the students yelled "we got a man!" Everyone welcomed me with smiles and excitement. I had no knowledge of how class would be structured so by my apparent confusion of where to place myself in the room, another student took the initiative and guided me on what materials I would need and brought me a mat and yoga block from the stash in the corner. Yoga mat in pole dancing? Yes, there is actually a regimented conditioning routine to practicing it like every other art form. They also brought me a spray bottle of alcohol and a washcloth from the corner explaining that I would need to spray the cloth with alcohol to wipe down the pole after using it each time that way I could maintain a steady tight grip and not slip since your hands become sweaty. Plus you want to keep it sanitized since you share the pole with a partner doing trade offs between the exercises and combinations. I wasn't left to fend on my own. I felt like I was already a part of the crew and felt excited to be there. When I sat on my mat waiting for class to start, I started stretching into splits and straddle positions to warm up like the dancerly dancer I am and another lady said "...and he's flexible! You are making us look bad," and we all laughed.
At least 45 minutes of the class is devoted to body conditioning. We did various abdominal and cardiovascular exercises along with a series of stretches. It felt like a Pilates class but to fun music and with a mix of dance. There is even a short part of the class where we go across the floor to do some movement exercise that supplement the pole work (usually floorwork) before actually working with the pole. I was sweating by the end of it. After that we moved to the pole and was given specific technical instructions as to how to hold the pole, where to place your feet and legs against it, etc. and then given a combination of various patterns and tricks. It takes an incredible amount of back, shoulder, core and inner thigh strength to climb, hang and slide down a pole, some of the most basic parts of pole dancing…and the teacher did it so effortlessly. I had bruises on the fronts of my feet and on my inner thighs from gripping the pole and sliding down it. In pole dance, the pole is steel so in order to grip it, you can’t wear socks or pants or sleeves because you will slide off. In fact, the dress code is short shorts and a sports bra or tank top. The burns in my inner thighs was a whole new sensation of discomfort I had never felt.
(Video of my first pole dancing class)
It’s important to know too, that there are various forms of “Pole.” There is Chinese Pole where the pole is laced with a rubber material which requires them to be covered and wear layers of clothing or full body costumes so as not to get burned from the friction. This form of pole originates over eight centuries ago with circus performers of that era that used a pole in their acts. Another form is Indian pole or “Mallakhamb” which also dates back many hundreds of years ago. This pole is made of wood and would be laced with castor oil to avoid friction since they, unlike Chinese, would wear little clothing like that of yoga wear. It’s interesting to note from my research, that Indian pole was originally intended as a way for wrestlers to train. Yes that’s right, wrestlers! In fact, the literal translation of Mallakhamb is “wrestler of pole” so whoever said pole is for sissies, they were clearly speaking from a place of pure ignorance. It is also even a male dominated sport in which women don’t participate. It’s so important for people to know that what these performers do on a pole is such a difficult physical practice that takes a certain level of fitness skills. Some people take pole dancing just for that reason. I left class with a whole new respect for pole dancing. It’s a real workout!
I have taken two pole dancing classes so far. The first class was level 1 of which I was recommended to skip the introduction level since I already had a strong background in dance. I picked it up pretty well so after my first class my teacher, Danielle Romano, told me I was ready to take level 2 for my next class so that’s what I did. Level 2 was more difficult but I was still able to execute all the tricks so I was feeling confident. There was another male in this class this time visiting from France who said that back home in France, it’s difficult to find a place where men take pole dancing. He was excited about being at Body and Pole NYC because it's open to both male and female. Actually, even the changing rooms are unisex. There are no male or female changing rooms or lockers; everyone changes in the same area. The bathrooms though, are separated by male and female.
In class, I haven’t heard or been told to “dance sexy.” You basically are given pole material and at the end of class you freestyle your transitions in between, either that is in a sensually evocative manner or perhaps an emotionally expressive approach that in no means is defined as a feminine or masculine way of pole dancing in either choice of expression. It allows for individuality and is not limiting. I like how I’m not told how to exactly interact with the pole. It is a great way to promote pole dancing under a different perception than just a sexual form. However, if that is how you enjoy expressing yourself then go for it! I mean, I enjoy all the spectrum of expressions. Take a look. This is a combination I came up with on my own after taking only two classes and it’s my first time trying pole dancing in high heeled stilettos. I went to the studio during "open play time" where you practice on your own without an instructor.
