The Stripper Stigma-Division in the Pole Community
I took an Intro to Politics course in college. It was part of my general education requirements. To say I was less than enthused to be there would be an understatement. I wanted nothing to do with political science. I don’t remember much of the curriculum but one day in class particularly stands out in my mind. We were having a heated debate about equality between men and women. The male professor pointedly said, “Women will never be equal to men so long as they keep trying to be men.” This statement offended me so much at the time. I thought to myself, “Well of course I can do anything a man can do!” After further reflection of this concept championed by traditional feminists, I realized I didn’t want to be a man. I wanted to be a woman. There cannot be a more powerful proclamation of feminine strength than that. And no, the term “feminine strength” is not an oxymoron.
Now why am I bringing this story up on a pole blog? Oddly enough, it was once again a man who reintroduced this concept of denial in my mind, although this time in a different form. Philip Deal was recently ousted from the Florida Pole Fitness Championship for working in the adult entertainment industry, a direct violation of the organization’s rules. This conflict was intensified after the FPFC participated in “Nude Nite,” a local art exposé celebrating the “beauty of the nude.” Those on the opposed side claimed this was a hypocritical action. The organization defended its participation in the event stating it was not pornographic but rather a respected art exhibition. This controversy fueled a firestorm of verbal attacks on Facebook from both sides.
Soon, there were suggestions that some pole dancers were in some sort of denial about the true origins of the art form they were performing. I found this proposition intriguing. I am not going to defend either side. I only wish to explore the conflict I have in my own mind over the colliding worlds of pole dancing which this controversy inspired me to consider. Those outside the industry may not be aware but there are, at the moment, three main branches of pole dancing. Jenyne Butterfly agrees and once described these branches as exotic, athletic and artistic. We cannot deny that pole dancing has roots in exotic dance. While it is true that the form performed today has evolved, pole dancing still came from strip clubs. There are many people who are uncomfortable with this association, but that is the reality.
I know this, but still find it bothersome to constantly get asked if I am also a stripper. This is not an insult to all strippers. Why should I be labeled as anything I’m not? The general public does have a negative association with stripping though. I asked Meredith Chivers, Assistant Professor at Queen’s University and respected female sexuality researcher about this simultaneous fascination and condemnation our society has with strippers. “I think women openly expressing their sexuality can be threatening — there are many examples of cultural prohibitions against women being openly sexual (e.g., the double standard). Some view pole dance as exploitation or degradation, probably based on concerns about cultivating the sexual objectification of women and catering to the male gaze.”
I understand those who wish to distance themselves from the connection pole dancing has to stripping. Quite interestingly though, S Factor creator Sheila Kelley has researched that exotic dance actually originated as a dance performed by women for women. “Though the exact date is not known, it is well documented that rolling, undulating hip movements were not originally intended as titillation for men but rather as expressions of the female body’s power to promote fertility in the land,” she said. Yet while not every stripper is participating in a misogynistic activity, some are. As a woman I am not okay with this. At the same time, I cannot borrow from a culture I look down on, no matter how much I try to twist what they originated into a form that makes me satisfied. How do I reconcile these two opposing beliefs? I think the best thing these opposite ideas have done for me is open me up to the ideas of others and that maybe I don’t have all the right answers. Sometimes, there is no easy answer.
When I became open about my pole dancing career, I made a defiant decision to be alright with having future employers, my family and anyone who casually decides to Google my name know what I do. I don’t regret this decision. I am not ashamed of what I do, I’m proud of it. It’s an incredibly athletic art form that takes dedication, strength and passion to do. I love teaching and I’m grateful for the friendships I’ve made throughout my involvement in the community. I respect the origins of pole dancing but I’m not a stripper. I think USPDF Champion Michelle Stanek put it best when speaking to Animal New York in an interview. “I’m not bothered by the provocative tone of pole dancing. What bothers me is the missing link between what I do and what the public generally thinks we do,” she said.
Some people question where the future of the pole industry is heading. They say if we are divided we will never be taken seriously. This may be true if divided we squabble like school children. The ego in us all strengthens its identification of self through disassociation with others. If we look closely, we will see the “other” is not so different though. When conflicts such as the recent FPFC controversy arise, we must remember this and seek common ground. Peace is not having everyone agree or think the same way. Peace is finding amicable ways to respectfully handle inevitable conflicts. I think there is a way we can allow pole dancing to naturally divide and transform while realizing the basic principle of movement we are all performing…is the same.
The opinions and views expressed at or through this article are the opinions of the designated author and do not reflect the opinions or views of United Pole Artists.