My first few weeks of going to pole classes were defined by my “coming out” about it to my mum, dad, and grandma’s, and absolutely insisting I did “pole fitness NOT pole dance.” Outside of the pole community, often people’s impressions of the sport are still shrouded by ideas of 8 inch heels, strip clubs and sparkly underwear. There were far too many people whose responses to me mentioning pole were along the lines of:
“Bet your boyfriend loves that”
“But you do wear clothes, don’t you?”
“Well it’s a different career path if you fail your degree!”
The history of pole dance is absolutely routed in strip clubs, and in fact the first official lessons were taught by an exotic dancer, Fawnia Dietrich. Recently, there has been a movement to distance pole from its exotic origins, claiming its main influences are Chinese and Indian pole styles. Although there are many influences on modern pole fitness, strip clubs and exotic dance is the main one, something most polers appreciate. For many polers, the sport is about exotic dance and fun (often very small) costumes. However, pole dance has evolved into something more, with 3 main styles: sexy, sporty and artistic, with dancers spanning across all three as they choose.
Pole studios are safe spaces, where women (and also some men!) can express themselves without fear of judgement. Pole requires you to wear the bare minimum, often booty shorts and a crop top, as it’s your skin which grips the pole and keeps you safe. This means that studios are home to people of all shapes and sizes, learning to love their bodies for what they can do, not what they look like.
For many, it’s nothing more than a fun, unique workout, with pole dance being great for both strength and flexibility, and being a full body work out. The classes often look more like gymnastics, or aerial circus sport than they do exotic dance, with students covering their hands in liquid chalk (it helps you grip the pole), and taking ‘progress pics’.
However, to others it is a place to express sexuality, and there is nothing wrong with that. It is a safe place, no touching, no cat-calling, for dancers to have fun and push themselves, to body wave, twerk and wear the highest heels they dare. There is a strong community of male pole dancers, although most are still women, and pole can become a great help to women to learn to be confident, and express their sexuality in a place of encouragement and love.
Outside perspectives of pole are slowly changing, more and more of my friends seem to be taking it up as studios are opening across the world. There’s even an entire movement to try and get it into the Olympics. There are prestigious pole competitions across the world, and amazing pole celebrities such as Amy Hazel, Bendy Kate and Maddie Sparkle (if you’re curious, YouTube them, you won’t regret it). Instagram, particularly, is chock full of pictures and videos of the #poledancersofig, each more inspiring than the next.
So yes, I do wear clothes, if shorts and a sports bra count, and I’m much more confident in my body for it. No, my boyfriend doesn’t “love” me doing pole dance in a leery way; but he does encourage me, and tells me I look great even when I fall, or hurt myself. Finally, I don’t have any problems with anyone who has chosen stripping as a career, and who loves what they do, and neither should anyone else; but it’s not my personal choice, and learning pole dance for fun isn’t the same as being paid to strip in a club.
I try to ignore any judgemental comments I get, well-meaning or otherwise, but it can be difficult, especially from people who are close to me; and although the pole community is growing, there are still so many misconceptions and misinformed opinions from both outside and within it. But it’s also a place of support, empowerment and encouragement, for people to become fitter and stronger.
Written by Katt Skippon