(Video of my pole dance routine in heels)
As you must have come to assume by now, I really enjoy the feeling of high heels and stilettos. It allows me to become a character of which I associate with as powerful, long, and fluid. I love that. Yeah pole dancing with high heels feels more comfortable for me and I actually prefer it to pole dancing barefoot. It actually was easier to grip the pole with my feet because of the sticky patent leather material of the shoe. However, dancing with a pole, whether barefoot or in high heels, is no doubt tricky. Not only do you have to execute tricks that require tremendous strength and agility but you are presented with an apparatus that you must mold to. You leave it and come back to it. It’s essentially a duet. That may be the most challenging part: how to dance 'with' the pole. I look forward to training more in this art form. Perhaps it could be consider my "guilty pleasure" but in no means do I feel ashamed. Below is a video of one my teachers in a performance where she actually builds a character and story in a piece of choreography she created that is a very modern and contemporary approach to pole dancing. In no way does her gender constrict her expression to be that of the social perception of how a women dancing with a pole dances like. She and many others are opening up the platform of pole dancing and breaking down barriers. Bravo! Next, Ballroom Dance.
(Video of contemporary pole dance performance by Danielle Romano)
|Posted on November 24, 2014 at 2:55 PM||comments (1)|
I took Cecilia Marta’s “Latin Fusion” advanced beginner class at Broadway Dance Center tonight. I feel so liberated! Cecilia is from Panama and in her Latin Fusion class the focus is her Latin Roots with a world attitude. Her original style emphasizes the importance of fluidity through instinctual, organic and sensual movements. She has also developed a warm-up that awakens the senses through awareness of the breath, body alignment and isolations. I have been taking class from Cecilia for two years and have also performed with her dance company (Cecilia Marta Dance Company) so I am no stranger to her style, but I have never taken her class in my 5-inch stiletto boots before. This was my first time. I absolutely love it and it's kind of awkward to say that it feels very natural to me to dance in high heels even though this is only my third time wearing them. Perhaps in my past life I was some kind of showgirl. My legs are a little tired, but I don’t feel any pain from the heels. It’s mostly my feet that are sore especially my bunions and the sole under the ball of my feet. When dancing the combination, I felt the sensation of hovering as if suspended over a raised platform, and in my effort to not fall off, I had to engage even more so my inner thighs and core to stay balanced. I actually felt stronger in my legs but at the same time, my toe articulation was stifled by being jammed up in a closed-toed and triangular shaped tip shoe. Being barefoot means you have the ability to spread your toes and grip the floor which allows the feet more proficiency. When in a closed toed shoe, you don’t have that ability. I believe the next dance class I take will need to be with an opened toed shoe; then I will be invincible.
(Video below: Here's a clip of combination!)
Cecilia Marta always emphasizes technique in her style in that the main attention is on the core and the back as the initiators of movement and power that inspire the rest of the body to react naturally with fluidity yet strength. When asking her about the use of high heels in her class she said that she doesn't feel the necessity for high heels in her class and feels that high heels could, in fact, be compromising to the movement, more so for the less advanced dancers who have a lesser understanding of technique. She added that the best approach to simplifying is not to encourage wearing high heels, which I find very intriguing because the high heels then, are not an apparatus to her dance style but instead, it’s the connection within one’s own physical center and core that must be relied upon to execute the movement properly. This suggests that high heels could then be just an affectation.
In fact, in Cecilia’s class, she has coined the term “organic pumps” which means dancing in releve (standing up on toes) as if you are wearing stilettos but as a replacement. Cecilia said to me concerning the organic pumps, “It’s a discovery. I love the use of the floor and what has happened with my feet and the fluidity that I have acquired with them. I’m developing a different strength in how I am using the floor and it’s not that I’m against the use of high heels. It’s simply the difference between relying on a platform to sustain that feeling of being elevated versus the sensation and feeling of the feet coming at your legs to the physical body, which I feel has made me much stronger and fluid.” (You can hear more of Cecilia’s comments below and in her interview under the "A Walk In Yours" page).
(Video below: Cecilia talks about her style & technique of dance)
I felt so welcomed to Cecilia’s language of dance and movement when I took my first class with her. There was no distinction from male and female expressions. Both the men and women in class did the sensual phrases, the movements in organic pumps and the isolation sequences flat footed that are grounded and weighted. In her class, you as the individual artist get to choose what feels natural to you, yet sticking to the integrity of the movement phrase and intention. There is a clear set developmental structure based in her style but also a sense of freedom that isn’t penumbral to the training process. I felt right at home and safe to be me. This is the kind of atmosphere I feel is imperative to create, especially for the youth, so you can develop confidence in expressing your individuality without social hinderance and be comfortable with your natural self as opposed to changing you natural inclinations because of being told what is the way one should move. Cecilia said in her interview that there is a bright place in all of us and when we allow that light to shine through that's when we are in our most honest place. In our society, I feel that women are allowed to be bright and exuberant and are pretty much accepted in both tough and soft roles but for some reason, men tend to hold back from allowing themselves to be soft, light and bright as if it is a symbol of weakness or comprimised their "masculinity". I say to the hell with that notion. Let your light shine! Growing up, I yearned for a place like this where I wouldn't be judged for the kind of person I was or wanted to be. It should be no coincidence then that I have fell in love with Cecilia and her style of movement.
