Why I think Maya Angelou would approve of “Stripper Change”

San Francisco is an interesting place. We were built on ‘Wild West‘ ideals and 60’s hippie rebellion-but, now, due to ‘gentrification’ and such-we are becoming even more conservative than the Midwestern town I grew up in.

Case in point:  I got scolded in a yoga studio where I was teaching for using the term “Stripper change“.

Mind you-I didn’t make up this transition (basically, while moving from one side of Ardha Matsyendrasana pose to the other) there is a moment when you spread your legs open and cross one over the other.  So, left leg is over right then ‘Stripper Change’ right is over left.  I inherited this saying from one of my teachers-http://janetstoneyoga.com/ who would use this transition after a long, sweaty class in the Castro.

There, everyone laughed-did the transition-and moved on.

Not so much for me. This was in a very gentrified area and the studio fit it’s consumers.

I should have been more mindful.

Someone complained and the manager expressed to me how inappropriate the term ‘stripper‘ was in a yoga class.

Ironically, this is a neighborhood FILLED with strip clubs and many of my students were dancers (they would ask me for poses to alleviate shoulder injuries while spinning around a pole).

My feminist side wanted me to address it the next class.   Ask why the term ‘stripper‘ is offensive and, if so, why aren’t we taking the energy it took to complain and put that toward’s fighting for women’s issues and practicing non-judgement?

But, reacting that way was neither polite nor yogic.

So, I did this.

I’ve been a Maya Angelou fan for years.  I’ve read all of her books, I’ve seen her speak 5 times, I know some of her quotes by heart.

MayaSexyI also know that Maya danced in a strip club on North Beach-right before she became a nightclub singer at the Purple Onion.

While this was very unlike spinning around a pole-she did dance there and it was considered scandalous at the time.

Inspired by this knowledge-I decided to end the class with ‘stripper change’ -although this time I called it ‘burlesque change’.

Then I explained that maybe we should reconsider the ways we judge and label and that, in fact, the term “stripper” has been used to describe someone as revered as Maya Angelou.

I ended the class with this poem- one that has inspired many women to celebrate their femininity, power and sexuality.

paix à son âme

Phenomenal Woman


Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.






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