I’ve really come to resent the attitude of some of the ‘feminists’ and ‘poledancers’ on here, saying pole dancing can’t be done properly without somehow “apologizing to strippers who were treated badly because of it” (this was anon hate I’d recieved before) The first recorded pole dance in a bar or strip club was in the late 60’s. If you think that’s where it originated, then you’re grossly mistaken. Stop using a sport or interest that ACTUALLY GIVES PEOPLE EMPOWERMENT AND BODY CONFIDENCE and making it ugly by accusing those women and men of being “privileged” and saying that their pole dancing is okay because it has no stigma for them. Pole has stigma for everyone - and as long as attitudes like this exists, people will continue to be blamed for their choices. The pole dancing you learn in most pole schools, and the pole dancing that goes on at strip clubs is in many cases, extremely different.
I can only speak for the pole schools that I have been involved in, but exercise-based pole schools would not turn a person of any gender away, because they wanted to use their pole skills in stripping or burlesque dancing.
I am in no way saying that SOME harassment strippers and burlesque dancers sometimes receive is justified, what I am saying is you cannot sit on the internet, send people hate, and choose when these people are offended by others taking part in pole dancing, or burlesque dancing. You are representing a string of women that you have created. Fun fact: Some (only ever encountered women) use pole schools, and sport to hone their pole moves for professional and stripping contexts. I really don’t get the “yes you should feel empowered, but only at certain times or in certain contexts” arguments.
The truth is no one knows where pole dance originated, but there are several recorded influences. These are not the pole dance we see today, but they play a significant part in developing today’s contemporary pole dance.
Some believe that pole originated from a traditional Indian sport - mallakhamb: which used a wooden pole. The first recorded instance of mallakhamb was in 1135 AD, but it really took of in the 18th century. It was originally a sport to help build strength in wrestlers, but went on to become a sport in its own right. The Indians would often play competitively, using a smooth wooden pole with a base diameter of 55cm and thinner diameter at the top of 35cm, which was sometimes laced with castor oil to avoid friction. They would wear little clothing, taken from inspirations of yoga clothing or they would wear similar clothing to swimwear and no shoes to allow better skin to pole grip. They became pole flips specialists and would often begin a performance by running up to and flipping directly on the pole. No easy feat by any means, as it requires a great deal of precision and agility. It is still around today, but is used as more of a performance art.
Chinese pole is usually what comes to mind when thinking about the history of pole fitness and you would not be wrong. The history of ‘Chinese Pole’ dates back prior to the 12th century, when circus professionals of the era would use a pole, approximately 3-9 meters in height, laced with a rubber material and wear full body costumes.
Performances of the Chinese Pole were less fluid than performances we now see using a pole, due to the grip from the pole and the costume, but many tricks like ‘the flag’, hanging straight out at a 90 degree angle to the pole using nothing but arm strength, are still being used and performed to this day. Chinese acrobats would display climbing, sliding down, stretching and holding positions using acute strength and skill. Performers of this time would regularly have burn marks on their shoulders from performing and training which became a way for them to identify and have respect for one other within this art form.
With the flips and jumps, sometimes performed with 2 or more performers and poles, there is much crossover to this day between these Chinese circus performances using pole and that of Cirque Du Soleil.
Maypole dance, which dates as far back as the 12th Century, is a pagan fertility celebration, it celebrates the union of the God and the Goddess and the coming summer. One version was performed around a wooden pole, as dancers twisted ribbons around the pole as they danced. You can usually see it recreated in modern times at Renaissance Faires, or you may know some Pagans who still practice it today in ritual.
Pole Dancing and exotic dance:
Striptease has been known to date back to myths of ancient Sumerian times, where the goddess of love, Inanna, was said to have danced and removed one item of clothing or jewellery at each of the seven gates that she passed on her way to find her lover Damouz. There have been linkages of this myth evolving from the Bible’s ‘Dance of Seven Veils’.
Other influences of exotic dance over the years are said to have derived from Parisian times, i.e. Moulin Rouge, the ancient Middle-Eastern art form of belly-dancing, and also from Latin inspired dances such as the Rumba and Tango.
According to Sheila Kelley’s book, “The S-Factor,” Pole dancing itself has been said to originate from the travelling fairs during the American depression in the 1920’s, where a group of dancers would entertain crowds in tents using a lot of hip movement and suggestive dancing. They became known as the ‘Hoochi Coochi’ dancers and would dance with the pole holding the tent in place.
One of the earliest recorded pole dances was in Oregon, US in 1968, and following this, the pole dance craze is believed to have kicked off in Canada in the 1980’s." A woman named Fawnia Dietrich initiated the first ever class in teaching pole to non-performers in 1994, and has gone on to create the world’s first pole dancing school and produced various instructional videos.
Pole dance today:
Pole fitness still has a long way to go before it is taken seriously for the astounding art form that it is. Mention the words pole dancing and most people still associate it with stripping off in a club for money. In recent years pole dance has separated into two camps. There are those who pole dance as a profession in a club and there are those who see it purely as a sport. In the sporting sense the USA now have the USPDF (US Pole dance federation) With the UK holding many respected and recognised pole dancing competitions such as Miss Pole Dance Fitness UK. And there is an ongoing petition to get pole fitness into the 2016 Olympics.
Part of what makes moving pole dancing into the mainstream so empowering is that it gives women permission to creatively display, play with and express their sexuality with, ideally, less of the stigma and shame than our strip club sisters had to deal with. Taking the erotic sensuality out of pole so that it can be accepted into the mainstream is like doing yoga without ever paying attention to your breath. What’s the point? Pole has some roots in exotic dancing, but I don’t think it will ever be separated from that. Pole is sexy, pole gives you permission to bare all. To be yourself.
I think understanding the origins of pole is essential to being a good pole dancer, because so much of what you do is going to be defending your CHOICE to pole dance “when there are so many other ways to get fit.” Pole dancing cannot and should not be seperated from any of its origin, and we must be mindful about the way we treat those people who make the choice to pole dance, and also those who make the choice to pursue fitness in other ways.
As always, opinions and discussions welcome.
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