I love the part of class where we huddle up in a group in the center of the floor and follow Cecilia’s isolations to the music and express a full spectrum of body and rhythmic patterns as a community. Men and women are not separated and neither are the movement patterns distinguished by gender. Everyone taps into their sensually rhythmical being a la Cecilia Marta; the Gata Negra herself. She is part of the full-time faculty at Broadway Dance Center so if you ever get a chance to, I highly recommend you take class from this true dance master and movement genius. Get in touch with the sensual, soulful and bright creature inside you, whatever you define that person as, that is inside us all.
(Picture with students of Cecilia after class: Catherine (left) & Eriko (right)
|Posted on November 17, 2014 at 2:15 AM||comments (0)|
"I said ridiculous, nonsense, foolish prattle. How can Batgirl be the best anything when Catwoman is around. Haha. No best-dressed list is complete without the addition of the Queen of criminals, the princess of plunder, your’s untruly... In any comparison between Batgirl and myself, she runs a poor third.”
Oh yes, the Queen herself, Eartha Kitt as the original Catwoman. It should come to no surprise that I chose to be this iconic character for Halloween. A feline in its most evolved state, Catwoman was no ordinary villain. She was sleek and sophisticated and had a charm about her that could beguile anyone into getting her way. A deliciously dangerous demon on the prowl for adventure, she was a free spirit that promenaded her way through fear. With nine lives, the number in numerology that symbolizes completeness and eternity, it’s no wonder this goddess of mischief had no concern of reality; peril was her sidekick and could be reborn to whatever machinations she desired. On a day where I could choose to dress up as anyone, I had no second thoughts...Catwoman! Since society considers me a man, would it have been more approriate for me to have chosen a different super villain? Perhaps that would come as less of a shock had I chosen to be maybe the Joker or Darth Vader? They are clever and not doubt skilled at what they do, but those characters never really appealed to me as much. Being Catwoman was the way I could feel most powerful and invincible, following no one’s rules but the beat of my own instinctual guidelines. And I had all the right materials: the ears of a cat with the incredible perception of hearing, the dark mask to remain mysterious with my identity, my claws to scratch, scrape and slash anything in my way, and the body suit of seduction that immediately allured any onlookers into a hypnotizing spell. However, along with these materials, I had the most important piece; my high heel stilettos. Elevated 5 inches above the ground, weight strongly forward on the balls of my feet, ready to pounce at any moment, I had a liquid gait to kill. Cunning with my presence through Catwomen’s heels, I could vicariously walk the city indomitable. I felt my superpower.
(Me as catwomen in my aptartment before going out)
This was my first Halloween in NYC and only second time actually celebrating Halloween (first time was junior year in college) so I didn’t really know what to expect but when my friends and I left my apartment to venture off into the night, I had no hesitations. We arrived at the club and there was a line all the way to the end of the avenue. It was also raining and none of us had umbrellas. Placed in a dilemma, Catwoman had her first challenge ahead of her. I boldly stormed up to the security guard, skipping the long line, and demanded with my presence that he let me in. He was hesitant at first and asked if we had VIP passes, which we did not, and then, a second guard saw my friends’ epic costumes and it was confirmed that we were genuinely VIP indeed, no passes needed and were let in; no wait in line. (Note: if ever going out in NYC, dress epically; can get you far).
Walking through the club at Providence, in upper west side, there were eyes all over me, looking me up and down as if to say, yum…and I ate it all up. I would tease and gently claw all the men and women that came up to me to acknowledge my fierceness and I responded with a purr. I was really in character. This was only my second time wearing my stiletto boots and as you read before, the first time was in normal everyday clothing but I can honestly say, wearing them in a provocative costume definitely brought out a certain persona in me. It was more of a persona of power rather than carnal. When I got on the dance floor I was fearless and got on top of the speakers to display my virtuosity. Soon I had strangers giving me money as if I was a hired stripper, although I clearly wasn’t since there were go-go dancers on top of the platforms that were dressed accordingly to their roles. I guess throwing money was their way of showing appreciation to the figure of movement before them. I didn’t want to disappoint.
