The pole dance industry has been influenced from a range of different sports including Indian Pole (Mallakhamb), Chinese pole (Circus) and erotic dance. Mallakhamb is a traditional Indian sport in which a gymnast performs feats and poses in concert with a vertical wooden pole. “Around 1800, pole Mallakhamb was invented by Balambhattdada Deodhar. During a performance the athlete is supposed to demonstrate as many different poses as he can. He would quickly shift around the pole, without touching the ground in between” (Boerema, D. 2012).
As mentioned earlier, pole dancing is closely linked to the erotic dance industry. The strong link it has with genre originated from the travelling fairs during the American depression in the 1920’s, where a group of dancers would entertain crowds in tents using a lot of hip movement and suggestive dancing. They became known as the ‘Hoochi Coochi’ dancers and would dance with the pole holding the tent in place (IPDFA. 2013).
Even though pole dance has ties with the erotic art, over time, pole dancing has become more acceptable and more and more people are getting involved because of this. A professionally trained classical dancer, Felix Cane, now a world champion pole dancer and a Pole Artist with Cirque Du Soleil says “When I first started pole dancing, it was very, very taboo. People immediately assume you’re a stripper if you say that you pole dance and it was frowned upon. Now, I think it’s gradually become more mainstream and widely accepted which is great and fantastic. Now, there is pole dancing in Zumanity and Michael Jackson (Cirque Du Soleil). There are a lot more opportunities for pole dancers than there used to be” (CirqueInsider, 2011).
With the increasing popularity of the pole dance industry, a yearly event called “Miss Pole Dance” was created “in order to change perception to content of pole dance and showcase the unique fitness opportunity through awe inspiring choreographed pole fitness and stunning feats of strength and agility to allow pole fitness to become accessible and accepted form of fitness and highly technical dance form, open to both amateurs and professional dancers alike” (Holland. 2010, p. 137).
Main Practitioners and Significant performances
Two contrasting and popular practitioners within the pole dance industry would include Felix Cane and Sheila Kelly. Felix Cane is a performer who is constantly promoting the artistic, dance and acrobatic side of pole. Whereas Sheila Kelly cares less for the acrobatic tricks and more about how pole dance can empower all women to express their sexuality without shame or judgement.
So You Think You Can Dance? Britain’s Got Talent, Got to Dance and Cirque Du Soleil are few of many shows that have provided great exposure for pole dancers. These shows have lead viewers to realize the power of pole dance as a performance art, not just as a striptease.
The art of pole dance has the ability to inspire and move people in different ways. It can offer a total beginner the opportunity to do something fun to get fit, and on another level it allows a trained dancers to show off his / her, already developed, skills of flexibility, creativity and strength in a competitive or professional setting. “As more people are exposed to pole, its many physical, psychological, and social benefits are experienced and shared. As part of a new quickly growing sport, members of the pole community are in a fantastic position to mold perspectives on and application of training methodology” (Freel. 2013. p. 10).
What I think
My opinion of pole dancing is that it opens up another dimension for a choreographer to work with as I have demonstrated in my work “Does This Pole Make Me Look Straight”. Furthermore, as a current practitioner of both contemporary dance and pole dance, I believe these two arts forms can be fused together to create something new and unique.
Pole dancing will always have a slight attachment to striptease and erotic dance, but I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing because artists should be allowed to express themselves in any way they want; the same creative journey applies regardless of the subject of the piece. “While still associated with women’s objectifications and the sex industry, pole dancing can also represent a challenge and transgression for female sexuality, a cultural frame of reference where it could be understood as an exciting, trendy and challenging form of exercise” (McIntyre. 2011 p. 262).
Freel, B. (2013) Vertical Athlete: Fundamentals of Training for Pole Fitness and Dance. Alaska: Polar North
Holland, S. (2010) Pole Dancing, Empowerment and Embodiment. London: Palgrave Macmillan
McIntyre, M. P. (2011). Women and Exercise: The Body, Health and Consumerism. New York: Routledge