Pole Dancing's Struggle for Mainstream Acceptance: by AMD, originally posted 05/21/2014

I have been pole dancing for over five years now. During that time I have seen our sport and art make great strides. It has become more popular with new studios popping up around the world and more gyms offering classes than ever before. Opportunities to perform have expanded. The mainstream media, however, continues to perpetuate stereotypes about our industry. This isn’t surprising as much as it is annoying.

This week, two articles reviewing major pole competitions were released by mainstream media outlets. One was by The Washington Post on Pole Sport Organization’s Atlantic Pole Championships and the other by Sports Illustrated’s Extra Mustard on National Aerial Pole Art. I attended both events and had very different experiences than the authors at both events.

The cheap quips began in the titles, no doubt to catch the attention of their readers. “No stripping required,” The Washington Post boasted. “Call it Art,” Extra Mustard read. I could visualize the sarcasm and elbow jabs in the words that followed.

An outside perspective of our industry will always have to reference stripping at least once or twice. That’s almost a given at this point in time. The general public has not grown to the point where they can read an article about pole dancing without having that acknowledged and out of the way. That is exactly the reason I find most mainstream articles about our industry boring and uninspired. It’s the same story every time.

Here are a few quotes from Anna Medaris Miller of The Washington Post:

“Is this a win for gender equality and anti-age-discrimination, or one more loss for societal standards?”

(Referencing PSO’s all-inclusive stance on its competitions)

“But what does it mean for the pole fitness community when, during competitions, participants are on a stage and perform in front of a crowd, as strippers do?” (Don’t all sports and performance arts perform in front of crowds?)

The Extra Mustard journalist David Eckstein didn’t delve much deeper in his observations:

“But a few blocks off the Sunset Strip, in an industrial area of Los Angeles, more than 200 people gather for a celebration of pole dancing, not as an opportunity to “make it rain,” but as a legitimate sport.”

“Of course, at the center of it all, two 15-foot stripper poles frame the stage. Add some burly bouncers and a parade of bachelor partiers, and this place could certainly pass for gentlemen’s club even without the dancers.”

“And with this, she takes home the $1,000 grand prize, a paltry sum compared to other competitions, but definitely not bad for a night’s work.”

(One night’s work? Try years of training her technique and months of training her routine.)

I don’t know why I’m expecting more. I guess the bubble of the pole community has sheltered me. I’m so immersed in this subculture that I have forgotten what judgments the average person has about what we do. Both authors seemed dismissive at times. Ms. Miller profiled many interesting pole dancers. She seemed mostly confused in her responses as to why these people would give up such promising former careers to pursue pole dancing.

Showing outsiders what we do is important. They will never fully understand without experiencing it and as long as the media is making attempts at allowing the masses to peek into our world I suppose it’s progressive. I will continue to gently remind journalists of their automatic biases though. We cannot change anything by shrugging our shoulders and saying, “That’s just the way it is,” if we feel misrepresented.

I am optimistic there will be a day when covering a pole performance or competition won’t demand a strip club reference or cue a punchline drum sound effect. Pole dancing is akin to other circus arts and should start being treated as such. I have no issues with pole dancing’s historical links to exotic dancing. It’s there and it exists. It does not need to be referenced and joked about in any discussion of pole dancing though. And on a deeper level, if it is mentioned why must it always be used as an insult? I feel often that my enjoyment of the sexual side of pole dancing automatically overrides the athletic and artistic sides I also passionately enjoy in the minds of many. I am a multi-faceted human being with many different motivations. That’s a topic for a whole other blog post though…..

When I tell people what I do there are always questions and that’s not always a bad thing. Most of the time it’s more about curiosity than condemnation. There are plenty who judge though. At the end of the day, I really don’t care what anyone else thinks about what I do and that’s probably why I do it. I love it so much that all the odds stacked against me don’t matter. The fear of spoiling any future for a professional career in corporate America, the eye rolls judgment from strangers when I tell them what I do, the giggles from former judgment colleagues when they hear of my new career path, judgment from potential men I may date…. None of that matters because I have never felt more alive, strong, free,

Competitors line up at National Aerial Pole Art 2014

and happy than I do when I pole dance. Don’t understand how I feel? Try it and find out for yourself.

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