Friday, September 16, 2011

Pole Nomenclature

There's a bit of inconsistency in what People Who Do Pole Dancing Outside of Gentlemen Club Settings choose to call themselves and their art. Pole dance, pole fitness, aerial pole-- these are all terms that get used somewhat interchangeably, even though they have different connotations. We may be some time away from an industry standard, but here's a breakdown of some of the options so at least you can decide what to call yourself!

Pole Dance

This is the most accurate descriptor of what we do. Whatever our skill level and performance or training venue, we are all dancing on a pole. The problem is that "pole dancer" to many people is just another euphemism for "exotic dancer" or "stripper." Some people who do pole dancing are current and former strippers, and we owe the art form as it is today to that industry. But most people who are not strippers (or who are but want to keep it under wraps) don't want everyone they meet to jump to that conclusion. Not to mention that many exotic dancers-- who are known as pole dancers-- don't actually do any "pole work." (And we love them anyways. You go, girls!)

Pole Fitness

"Pole dancing is a great way to stay in shape and have fun!" So goes the pitch of gym classes and pole studios everywhere. Pole dancing is an amazing form of fitness. The upper body strength and flexibility required to perform advanced tricks are no less than insane. But what if you're not doing pole to get in shape? What if you're doing it for the artistry, for performance or competition? "Pole fitness" to me is a positive connotation, but it inspires images of gym pole classes and pole crunches. Fitness is just one facet of pole dancing, but it neglects the artistry that many of us strive for. And even more problematic, there's no name for a person who does Pole Fitness. A Pole Fitness... Participant? Enthusiast? Dancer? Performer? Pole Fitness doesn't sound like something you perform.

Aerial Pole

This is the term I use to describe what I do. It took awhile for pole to become an accepted part of the aerial community (with the exception of Chinese Pole, which is not found as often as more popular arts like silks and trapeze), but eventually there was enough crossover between the pole and circus worlds that everyone realized how much pole has in common with its sister arts in the circus. I myself started taking aerial silks when I saw how similar it was to pole, and my first formal pole students were all aerialists. But I want to point out that "aerial" means "in the air." I consider myself an aerialist on the pole because I'm accustomed to working on 15-20 foot poles. Most people are learning pole in their homes or in pole studios, with standard ceiling heights-- not much air happening there. Not to mention that some polers spend their entire routines on the floor, spinning, prancing, and doing floor work. I don't want to dismiss my colleagues who practice more sexually-charged forms of pole dancing, rather than the acrobatic-intensive form that I do, but I don't think the term "aerialist" applies to them.

Acrobatic pole

Acrobatic pole is similar to aerial pole, without the height connotations. My own site is "," and before it was acceptable to refer to ourselves as "pole aerialists" (I have been doing this for 8 years-- 8 years ago aerial acrobatics wasn't even that popularized that people knew what an aerialist was), I called myself a "pole acrobat" and taught "acrobatic pole dance." I think this is relatively problem-free as a catchall term, with some of the same reservations as I had for "aerial pole"-- not everyone who takes pole dancing classes gets anywhere near doing what could be recognized as acrobatics.


Among the pole community, many of use just refer to the sport as "pole" and refer to ourselves as "polers." It sounds funny and doesn't really clarify anything, but I see it as akin to motorcyclists being called "bikers" and video game players calling themselves "gamers." It's just a convenient little nickname that makes sense and will be recognized by those in the know, even though there are other kinds of "bikes" besides motorcycles and other kinds of "games" besides video and role playing games. I see this as gaining prominence among our community, but probably not formal enough to describe our art.

Personally, I call myself a "Pole Aerialist" because it best describes what I do. But I think this varies from dancer to dancer. What do you refer to your pole art as?

Pic from gallery.