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Nia Burks Gets Real About UnDoing, UnTraining, and UnFucking Yourself

One of the thing’s I’ve always loved so much about stripping and strip clubs in general is the various styles that were present among the dancers working on any given night. The intent was to gain the exact same thing, and it was executed in so many different ways.

Some girls are hard twerkers, some are bashful, some use the Lolita aesthetic, and others were bubbly, approachable, always happy. Some were hardcore cold bitches that were dominate and unapproachable. (Side note: I was always fond of seeing the bubbly happy types work in the same spaces as the brooding goth types)

An ecosystem of tempered difference lived in harmony (and sometimes not) all with the same goal: to be noticed. Why do strippers want to be noticed? Well, those reasons are different and variable. Typically, though, it was money. But that doesn’t matter right now. I’m interested in the part about being noticed. 

This ecosystem of varied character and mood was fascinating to me because as a kid in these spaces, one of my biggest takeaways, one of the greatest lessons that I learned in that era of my life that has carried me through everything leading up to this moment is that we all have different methods of getting the exact same thing. In the club, it was to get noticed. In the civilian world, I believe it is also to get noticed. I’d argue this is the ultimate goal of being alive.

I’ve found that throughout my years of teaching different workshop varieties of Filth, everyone wants the same thing: to matter. All we want is to be seen for who we are, with our many facets. The number one thing any human wants to know is that they matter.

So riddle me this, if this postulation is true, if the only thing we ever really want as humans is to matter and to be loved for who we are, then why do we consume a multitude of external prescribed bullshit in order to get there?  

Here’s the thing. I’m not at all about trying to training you. I’m about untraining you. I have no desire to train you. The world trains you enough. My desire is to release you from your training. As I’ve gone though my own personal journey, I’ve tried to train myself as well.

Here are some way’s I’ve done that: 

  • I spent YEARS working on my sickled feet in pole because I was always told they were “incorrect”. After I stopped caring, my floppy ankles and flexed feet are one of the things people love most about me. Here’s a bit of ego: I was doing that shit well before it was popular. I was so ripped apart by comp judges that I tried stopping. I have dozens of comp notes insulting my “amateur” dance form. Those comments hurt. So I trained it out. Do you do this too in your own practice? I get it. That pain is real. This world is vicious.
  • I tried at one point to get as many Instagram followers as I could because I thought it would help out my pole career. I posted nothing but pole vid’s and photos of my dog (she’s gonna be on my feed forever, not budging on that one, fyi). Then, I decided I don’t want to be an “influencer”. I don’t need 10,000 or more followers in order to matter. This could very well be detrimental to my “pole career”, but you know what? I’d rather have a well rounded presence and inform a few by my realness than capitulate and post only one facet of myself. I deserve to be more than one kind of woman. I’ve lost hundreds of followers but I gained about 4-10 DM’s a day from folks saying “woah, i feel so much less alone after reading your post”. This is way better than follower numbers.
  • I thought that if I could just make myself “do the right thing” or take the right steps or complete the right moves, I would make it. I worked on goddamn ayshas for 16 years. 16 years later, and I still can’t do one. And no, I don’t really care (though I’ll never stop practicing). This doesn’t define me. I believe in always doing your best and never stopping, but here’s the real shit that no one ever talks about: Im getting older. My body is changing. I don’t make enough money to put the food in my body needed to hulk out enough to train this inverted splitty triangle, and, yo, real talk: there are INFINITE other shapes a body can make.

UnFuck Yourself is about untraining yourself. My sexy has grown over the years since I first started teaching Filth. Its not about industry standards, certifications, capitulations (though, those are massively valuable too, but not all the time). Now certainly, I have not gotten myself to where I am at by obeying the rules. You can ask anyone. I’ve always given a huge middle finger to convention, but I have also done quite a bit of conforming to it because I thought it was still correct.

But I had to teach myself how to abandon the dread of correctness. Wild opposition works, but not if it isn’t accompanied by a solid internal core sense of self. I want to teach you this. I want to teach you how to untrain yourself in your exotic pole practice. You know that feeling after your 97th pole class of the month, your 3rd round of that one really popular certification, that feeling that you get where you still don’t know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it? That kinda empty feeling? Thats what I want to eliminate.

I believe that loving yourself is a transgressive act. Filth: UnFuck Yourself is about transgression. This workshop is my newest creation, and I believe its the best one yet. I am using the biggest takeaway from my time as a stripper, the idea that we all use different methods to achieve the same thing, to teach folks what it means to abandon the dread of correctness and be their sexy. I already know you embrace it. Thats why you’re coming to Pole Con. We’re united in this! You embrace yourself. No question. But even when you embrace it, how to you BE that self when it matters most? 

Here’s what were gonna do: 

  • Yes, you will floppy ankle and heel clacks. This is the shit that I am reclaiming right now. But you’re going to do it YOUR way, not my way, and I will get you there. We’re going to use clack and the ankle joint as a concept, not a form. 
  • All of our movement will be freestyle prompts, in true Filth fashion. You won’t leave with choreography or a concrete method that can be regurgitated, carbon copied, or reproduced. It’ll be open ended and you’ll leave with more questions than answers because, to me, its important that you leave with something to keep exploring.
  • All of the BEING Sexy. Everything we’re going to do will come from a place of being sexy. Not looking sexy, not performing sexy, not taking the right steps to be sexy, but rather, BEING sexy. Presence. 
  • Were gonna not be “pretty”. Yes. You heard me. You will not be “pretty”. We’re going to be real. We’re going to do incorrect body rolls, probably clack wrong, get your hair stuck in your mouth, all with the end goal of abandoning the correctness of contemporary exotic dance. Why? Because instead of pretty, you’re going to be radiant. You will emit light, heat, desire, something. Pretty is for objects. Radiance is for being.

Don’t freak out.

UnFuck Yourself, like all of the Filth series, is about breathing life into your exotic sexy pole dance that will radiate throughout your entire being. Its Sexy. Emotional. Mental. I believe that each aspect of our lives informs every other. Its all connected. Once we start peeling back the layers, our sexy pole practice will transform. Lets UnFuck Yourself. 

Filth, created in 2014 (with Butter added in 2017), despite the popularity of the term now being used to refer to dirty exotic pole dance, doesn’t mean that to me, THOUGH I do dance in a pretty sexy way, if I do say so myself. Filth is what happens when you’re alive. The dust on your nightstand? That pink mold in you shower? Yeah, that shit isn’t too convenient, or too fun to look at sometimes, right? Filth is the unavoidable evidence of being. Filth is what happens because we’re alive. When you’re alive, you generate Filth.

UnFuck Yourself is Saturday, June 8th, 4:30-6pm.

Nia Burks

Nia Burks

I am a professor of Digital Art and Media Theory at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va, where my research includes (but is not limited to) gender politics and identity, body positivity, and mediated images of women. I am a sex work activist, a pole dance instructor with specific focus given to theatrical performance as well as plus size performers, and a video/sound artist. I am interested in the "art" side of pole, though I do love the trick/athletic side as well. My interest in academia and art theory has led me to consider pole in the same manner as I do any other fine art medium. I hope to be able to perform and write about pole in a manner that is both informed and humble.
Nia Burks

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