When 62-year-old Beth Franzese wrote me suggesting I watch her pole dancing video, I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. This wasn’t just a woman who had gotten into good shape by spinning around a pole. Her jaw-dropping video (watch below) showed a woman who defied every cliche of being “a certain age” as she moved up, down, and around the pole with consummate strength and grace. What was even more amazing was that she had taken up pole dancing after a double hip replacement and spinal fusion. Read on to learn more about her story.
Why did you need a spinal fusion?
I had arthritis, causing a cyst to grow that pressed directly on a nerve. Most of the pain was in my leg, not my back, but it was constant. Rolfing and acupuncture, my usual go-tos, didn’t help. My doctor drained the cyst four times but it kept coming back so the only solution seemed to be a fusion.
How did your back problems impact your life?
None of my orthopedic problems impacted my sex life very much. When the hip arthritis was at its worst, certain positions were a little uncomfortable but it wasn’t a major inconvenience. And it didn’t hamper my work (I’m a Rolfer) because I can always adjust my working position so I’m comfortable. The real problem was that I couldn’t dance or exercise beyond basic gym work-outs which are really not my thing, because of limited range of motion and pain. I was starting to feel all washed up. And I was relying on painkillers when my back was at its worst.
When did you start pole dancing an how often do you do it?
I started in 2010. I average four to six 2-hour classes a week. My doctor calls me Bionic Pole Dancer.
Were you athletic before your health problems or did you become athletic after your surgery as a way of empowering yourself?
I always either danced or did martial arts. I started training seriously in ballet at 13 and got used to going to class at least five days a week. When I switched over to martial arts I often trained seven days a week.
How has pole dancing impacted your life?
It gave me back my joy and my sense of my own physicality and power. In addition to my back and hips I have severe arthritis in my left knee and left shoulder, but I can adjust what I do in pole class to my own needs. I never thought I would be this strong and flexible again and I don’t think there is another movement type that would give me all this. And our studio, S Factor, has given me a community of women of all ages. I never imagined a group that would give me so much support.
In 2013 my husband was critically ill and in the hospital for seven months. I visited him everyday and also continued to work. I don’t know if I would have made it without the love and presence of my S sisters. And if I didn’t make it, he wouldn’t have. So pole dancing saved my husband’s life.
What have you learned about yourself?
I have learned that I can still be as sexy at 62 as I was at 32. I have learned that who I am is enough. I have learned that all women are beautiful and there is no need to compete.
When I first started doing pole I was so weak I never thought I’d be able to do a simple climb or flip. It took me months. At some point those moves became second nature to me. I’d achieved something I thought was beyond my reach, and that really shored up my self-confidence. And now I’ve been able to put together this pole video and have self-published a book of short stories entitled “All Gorgeous Creatures” — another feat I thought I’d never accomplish.
What advice do you have for other mature women who are experiencing physical disabilities?
Make healing your top priority. Try everything until you find out what combination of movement and modalities work for you. We all have different needs and have to be responsible for finding out what works for us. Don’t skimp on self-care!
What does your husband think about your pole dancing?
He loves that I do it. He’s always bragged about my strength and power, whether it was in the Aikido dojo, or belly dancing, or rowing a boat. But when I did a private dance for him at S Factor, he was blown away. The emotional expressiveness of my dance made him realize that I was doing much more than just getting a workout. I heard him explaining to someone that my classes were an emotional and spiritual experience, as well as exercise. He also enjoys watching me try on my costumes!
What reactions have you gotten from friends and family?
I haven’t gotten a negative reaction from anyone. Most of them seem delighted. Many have told me I’m an inspiration.