When I walked into the cozy single of Melissa Martinez ’15 in Parsons House, the first thing I noticed was the art adorning the walls. With pieces from her Winter Study travels to Egypt and Liberia, along with her own work from time spent in the Spencer art studio, the decorations are unique and indubitably tasteful. The balcony, closed off from the elements by glass, has served Martinez as an excellent storage space. The neighbors, according to Martinez, are sweet and considerate. The location, while not the most central, is still desirable with its proximity to Sawyer Library and two dining halls.
However, none of these characteristics is what makes Martinez’s home for this year so special. When I asked her to describe the style of her room in one word, Martinez settled on “eclectic.” There really could be no better descriptor because the real center of the room, despite the noticeable and impressive artistic decor, is a dance pole. Unlike the Liberian tribal masks hanging above her bed, the pole is not just for decoration. For the past three years Martinez has been developing her skills in pole fitness, a gymnastics-centered workout on the pole.
“I really got into it the summer after freshman year at my sister’s dance studio,” says Martinez, who has been dancing with her sister for most of her life. “My sister teaches aerial silks at her studio, which is this Cirque-du-Soleil-type performance where dancers have fabric hanging from the ceiling. They wrap themselves up and do acrobatic tricks. So we always had that in our house, but then my sister also had pole at the studio and I started to get into that more. And I was like you know what, I really like this.”
Martinez now prefers the pole over the aerial silks she was first introduced to, partially because she finds there is a lot more left for her to explore with poles. “Because I’ve been doing the silks for longer, there seems to be so much more for me to get at [with the pole]. There are so many other new things that I have seen on the silks already.”
Another important aspect of pole fitness for Martinez is the community of women she’s met in her home state of Utah through her sister’s dance studio. “I like the girls that do it. They’re all really edgy and really fun, and I really respect them in a lot of ways. They’re unafraid of whatever people think. They’re just doing it for them.”
While pole fitness is a very different movement from pole dancing, there is some crossover, which caused Martinez to check it out once. “I have gone to a strip club with my sister to just see what this is all about. And they didn’t even touch the pole! They just sort of walk around them. We were like, “Cool. We’re set. We know what that is about.’”
Martinez was initially unsure about installing a pole in her dorm because of the stigma associated with it. After taking the class Sexual Economies, however, she decided both that the discussion it opened was valuable and that she didn’t care that much what other people thought. Martinez adds, “I feel like a lot of the time society gets intimidated when women try to inhabit both intellectual and sexual spheres. This is not to say that the pole is inherently sexual, because that’s an important part of the dialogue that it opens.”
Despite a few unfavorable incidents, Martinez says that the pole is “really not been a big deal at all. My friends love it. I try to be sensitive of the people I’m living with and ask ‘you know, are you ok with this being here?’ But mostly my friends have been really interested and want to see the athletic aspect of it. They try it out themselves and then say ‘Wow, I didn’t know it was that hard!’”
For those of you considering your own pole, Campus Safety and Security hasn’t been questioned directly on this situation, but Martinez hasn’t run into problems. “We had a fire drill and security was checking all the rooms. I was a little scared, but they didn’t say anything to me so I was like cool, alright.”
And for those worried about the structural integrity of the College’s dorms, no damage is involved in installation. Supported fully by tension, rubber lining at the ends cushion the bases against the ceiling and floor. Then you tighten a large screw until the pole expands enough to be secure. Martinez says, “it’s hard to store and obnoxious to take apart, but definitely worth it.”