Sunday, September 18, 2011
The precarious ties between pole dance and stripping
Every year, more men and women are taking up pole dancing for fun, fitness, and artistic expression-- Not for the adult entertainment industry. Some of these adults enjoy the sex-positive aspects of the art. Some prefer to downplay it. Either way, most people who are not strippers don't want people to think they are. (Ironically, neither do most strippers.) We want to be able to train in our sport, to perform our art, without feeling like we have something to hide. As a result, a rift has grown between "fitness" polers and pole dancing strippers-- as well as between polers who prefer to wash their hands of pole dancing's smutty past, and those for whom booty popping and stiletto boots are half the fun.
I think one thing that we can all agree on, though, is that pole dancing as we know it owes most of its existence to the titty bars that installed all those poles, and the strippers who danced on them. Although pole dance has sister arts in China and India, the form of pole dancing that we who call ourselves "pole dancers" perform is based directly on exotic pole dancing.
And it's not just our history. Some of the world's top pole stars, including competition winners, are confessed current or former exotic dancers. They certainly don't see it as something to be ashamed of, nor should they.
Others are conversely very open about NOT having ever been strippers, and the media loves to bring that up. I love how that cleanses the image of the art in the eyes of the public; how it reinforces the message that pole dancing and stripping are two different things. But they are not two unrelated things. What if the pole star being interviewed HAD been a stripper, and not one that was public about it? Would she lie and wait to be outed publicly by a creepy ex-friend or lover or customer? Would she have to admit it, while possibly living or working in an environment where such things are not considered acceptable? Just today there was an article in USA Today about a NY attorney general lawyer who was suspended from her job after being outed as a dominatrix. We want to be idealistic, but the world is often not safe for adult entertainers.
I guess I see the relationship as analogous to that between modelling and acting. While these are two different professions requiring different training and skill sets, there is a lot of crossover between the fields. Many people pursue the two simultaneously. And while actors will jump through hoops to explain that the art of theater is one that involves extremely honed skills and extensive study, and not just about being beautiful and photogenic, if you were to inquire whether they'd ever modeled at any level, there's a good chance they'll say yes. Of course modelling and exotic dancing have their own skills that must be acquired, and are also not only about being beautiful. But the skill sets are related enough that there is some interchange between the artists and the arts themselves.
So how should we as a community treat this electrically charged relationship between pole dance and stripping? Do we try to sterilize pole dancing of all its exotic ways, silently shaming those who do it with 4 fewer inches of fabric than we do? Or do we accentuate its sexuality, making it unfit for children and public life?
I think there's no way we can be an art form that's truly open to everyone if we overly sexualize it. But if we ignore the stiletto-clad elephant in the room, we are just in denial. I believe that pole dance is a big enough genre that we can act kind of like a movie theater. We can have G-rated pole, or we can have R-rated pole. But if you want X-rated, you're gonna have to go to another theater!