Fighting the Pole Dance Stigma
You know the look. I’m sure you’ve gotten it before. It may present itself in different forms. Sometimes it’s a furrowed brow, sometimes it’s dismissive laughter and sometimes it isn’t a look at all but outright accusatory words. These reactions may vary, but they all come from the same place and that is a place of judgment. This is exactly the type of judgment pole dancer Sian Young of Aberdeen, Scotland recently faced when a charity group rejected her pole fitness studio’s £1000 donation.
I was disappointed when I heard this news, but I have to admit I was not surprised. As most pole dancers know, there is a stigma attached to pole dancing that makes some people feel uncomfortable with it. I know many dancers that have become desensitized to this type of misinformed ignorance. They are used to it and have learned to accept it as inevitable. But when it comes in a form such as this, the rejection of a charitable donation, it kind of feels like a slap in the face.
Deputy Chief Executive Scott Baxter of Aberdeen Cyrenians, the charity that turned down the offer, had this to say on the matter: “We were approached by Soul Pole and were incredibly grateful for the offer of support. However, we were unable to accept it due a conflict of interest with regards to our ongoing work and support for women who have previously experienced or are currently experiencing abuse and violence, many of whom have experienced sexual exploitation in the adult entertainment industry.”
I understand the connection pole dancing has to strip clubs and how this may seem inappropriate when put in the context of sexual violence against women. But the thing is, the women of Soul Pole are not strippers. In fact, a quick perusal of the studio’s website will turn up no evidence indicating degradation of women whatsoever. The dancers look like any others I know: enthusiastic about pole, mindful of its health benefits and proud of what they do. Ms. Young was homeless herself for 7 years, so she can identify with the struggles faced by those on the streets. “This marginalization of my industry makes it hard for us to operate as a business and we find it hard as an industry to get any sort of business funding. And when you look into that and the fact that predominantly studios are businesses run by women what way do we turn?? This itself is compacting and contradicting the work the charity was saying that we would harm,” she says.
Raising money for charity through pole dance events has been a growing trend in the industry. I helped organize a fundraiser just last month for Hurricane Sandy and I’m attending another this evening to benefit breast cancer research. Why use pole as a means to raise money for charity? Why not?! It’s entertaining, community building, oh and FUN. All great components to seeing a big turnout and raising a respectable amount of money.
Ironically enough, I can’t think of a better organization for a pole dance fundraiser to benefit than one that supports abused women. (I have a personal fantasy of performing to this song one day and dedicating it to all sexual abuse victims). Sarah Murray of Pole for a Purpose certainly agrees with me. She has organized several events to help raise funds for The Spring, a women’s shelter in her community. The recipients are grateful. “With the funds raised from events like Pole for a Purpose, we’re able to pay the electric bill, provide for families, for food for shelter,” says Brenda Rouse, Director of Communications at The Spring.
I’m lucky to live in New York City where pole dancing is largely accepted as an alternative form of fitness. There was a time when I was hesitant about revealing my involvement in the community to outsiders. But as soon as I knew in my heart I wasn’t doing anything wrong, that hesitation disintegrated. I’m not ashamed that I can lift my body weight in the air or that I can move my hips with ease. This athletic art form does not exploit women, it empowers them.
What I’ve come to realize is that those who are most vehemently opposed to pole dancing simply do not get what it’s really about. They’re trapped in a narrow-minded mentality. It is important to come out in defense of pole dancing and educate those loud and ignorant voices. Through this effort we as a community can prove that what we do deserves to be taken seriously. Pole dancing heals people and truly has the ability to transform lives. We have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.