Ah Bar Rouge. For 13 years now the Bund-side bar has been a by-word for the glamourous see-and-be-seen side of Shanghai nightlife. There’s that view, there’s the beautiful people ordering sparkler-laden buckets of Champagne, and there’s the out-of-shape male attempting to pole dance on the terrace. Alright, maybe that last one isn’t quite a Bar Rouge signature just yet, but I’m anticipating a long-term contract offer from their management any day now…
Certainly anyone who bore witness to my attempts to pole dance on the famous Bund 18 terrace will tell you it was quite the spectacle. They doubtless came away with a few NSFWOAER (not suitable for work or anywhere else really) photos, though should probably just be grateful Bar Rouge didn’t have a leotard that fit me.
My coach for the role is Cherry, who’s been dancing professionally for the last eight years and at Bar Rouge for the last three. She performs there every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, helping her to pay the bills while studying fashion design at Donghua University during the day. When we meet, she looks me up and down and says, ‘You look like you have some power, some strength.’ Spoiler alert: this proves to be a wildly optimistic appraisal.
Cherry takes the information that I’ve never pole danced before, can barely dance dance, don’t work out and haven’t done any sort of preparation for this job in her high-heeled stride. Once we’ve cleared away some of Bar Rouge’s more expensive stock from the bar below and waited for a rain shower to clear, I clamber up to the pole and Cherry shows me the simplest moves she can think of. The way she elegantly winds her body around the pole with graceful, fluid movements and a never-wavering smile certainly makes it look quite simple, but of course, it’s anything but.
The first move requires me to wrap one leg around the pole just above hip height, with the other leg running straight down to the bar, then stretch out the upper half of my body so that I’m pointing away from the pole at about 90 degrees. There’s a fear factor, not helped by the rain, of unfurling my body at such an angle, and particularly of putting my arms way out above my head, but after a bit of encouragement from Cherry I just about manage to hold this position for a good two seconds or so.
It’s downhill from there however. The next moves Cherry shows me involve me gripping the pole with my arms and lifting my body from the waist down off the ground in various poses. Again, Cherry makes it look effortless, floating her lower half up steadily as if she has strings attached. I get about half a second of air, but nerves, lack of fitness and 35-degree heat are causing me to sweat a little, which naturally doesn’t really help when you’re trying to use various parts of your body to gain some grip on the pole.
Cherry deploys a bottle of Ultimate Gripping Solution in such situations, but even with this feeble excuse eliminated I can only struggle on through a few more attempts at moves before ceding the pole to Cherry. She proceeds to twirl and spin and generally defy the laws of gravity and when she’s done our photographer asks if I’ll be trying any more. But Cherry reads the look of defeat on my face quickly: ‘I think he gives up.’