(Video of me dancing as Catwomen)
What can I say? I’m a performer by nature…
The inner feline came out. I had a great night! The attention I got was indeed abundant and was overwhelmed by the support I got. It felt awesome! Due to the sensual demeaor of my costume, I expected more people to be on the crude side with their remarks but instead, I had both men and women saying how beautiful I looked and praising my balls (no pun intended) to wear such a costume in public with confidence, finesse, and ease. One random woman in the street even stopped me just to thank me. When I had gone into the CVS with my friend Amanda to get an umbrella, the security guard literally followed me through the store, not becuase he thought I was suspicious behavior, but because, he was so mesmerzied by my appearance. I think he was astonished, trying to figure out how a man could pull off such a look and he smiled as I left and waved goodbye. I had people stopping me in the clubs, in the streets, in the stores, in the subway and even the cab driver turned all the way around to give me a good look up and down with a seal of approval and said, "you got it." I guess it was Halloween so I was "allowed" to dress up however I wanted but if it was a normal day, I'm not sure the responses would have been so encouraging. Guess I'll have to test that theory another day.
Of the many compliments I got that night, the one I most remember was from three ladies at 59th street Columbus Circle. When taking the subway back home, there were 3 MTA subway workers, 2 on their night shift in their uniform cleaning the platform inthe subway and the other going home. They stopped me and told me how much they enjoyed my costume and that I was “wearing them heels.” They were very impressed by my walk and said that I walked better than they ever could. Filled with enthusiasm, their faces radiated excitement and we had a long and wonderful conversation. I asked them how they felt about seeing a man in high heel stilettos. I wanted to record their statement but because they were in uniform, they were not allowed to. However, the one leaving said something that really moved me that I will share with you. She said, “You are not hurting anyone wearing those heels. If you want to wear them, it is no one’s place to tell you whether you should or shouldn’t. Plus, you look great in them. I was enjoying just watching you walk in ‘em! You are not hurting anyone.” It was so refreshing to hear.
(Photo of lady who I spoke to in subway)
Here is a testimony from Amanda who was out with me that night:
When I got home, my feet were numb! I had to slowly try to move my toes again when I took off my shoes because they were in so much pain from being jammed together in the stilettos. I was limping. My friends and I were out from 11pm and got back home at 6am so that was seven hours straight walking and dancing (lots of dancing) in high heels. Yeah, I really committed myself as Catwoman and my feet definitely were whimpering but nevertheless, I am convinced that high heels can give you superpowers.
|Posted on November 14, 2014 at 12:05 AM||comments (0)|
It was a normal work day. I put on my dance rehearsal clothes, my Lululemon sweat pants, my favorite Space Jam hoodie with my yellow and grey checkered scarf and my Beats headphones, that I never go anywhere without. The only thing out of the ordinary was the 5 inch stiletto ankle boot I had on. I made my way down the steps holding onto the railing cautiously. Imagine walking up and down steps on your tippy-toes; yeah its harder than it sounds. Try it! My quads were already starting to burn a little bit from the 2 flights.
(Video below of me leaving apt.)
The instant I opened the front door there was this gust of wind that blew reality into me. The usual gang of guys hanging out in the corner of the doorstep to my left all rugged looking, the big suited-up firemen coming out of the fire station located straight across the street from my apartment, and the common street corner hustlers pacing back and forth to my right where I was headed. It was an awkward moment where I immediately felt alien and out of place as a man because of the shoes I was wearing. They weren’t paying me any mind but I still initially felt nervous. I was looking downwards inspecting every step I took to make sure I wouldn’t step on anything and fall but as I turned onto Lenox Ave. making my way to the subway station, I told myself what I always tell my own dance students, “Look up and be confident.” I removed any ambivalence and just walked. I walked to subway station, took the 2 train downtown, had to stand the whole time because the subway car was super crowded, transferred at Times Square to the N/Q train and got off at Union Square and walked to Peridance to take ballet class. When I got there my legs were burning from all the steps I had to walk up and down in the subway. After class, I actually felt fine. I put my stilettos back on, took subway to 8th ave. and walked 11 blocks (I counted) to Westbeth in Greenwich Village where I had rehearsals. My legs were not as fatigued as I had thought they might be. I had 4 hours of rehearsal (an easy day) and after rehearsal I put my heels back on and walked the same 11 blocks back to subway uptown and met up with my friend Matthew at Actor’s Equity, where he works.
