Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
For me, the exotic-dancing connotations of pole dancing was a surprise to me when I first heard about it (which was some time in college, I think). “You mean, they’re spinning around something on stage that looks like a fire pole? That’s the show? That’s why people go to those seedy bars? Why is that considered erotic?”
I mean, I get the theory: Athletic women in skimpy outfits bending and stretching are probably quite alluring to watch. But more titillating than, say, just a straight-up burlesque routine? Or belly-dancing, where fantastically sculpted abs aren’t obscured by the harsh vertical element of a metal pole? I wasn’t seeing it.
That is until I read Leen Isabel’s webcomic Pole Dancing Adventures. That’s when it clicked: The reason pole dancing is so popular in gentlemen’s establishments is the amazing feats of derring-do.
Isabel’s webcomic is partly an autobiographical account: She’s an avid pole dancer, and she’s aware of the seedy connotations. She recalls the embarrassment she felt when her parents discovered some videos of her pole dancing, and the relentless criticisms do sometimes get to her. That’s not enough to stop her, however, and her webcomic gives a pretty solid reason why it’s become her favorite pastime. For her, pole dancing is a legitimate athletic activity, no different than yoga or aerobics.
The field of pole dancing, like many other hobbies, is filled with all sorts of jargon and technical details. There’s one strip, for example, that illustrates the upsides and downsides of 45 mm and 50 mm poles the same way a cyclist would describe bicycle frame materials or an artist would discuss different brushstroke techniques. There are the moves as well: Isabel gleefully draws a strip when she’d successfully conquered “The Superman,” a tricky-looking maneuver where one arm is stretched out, the other is pulled back and grasping the pole, and the legs are elevated parallel to her body. I don’t know much about pole dancing, but it’s an admittedly impressive feat. (I’m an amateur juggler, and I probably had the same feeling of accomplishment when I nailed the Mill’s Mess.)
And then there are the injuries. Oh, boy … so many injuries. Part of the strip is actually derailed a little after Isabel suffers a wrist injury. She takes it like a trooper, and it doesn’t stop her from drawing comics. As she relates the bruises, cuts and bumps she’s had to endure, she takes some of the glamor out of pole dancing. I mean, it’s not quite so sexy when you know the dancer is beating herself up day in and day out. At the same time, it garners sympathy; they’re not doing this as eye-candy for men. Not solely, anyway They’re doing this for themselves in an activity that’s partly artistic but heavily athletic. You sort of have to be if you’re going to be lifting your body some six feet off the ground.
And because Isabel takes pole dancing seriously, she also uses her webcomic as an instructional tool. It’s filled with tips and techniques that I can imagine are helpful — how to grip the pole without slipping or how to extend your arms gracefully. I’m pretty sure I’ll never apply these tips in any practical way.
Still, there’s a lot of takeaway for comic fans. .. and not just because Pole Dancing Adventures features drawings of fit ladies in skimpy outfits. Being a comic book fan is a similarly niche activity, a hobby that can sometimes feel a little embarrassing. Well … it’s nothing compared to being way into pole dancing. But Leen Isabel isn’t ashamed of it, and her passion is infectious. A webcomic about pole dancing can be inspiring … which is something I never thought I’d be saying.