I know what you might be thinking: how can pole dancing, which has historical ties to the exotic dance industry (one that has at times objectified women), actually be empowering to women? I admit in the past, I struggled with the answer to this question myself.
Initially, it was difficult for me to reconcile my love of the art form with beliefs I held about exotic dancing. However, during my five years as a pole dancer, I've learned that some of my preconceived notions about both pole dancing and stripping were very wrong.
While I believe men’s participation is vital for the evolution of pole dancing as a whole, I'd like to focus specifically on why it's healthy for women and offer my perspective on why it's actually a feminist pursuit:
1. Pole dancing makes being strong cool.
Pole dancing helps women gain physical strength through intense resistance training. It's an incredible feeling when you learn how to hold and control your own body weight in the air. You stand up taller. You walk with a renewed stride in your step.
Society traditionally raises girls to believe they're not supposed to be strong. However, this is an important trait for them to develop. Athletic women are more confident and better able to defend themselves in threatening situations.
2. It's great for body image.
Many fitness regimes focus only on changing the way we look. It’s about the end result and not the process. This leads many women to view working out as a chore. Pole dancing flips that principle by teaching skill-based moves that are challenging yet fun. This redirects the energy away from what your body looks like toward what it can do, which is a much healthier way to keep fit. A friend of mine recently put it best. “Everything seems easier after you perform an intricate, aerial, acrobatic routine wearing only your underwear.”
3. It's not just about being sexy.
The average person may assume there is only one type of pole dancing, the kind performed in strip clubs. There are actually other styles such as "athletic" and "artistic," which have nothing to do with dancing provocatively. Some in the community are pushing for pole dancing to be added to the Olympics. Others use pole dancing to tell stories through dance.
4. … But it can be very sexual if you want it to be.
Just as pole can have nothing to do with sexuality, it can also be extremely sexual. Pole dancing allows women to become more closely connected to their bodies, which helps them express their sexuality on their own terms. This better understanding of their bodies leads to more enjoyment in those bodies. Many women have proudly told me that their sex lives have improved after taking up pole dancing. And this is not necessarily because they've learned moves that their partners find arousing. They are more likely to ask for what they want in bed and less likely to encourage what they don’t. They also feel more comfortable in their bodies, which is always a helpful quality in the bedroom.
5. It makes you less judgmental.
I had many opinions about pole dancing before I took my first class. I thought only strippers and women desperately seeking to please men did it. But then I tried it. I met those people and got to hear their stories. I found that there was no stereotypical pole dancer. They were moms, doctors, actors, lawyers and any other profession under the sun.
I also learned that my narrow-minded views about strippers were wrong. I assumed that they were working those jobs out of desperation, but many felt perfectly content with their profession and I realized I had no right to judge someone else’s choices. I even had judgments about my own body, because I'd never been strong enough to climb a pole. And eventually I was able to deadlift into an inverted position.
6. It helps many women build strong friendships.
There is a solid sense of community in the pole world, especially among women. The industry is by no means a flawless utopia, but the participants in this subculture share a unique bond and understanding. Students support each other’s growth in the classroom. Audiences at pole dance competitions, showcases and performances are largely made up of women, who enthusiastically cheer each other on. A cohesive community of women is necessary for us to move toward achieving social, economic and political equality.
7. Women dominate the industry.
We live in a world that is economically controlled by men. They hold leadership positions in corporations and in government. In addition, men still earn more than women for performing the same work. The latest statistics from the United States Department of Labor show that women currently earn 82% of what men earn.
This is not the case in the pole dance industry, which is largely dominated by women. Opportunities are not limited to opening a studio or becoming an instructor; women have developed clothing brands and pole grip aids and created media companies that cover the industry. They've thought of unique and novel ideas such as pole dance comic strips. They've created blogs and forums for discussion.
This isn’t even scratching the surface of women’s creative influence in the industry. Economic independence strengthens women’s fight for equality by eliminating their reliance on men for financial support.