Oh, so you’re a soccer player? How do your parents feel about that? I bet your boyfriend loves that, you must play soccer for him all the time right? Do you make much money playing soccer? Soccer players must be really freaky in the bedroom! I don’t understand how you can wear those soccer boots though, I would never wear them. Why do you post your soccer pictures on your Instagram – it’s basically pornography? There are so many other ways you could be getting fit, why play soccer when you could just go to the gym?
These reactions seem totally ridiculous in the context of ‘normal’ sports. But these questions are all too common for my sport of choice. I’ve been called a ‘slut’ and told that my Instagram is ‘pornographic’. A quick google search will even find articles that go so far as to say my sport “in part plays into rape culture” – written by a prominent female psychologist! What the fuck? If pole dancers get branded this way, can we start linking dart players to violent stabbings already?
Words: Ashleigh Butler, Pictures: The Black Light
In some ways the assumptions some people make about the erotic nature of my sport do make a little sense. But while many critics claim that pole dancing started as a form of sexual entertainment for men, it actually started as a circus act most commonly known as ‘Chinese pole’. It was not until the 1920’s that poles moved from circus tents into bars. Nevertheless, the erotic origins of pole cannot be denied. Many women are still employed in this industry, many of whom are my friends, and I am by no means anti-stripper.
“When we pole dance I still think it’s delightfully sexy, but now it’s so much more than an erotic performance for men.”
Like so many things that have morphed dramatically over time, pole dancing has been reclaimed by the very people it originally used for the entertainment of others. Something that originally could once have objectified us, now empowers us.
“When I see a girl on a pole I see strength, empowerment and confidence. Pole dancing has become a popular alternative for women’s fitness over the last decade and it’s about time we break the stigma that’s often still attached to it.”
When I began pole dancing three years ago I was curious, excited and amazed to have found such a great bunch of people and such a killer workout that was actually fun! But I was also ashamed to tell my family and friends.
“Basically, I was scared they’d think I was a slut.”
No matter how confident and empowered I felt in the studio, outside I was paranoid about running into one of the other girls from class. So believe me when I say – I get it. I understand why some people don’t know how to tell their family and friends, and why people don’t know how to react when I confidently say “I am a pole dancer.”
The fitness benefits of pole dancing are incredible, but for me the most game-changing benefit of being a pole dancer is the body confidence it promotes. I was completely and utterly shocked when I walked into my first class to find that I wasn’t walking into a room of girls with perfect bodies, but instead was greeted by a group of women of all shapes and sizes. Pole dancing does not discriminate between those who are small, those who are large and those in-between.
“This sport taught me how to love my body; how to look in that ever-so-frightening mirror and think, “Damn girl! You got this; fat rolls, cellulite and all!” It truly changed the way I look at myself. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.”
I spent my teen years claiming to be terrible at sport because I can’t catch a football, I suck in teams and I look like a disabled giraffe when I try to run. Never did I think I could become an athlete, and look damn good doing it. But here I am, booty shorts and all, owning my sport and my body at the same time.
When I encourage people to start pole dancing their excuses are usually one of two things – “I’m not strong enough” or “I don’t have the body for it”. Not strong enough? No worries! That’s why we invented beginner pole classes – to improve your strength. You don’t have “the body for it”? Do you have two arms and two legs? Yes? Well then you definitely have the body for it. Even if you’re missing a limb or two I’m sure we’d be able to figure something out!
I often wonder why people; both guys and girls, react so negatively to this sport that has done so much for me and plenty of others like me.
One issue many people have with pole dancing is our outfits – or rather, the lack thereof. Have you tried holding onto a bar of slippery metal while wearing a pair of woollen gloves? It’s not going to happen. Our skin is our grip, therefore we need less clothing to be able to hold onto the pole. I don’t believe that what we wear as pole dancers in any way differs to the outfits of a gymnast or a swimmer. Not only because these sports also wear minimal clothing but because they wear clothing which best enhance their athletic ability. You don’t see a swimmer doing laps in their tracksuit, nor would you expect them to for ‘decency’ reasons. Even most conservative people don’t tell me to wear more clothes at the beach, so don’t tell me to cover up in my sport!
I suspect the objections people have run deeper than just being offended by skimpy outfits. Our society is still somehow scared of empowered independent women who embrace their sexuality. For decades women have been taught to be ashamed of their sexuality; a proper lady would never express her sexuality outside the closed door of her bedroom. The sex industry is more than 80% female dominated but these women are shamed for, god forbid, enjoying their jobs! Why must women be shunned for sexual expression?
“It’s a bullshit complex we are given from a young age that women cannot have the same attitudes as men about sex.”
While pole dancing in a dance studio is nowhere near a job in the sex industry, it is a powerful tool that empowers women to embrace their sexuality and get fit at the same time.
Pole dancing should not be underestimated – it’s fucking hard work. Our bodies are always covered in an assortment of odd placed bruises which we like to call “pole kisses”. We risk our lives hanging upside-down, metres from the ground, only holding on by the back of our knee. Our hands become torn and blistered on a permanent basis and things called “pole burns” will make you bleed in all sorts of sensitive places.
“We literally put our blood, sweat and tears into this sport. It is our passion, our addiction and our life.”
Why should we continue to allow people to describe this hard-core sport as no more than “gyrating and twirling around a pole”?
“Nurses, school teachers, bus drivers, lawyers and real estate agents are pole dancing for sport right now. So why should we continue to let pole dancing be ‘shameful’? It is a damn hard work out and it promotes body confidence – what more should a sport do?”
For more of the amazing Ashleigh head to her blog here!