(Video below: Me leaving rehearsal)
I was feeling soreness in my feet by then. From there we walked from 46th and broadway to 41st and 6th ave (Bryant Park) to grab something to eat. By the time I got there, my feet were aching! We sat down and I put my legs up the the chair across from me with a sigh of relief. I wanted to take them off but I didn’t, determined to make it through. After eating, I left the park to meet up with my friend, Brian, at Penn Station to go Halloween costume shopping. Now, as a New Yorker, walking from Bryant park to Penn Station (about 12 blocks) is no big deal but I chickened out and took the subway one stop south to skip 7 blocks. I kinda felt ashamed; a wuss but I could help it. When I got off the subway, I passed by a woman in a business suit in a high heel (had to be at least 5 inches) and it seemed she was just leaving work, in a hurry. I thought how could anyone choose to wear a stiletto all day for work!? I mean at least I got to take mines off during rehearsals, but all day? Wow! I have much respect for her ability to do that. Continuing to walk down 34th street, a women was pacing behind me and I caught eye of her and she said to me, “You struttin! You struttin!” with a big smile and two thumbs up. She was the only person on the street the whole day that actually said something to me and it was positive. She gave me the boost of encouragement I needed to continue walking in the stilettos. Brian and I went to a wig shop, jewelry store and then Party City to get all the items I needed for my costume. The line at Party City snaked through the whole shop and there was no way my feet could hold up to wait in a line that long so we left. When I was going down the steps into subway, I clutched on to the railing with both arms, decrepit. I finally got home at 9:30 pm, dropped my bags, took my shoes off and lied down with my feet up against wall. I had made it through the whole day walking in stilettos!
I was surprised no one made any jeering remarks; no hoots or hollers or whistles. Of course, I got glances and some smirks but no stares, at least none that I noticed. There was one guy on the subway that quickly looked me up and down and turned away with a sneer in his eyes but thats pretty much it. It’s New York City so I guess people are used to seeing all kinds of crazy and outlandish things so a normally dressed man in stilettos couldn’t be that out of the ordinary. Wearing stilettos in the outskirts of Texas, now that would be a different story.
|Posted on November 9, 2014 at 12:00 AM||comments (0)|
I should start by saying that getting a pair of high heels was like going on a special expedition in search for a rare species. It was not easy to find in my size! I’m a size 13.5-14 inches in women’s and because high heels are considered only a women’s shoe, most department stores don't have in stock above size 11 since females' feet tend to be smaller than mens’. I went to many well known stores (DSW, Payless, Steve Madden, and so on) hoping they would have a wider range of sizes but to no avail. My next recommendation was to go to a sex shop in Chelsea where drag queens are known to get their high heels since they keep bigger sizes for men. I found a pair in my size but they were made so poorly that when I tried them on I was afraid I was going to break my ankle and never have a dance career again, so I left disappointed. I then went to special order shoe maker that did custom designs. First, I tried T.O.Dey Shoes in Times Square and I was told that it would cost me $700, and that was a discount! There was a long awkward pause before I responded to the guy “no thank you,“...probably because I almost fainted. Next, I went to inquire at LaDuca Shoes, a theatrical and dance footwear company. My competitive Latin/Ballroom dance partner, Kelsey Burns, had worked there before so I thought maybe there would be hope in finding a cheaper priced heel there. She informed me that they only have in stock women’s shoes up to size 12 and if I wanted to get a size bigger in a high heel, I would have to order in an existing women’s design and custom order just the size, which would cost extra. However, if I wanted a heel higher than 3 inches (the size a shoe is considered a high heel), I would have to custom order the whole shoe and get it from the factory in Italy, which raises price to above $300. I just wanted to buy a normal, affordable pair of high heels, not a pair of Jordan’s. It seemed impossible but just when I almost gave up, a friend, Katherine, told me about a website, exotichighheels.com, that does affordable high heels in larger sizes and that, again, she was told drag queens use so they should have a size big enough for me. I had finally found a pair! Here it is:
The fact that I had to spend such a concentrated and extended effort to find a comfortable high heel in my size is an attestment to the exclusivity of this shoe for females and how inaccessible it is to men and therefore separates our outerwear greatly by gender, not allowing full equal expression through fashion in the gender representations. But then, it seems the only men buying high heels are drag queens so why would there be a manufacturer of high heels for men? Funny how a friend of mine asked me if I was trying to become a drag queen when I told her I bought a pair of high heels. I reiterate, a man (not dressed as a woman) in high heels: a rare species.
The moment I put on the boots I felt like Cinderella having her glass slippers donned by her prince. Me and my boots were meant to be; a match made in Harlem (where I live). They were a perfect fit and thinking I would come out the womb as a calf, wobbling my way to standing, I was shocked to find that I didn’t have any struggle at all. Now, I definitely was careful and tentative with my strides at first but after walking across my kitchen to the bedroom a couple times, I was already dancing around the living room. I couldn’t help myself. I felt confident to take it to the streets and so I did.