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My Rabbis Know I Pole Dance

My Rabbis Know I Pole Dance

My Rabbis Know I Pole Dance - a guest blog by PSO Unicorn, Becky Sebo

One shabbat (day of rest) evening, as the clergy proceeded into the chapel, the rabbi asked me quickly, “Becky, what was the name of the pole dance competition?” Confused, I replied, “Pole Sport Organization. Why do you ask?” The rabbi said, “So I can congratulate you when you come to the bima (stage) to light candles!”

“NO!” The word jumped out of my mouth before I could contain myself. “Rabbi, please don’t do that.” He looked surprised and agreed to not mention it. I lit the candles and went through the motions of the service as normal.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not afraid to disclose to others that I pole dance, but the
synagogue wasn’t the first place I wanted broadcast my sport. When I’m training on the pole, I wear more or less a sports bra and bikini bottoms so my skin can grip the stainless steel in all the right places. Not exactly modest attire.

Pole first caught my eye while I was living in Jerusalem as a student. As a dancer whose career was cut short because of an injury, I was searching for other low-impact forms of movement. The women’s only pole studio in the center of the holiest city on earth welcomed secular and Orthodox students in every class. Despite our varying levels of modesty outside the studio ranging from long skirts and head coverings to short shorts and crop tops, we all wore shorts and sports bras during training. I always felt this to be unifying, celebrating our strength and bodies as women despite our various religious backgrounds. Although discovering pole fitness in Jerusalem, I hadn’t instituted a connection between the sport and my Judaism.

I imagine, if I was a rabbi reading this, I would wonder if there is a Jewish connection to pole dance? It wasn’t until I moved back to my hometown Cleveland and became a member at local studio Ecole de Pole Cleveland that I realized the connections exist. For a while, I was the only Jewish member at the studio. I fielded questions about holidays, brought in dreidels (spinning tops) for Hanukkah, and compared the Hebrew names for pole moves to English ones.

But soon I understood the larger connection I had between Judaism and pole dance, and I believe there are many.

The first and maybe the strongest shared value is community – Kehilah: No matter
where I’ve trained, from Jerusalem to London to Cleveland, my pole community has always become my second family. Polers embrace you for who you are. They support you when you need that extra bit of strength to nail a tricky move and they celebrate with you when you achieve it. In Judaism, community is sacred; many Jewish laws and customs require us to practice them in groups, to celebrate or support each other together. Another Jewish value is B’tzelem Elohim, meaning we are all created in god’s image. I am a beautiful being created perfectly imperfect. Pole has helped me regain my body confidence. No matter if my weight fluctuates through the seasons or how hairy my legs are, I feel ready to strut my stuff both when I move around the pole and when I’m praying at the synagogue.

Lastly, respect – Kavod: I’ve danced and trained with doctors, lawyers, transgender men and women, the poor, the wealthy, people of all sizes, skin tones, and political views, and everyone respects each other. Even at competitions, I remain in contact with dancers I’ve competed directly against and hype them up when they post a new move on Instagram. They do the same for me. Respect in Judaism simply comes down to treat others the way you want to be treated, a Jewish value, a life value, a pole value.

As the daughter of a cantor (Jewish religious leader), I grew up with clergy like additional aunts and uncles, but they were still clergy. I held a higher respect for them as religious leaders of the community. When some first discovered my new hobby, they nodded and smiled a little uncomfortably, unsure of what I was doing. Once they actually saw the strength and grace of pole dance, they were impressed. Absolutely, there is a sexy side of pole, and you can’t ignore that. While I do embrace the sexiness of pole, I also train like an athlete. I can lift my entire body upside down with just my arms. I can spin as fast as a dreidel hanging on by my elbow. I can also tell a story through dance.

Last year, I discovered a new member of our studio was Jewish and had nowhere to go for the high holidays. I invited her to my synagogue where I introduced her to the rabbis as my friend who I pole dance with. They all responded “Wow! You must be so strong.” The clergy are so incredibly supportive of what I do and welcoming to those who do it with me. While I’m still not sure if I want to broadcast my hobby at Friday night services, I definitely feel more confident now talking about this sport with my Jewish community, and I think my rabbis do too.