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A pole-dancing lesson in not-so-strict Singapore

My Saturday begins with the “Pump & Grind”.

The “Pump & Grind” begins precisely at 3:03pm, at the start of my Saturday. Some might argue that my Saturday starts much earlier, when I check email, shower, walk to the Hawker’s Stall, eat lunch, and undertake the one hour subway journey to the dance studio. To me, those activities are just details. The true day begins with the Pump & Grind. It’s the first dance warm-up in my pole dancing class.

Singapore is one interesting place. Interesting [ˈɪntrɪstɪŋ -tərɪs-], a word that can be used in many ways. It’s interesting to me primarily because of its location. While offering a decent salary and a standard of living on par with first world countries, it’s only a pebble’s flight away from Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos – all exotic locations where the dollar goes a far distance. Weekend jaunts from Singapore to any of these areas are as common as a roadtrip from North Jersey to NYC.

Singapore is interesting to backpackers because of its numerous laws and fines. As one famous t-shirt declares, “Singapore: one FINE city”, listing illegal activities and their corresponding fines. Illegal: drinking a beverage inside an MRT [translation: subway]. Fine: $S500. Illegal: eating in an MRT. Fine: $S1,000. Illegal: spitting. Penalty: $S1,000. Illegal: chewing gum. Penalty: $S10,000. Illegal: drugs. Penalty: death.

Other illegal activities? Being naked in your own home if someone outside your building can see you, even through a crack in the curtain. Possession of porn. Stripping. Prostitution, however? Perfectly legal.

In this situation, that’s precisely why Singapore is interesting – its conflicting attitudes toward sexuality. The contradictions aren’t simply visible in the laws, either. Maxim Singapore asked women, “What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever done in the bedroom?” Published answers included “ate an unusual ice cream concoction” and “slept for 16 hours straight.” The raunchiest answer was “shaved my pubic region”. When renting out an apartment, it’s not unheard of to sign a contract stating you won’t have overnight guests. Yet, every reputable dance studio offers belly dancing, pole dancing, and stripercise in addition to the more commonly expected dance classes. A two-hour lap dancing seminar is conducted approximately every other weekend.

But back to the Pump & Grind.

The pump is the first dance warm-up. You stand on your toes, hold on to the pole, and pump up and down. The pole appears to gyrate between your legs in an indecent fashion. Next is the grind. Same hold on the pole, but your body doesn’t pump up and down. Instead, your hips gyrate. The action looks equally immodest. A few more moves and the warm-up is complete.

“Okay, ladies, start from the beginning!” The lights remain dim as music blares through the loudspeakers. That’s our cue.

The first move is the Pole Walk, the simplest move of all. We hold onto the pole with our inside hands (the ones facing the pole) and begin to strut. After the fourth step, we turn around, our backs now to the pole, one leg raised, And smile. Slide down to the floor, flip your hair, and get up.

“How do you get up, ladies?” our instructor quizzed.

“Butt up, body up,” we chanted. We say – and do – it so often, it should be our mantra. Almost every move in pole dancing requires the dancer to land on the floor. To get up, she must first position her rear skyward. No other body part is allowed to move until the legs and bum are perfectly poised toward the heavens.

Next came the geisha – a round house kick ending with the outer leg hooking onto the pole. Let your body twirl down. Most of us missed the hook, slamming our nether regions into the pole at a speed that would make even Olympic gymnasts cringe.

“Ladies, don’t forget to be careful to your zah-zahs!”

“What’s a zah-zah?” asked a face that was clearly nearing the end of its battle with acne. She had probably just recently reached the minimum age limit of 18 for the class.

“Same as a twa-twa!” was the instructor’s reply. “I change the name every week.”

“Yea,” replied pimply face, “but what’s a twa-twa?”

“You want to see a twa-twa?” Jasmine, the instructor, asked excitedly, “I’ll show you a twa-twa!” She pulled at her hot pants. We managed to convince her to keep them on.

The back arch was next. This time, the pole walk begins counter clockwise, our left arms now our inside arms. We hook our outside arms to the poles, turn, release our arms once our right leg touches the pole for support, and begin to arch our backs downwards until our heads touch the ground.

A correction was needed. “Ladies,” the instructor began, “one thing I learned from stripper school in Australia was…”. The moral of the story was simple – go slower.

“Now, for a new stunt!” Jasmine grabbed the pole, gracefully walked around it, superbly performed a round house kick and hooked her body into a sliding Lotus shape, combining yoga with a pole. She repeated the stunt after perkily announcing, “And once more for those of you on a commercial break!”

We tried to imitate her. Most of us looked as graceful as diarrheatic firemen, but we managed the technical moves – walk, hook legs, and slide. A few – myself included – wiped sweaty our hands off on our clothing before trying to grip the pole again.

“Ladies, don’t wipe [your hands on] your butts! We’re not in the toilet!” Jasmine demonstrated what to do with slippery palms – rub them over your body suggestively, usually along your curves. I wondered if the gentlemen who attend strip clubs realize that’s the reason their fantasy pole women stroke themselves quite so often.

Finally, the finale – sitting on the pole, several feet from the ground. It feels like the equivalent of twenty sit-ups in a single crunch. No girl has mastered it yet; I haven’t even begun.

And then we are finished. Cool-down stretches are initiated and completed.

“Good job today, ladies!”, Jasmine congratulated before offering one last announcement. ”Just a reminder – next week, show up on time or dance naked!” Most likely, she’s joking. But I make a mental note to leave my apartment 5 minutes early next week.

“For the entire class period!”

Make that 10.

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