by Erica Nowlin
Editor’s note: The print version of this story in the April 2 issue credited to the wrong author.
Many of us automatically associate pole dancing with stripping. We often look at pole dancing as highly sexualized, highly degrading and, therefore, highly criticized. “Those women should have more respect for themselves and their bodies,” we say. But is there another side to this story? What if I told you pole dancing could actually be a positive thing? A confidence-booster, even?
I was given the opportunity to rethink my ideas about pole dancing when I attended Spotlight’s pole dancing event Wednesday, March 25 at The Stiletto Gym in Lee’s Summit, Mo. As a reporter, I did not participate. However, I observed how the class was run, how the girls interacted with each other and how the overall experience seemed to affect them as individuals. I was actually pleasantly surprised.
As a strong feminist, I would never have advocated pole dancing before. I always considered pole dancing to be degrading to women and thought that the women who chose to pole dance were probably doing it for the wrong reasons, and that they were basing their value as individuals on the “sexiness” of their bodies. And in the world of strip clubs, this is perhaps the case. However, there seem to be many misconceptions surrounding pole dancing and what it actually is.
What is pole dancing, really?
Modern pole dancing is a combination of dance, acrobatics and fitness training, according to the International Pole Dance Fitness Association. Pole dancing in this context is synonymous with pole fitness. Carla Mock, owner of Fabulous in Mind & Body Yoga and Wellness Center and The Stiletto Gym, said pole dancing is a form of exercise that challenges you mentally, physically and emotionally.
There are even pole dancing competitions in which men and women can showcase their poling abilities. These pole dancers consider themselves trained performers and athletes, and for good reason. The kinds of tricks that they do require an extreme amount of strength and endurance. The most interesting aspect of poling competitions is that competitors are actually penalized for trying to be sexy during their routines. This shows that pole dancing is not about dancing provocatively but rather displaying physical strength and ability.
Where does pole dancing come from?
Modern pole dancing has been influenced by many cultures. Chinese pole, which dates back to about the 12th century, is an acrobatic circus performance that focuses on physical tricks, including climbing, sliding, spinning and holding difficult positions, according to IPDFA. Indian pole, also known as pole mallakhamb, is a form of strength training originally intended for wrestlers. This tradition is used to develop strength, speed and coordination.
In several cultures, pole dancing is symbolic of femininity and fertility. Some believe that modern pole is influenced by traditional African tribal dances, during which women danced around a wooden pole for the men they intended to marry.
Pole dancing did not become popular in the United States, however, until the Great Depression. Women in traveling circuses would dance around the tent poles as a way of entertaining the restless crowds. These women quickly became known as “hoochie-coochie” dancers, and it was at this point that pole dancing as we know it became more about sex appeal than physical strength and ability.
So what are some common myths about pole dancing?
“If you come into a class, you soon realize that it is a legitimate form of fitness,” she said. “Pole is a great way to get into shape.”
“I am a licensed professional counselor and have a degree from UCM in psychology and a master’s degree in counseling psychology, so I believe I know something about body image,” Mock said.
She said that women who come through her class are actually transformed by the experience.
“I see ladies having low body image and self-confidence walking into the studio, and soon after starting classes, I can see both beginning to improve.”
How did I feel about my experience at The Stiletto Gym?
First walking into the studio was a little daunting. The lights were dimmed, and there were probably a dozen poles scattered around the room, mounted to the floor and ceiling. The UCM students who attended the event—all of them young women—seemed a little nervous but also excited about the experience.
As the class began, Mock explained the misconceptions surrounding pole dancing and reminded the women that poling is a perfectly legitimate way of staying in shape. Mock taught the girls a simple routine that included some basic tricks.
The girls who attended the event were of all different shapes and sizes and appeared to thrive in such a positive environment. The girls were incredibly encouraging to each other—something that Mock said she emphasizes in all of her classes.
I still do not know how I feel about pole dancing, but going to this event has definitely given me a different perspective. I was surprised that something I once thought was so hypersexualized and degrading could actually be positive and uplifting.