Our previous blog post introduced our student and instructor discussion series about pole in the Olympics. Some questions were raised about the pole community’s positions. How will we as a community navigate this potential “legitimization?” Can we achieve a peaceful coexistence of pole as we know it, and also allow the mainstream adoption? Why is mainstream adoption important to us? As pole continues to become more mainstream, will we ride that wave and diminish our roots, or will we leverage this opportunity to make a positive change in the larger societal view of stripping?
We are delighted to share the perspectives of two passionate polers and B&P students, Emy Calder and Caitlin Grace Bailey. You can follow Emy and Caitlin on Instagram @emydawn and @nge_jung.
“When I first started pole, I fully supported the Olympic pole dream. My reasoning? I thought that perhaps ‘pole muggles’, skeptics, and detractors would begin to open their eyes and appreciate pole for the difficult and impressive sport that is can be. However, 8 years later, my enthusiasm has lessened (but not totally disappeared). I will attempt to explain why…
Over the years, I have been lucky enough to attend many pole events, showcases and competitions. Early on, I watched a sports-style competition which had strict rules (clothing size, compulsory tricks) and an end goal of getting pole to the Olympic stage. To be perfectly honest, as I sat there, I became bored of seeing the same kind of routine and tricks over and over again; there was no character and something was just missing. Clearly, I can appreciate the level of skill, strength, flexibility and determination it takes to get to that very high gymnastic standard of pole, but after only a couple of routines where the dancers (perfectly) executed the same tricks, my brain switched off.
Since then, I have found myself drawn to the competitions/shows that still have badass epic tricks but also something ‘extra’ about them. For example, watching the first Pole Theatre UK event, where the dancers have complete artistic freedom, I was constantly entertained by something novel in each show (and it is a ‘show’ rather than simply a routine).
If pole does make it onto the Olympic stage, I see it going down a similar route as gymnastics (rhythmic/bars/rings/etc). Routines should be very formal and all elements of sensuality or sexiness would be totally removed, since I am sure that the Olympic committee would try to distance themselves from pole’s roots in exotic dancing. My opinion is that this would not authentically represent our sport/art form that so many of us love, and it would also take a lot of the fun and creativity out of it. Another consideration would be the bureaucracy and politics that can often coexist with international competitive Olympic sports.
Additionally, one factor that draws the average person to pole as an activity is the fact that it is something different from your generic keep-fit class. Once people join the pole world, they realize that it is generally very inclusive, fun and comes with a large community of approachable, supportive people of all skill levels, body types and backgrounds. One of the arguments for pole becoming mainstream is that it would break down barriers to entry for many people, and that studios would see an increase in business. However, one must also consider that it could actually deter potential students from taking an introductory class; they may see these fit, young (probably) teenagers performing crazy acrobatics on their TV screen and immediately think ‘that’s way too hard/flexible; there’s no way I will ever come close to doing that, don’t be silly’.
I can understand why the pro-Olympic side of the pole community argue that it will ‘legitimize’ pole, but I personally don’t think it needs to be legitimized at all. I don’t see why we need approval from the public in order to feel good about what we do. When the news came out about pole gaining ‘observer status’, of course it annoyed me that so many mainstream websites and articles completely mocked pole as a sport. Whether they ridiculed it because they don’t understand the athletic prowess that is required, or whether they are just marred by their negative opinions of strippers, or whether they are simply intimidated by female sexuality, the general feeling from the non-pole community was overwhelmingly negative. But they don’t live in the pole world like we do; they don’t understand why we do it, they don’t understand how it brings a community of supportive friends into your life, and they don’t understand the personal achievements of getting a new trick or combo and how it makes you feel good about yourself. I pole for me, not for anyone else; I don’t need their approval.”
Caitlin Grace Bailey
“I don’t think pole belongs in the Olympics. While one could argue that all physical activities are creative in their own way (which I 100% believe,) I don’t think creative forms like dance or music belong in a larger sports competition like the Olympics. Pole is SO much more than a sport or a fitness regimen, though of course its physical benefits are undeniable. I find the pattern of pole being split into the “fitness” and “exotic” camps disturbing, because I feel that this is a classist sterilization of a sensual art form. If you want to take out all creativity and feeling from pole, just do gymnastics! Respectability politics are a huge impediment to freedom and progress, and it breaks my heart that the #notastripper hashtag is a thing. Patriarchy largely relies on the control of women’s sexuality to maintain power, and this includes teaching women to judge and demean each other for how they embody and/or display their sexuality. Don’t play that game, ladies!! Regardless of what one’s motivation for pole are, it is unacceptable to throw the women who created and refined this art under the bus. I once read that pole dancing started in the early 20th century as a side-show attraction in the circus; women would dance around the tent poles. I imagine the women who danced in that environment were independent, fierce, and not willing to acquiesce to society’s limited expectations for them. That spirit and legacy is what I would like to preserve in pole.
I love the independence of the pole community – we have our own studios, competitions, shows, expos, clothing and merchandise brands, all created and used by dancers themselves. Why do we need validation from the wider world when we have such an incredible world as it is? Pole becoming mainstream would most likely lead to the unfortunate trend that we see in many professional sports of corporate sponsors being in financial control, and of profit being the main motive for everything. I would hope that pole would maintain its sensuality and creativity when it further enters the mainstream, and that it would be a force in helping women gain more respect, regardless of how they choose (or choose not to) express their sexuality, their physical prowess, and their true selves. There is so much creative and emotional work that goes into pole dance, and I don’t think that can ever be reduced down to a mere physical activity.”