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The stairwell led up into a dark corridor. I took it with uncertainty wondering if I got the address wrong.

A sign flashing pink flushes the dark momentarily before flickering and going out completely. The only sounds I hear are my own footsteps against the muffled backdrop of the Shanghai street.

I pass a room stacked high with antiques, then a bit further an open door through which I see a boxing ring. The spotlight is on it but the place is empty.

Next I feel vibrations through the floor and start to hear the rising thuds of dance music. With relief I see the Soul Dancing sign, another one struggling to keep alight.

Shanghai dance

You can do literally anything in Shanghai. It’s just a case of putting yourself out there and doing it. Tonight, I’m pole dancing.

In the room, white walls and floor-to-ceiling mirrors enclose you – there are around twenty poles gleaming like some strange dog show apparatus. Poles which girls are cleaning up and down with towels and vodka.

I walk through the adjoining rooms, where different classes are taking place in these clinical white rooms like lab experiments – belly dancing, street, zumba. Feeling slightly anxious I change into what I think is suitable pole attire (actually turned out my shorts were too short).

You’d expect the class to be full of girls. But actually there is one young guy at the back. I wonder if he’s really here to tone up his arms, or if he’s just here to watch amateur girls dance for cheap.

Before the lesson, the teacher yells “Are ya ready?” to two girls and the three stand up front while the whole class watches them do a professional pole dance. Slightly intimidating.

Suddenly the music turns up a notch and before I’ve taken in the room fully enough to feel comfortable, the whole class is on their feet and jumping to a song I’m not sure what, but sounds like We No Speak No Americano

Everyone has their eye on their own reflection. We start by running on the spot and then something happens and we’re all dancing in syncronised movements and I’m reminded of why I’m here in the first place. I love dancing but I’ve never done it seriously before. I failed my dance audition at school and remember being gutted for weeks after. That’s because I was too shy to dance in front of people and it ruined my audition.

Anyway next thing I know everyone in the room drops to the floor, and after a few seconds hesitation I’m on the floor too, doing these awkward thrust movements…

And then we progress to some yoga-ish moves, that make all the bones in my body click. And then the splits. The teacher – over the top – expects us to stay like that for minutes. Why am I the only person in the room feeling as if I’m about to literally split in two? Are these people human?

Now the music tones down, hypnotic. And this is when the poles creep into our routine. Sliding up the poles, and then doing headstands against them.

Pole dancing requires upper-body strength, which I don’t have. And honestly, you won’t belieeve the pain I was in for a week after this lesson. Walking like an OAP. Couldn’t do stairs.

There are limbs everywhere you look, doubled in the mirror. Now it’s freestyle. Everyone working their pole, beginners looking confused, awkward. Actually only a few beginners are here today. The lessons are pretty disorganized to be honest. You have near-professional dancers in there suspended upside down, and then those who can’t even lift themselves off the floor… I fall somewhere in that group.

Shanghai dance

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Shanghai dance

The teacher doesn’t have much patience for us. She slaps our butts into place and spins us 360 around the pole. As the poles are rotateable I get dizzy, but my limbs are so tightly wound around the pole I can’t stop and the room goes blurred. Finally my palms sweat from panic and I slip down the pole in a not-so-elegant fashion.

Just then next to me a crash – and a three-foot light shade falls an inch from my head… One of the girls on the pole next to me was so high up her pole, she’d managed to kick the light out the socket. Then minutes later, a girl drops a meter or two from her pole onto her back, stunning her for a while. Two girls down…

We had to keep spraying vodka over our hands so we literally stuck to the poles.

Before the lesson ended, we had to warm down, and one of the things we had to do was pair up. The other girl sat on your legs while you did 20 crunches… The teacher strolling between us like we were training for the army. So. much. pain. One of the girls I spoke to, who’d been coming here a while said, “Oh sure! in a few lessons time you’ll be doing upside-down stuff.”

I think next time I will try something like jazz/zumba, as the only place you can practice pole dancing here is on the metro. Or I suppose, the kid’s playground. Actually, I did read an article recently about 3 Chinese girls who started pole dancing and surprised a late-night carriage of people. I asked my housemate jokingly if she’d consider fixing a pole in her place, but she’s not going to be doing that any time soon. What a shame!

Learn yourself:

Soul Dancing
2/F, 1 Maoming Nan Lu,
near Yan’an Zhong Lu
茂名南路1号2楼,
近延安中路

Nearest Metro: South Shanxi Rd

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