Monday, September 3, 2012

Sexy vs. sporty pole: understanding each other

OK, I'm finally going to tackle the sexy pole vs. fitness pole thing. It's pretty much the most controversial topic in our community, and I don't shy away from hot topics. I've just been taking the time to figure out the best approach to adding to the conversation in a way that will benefit everyone.

First off, there's a point we need to clarify that tends to get overlooked. We are not arguing whether pole should be sexy or athletic. Neither side is trying to do away with the other side. I don't know any reasonable person who thinks you shouldn't be able to dance exotically if you want to, or should have to if you don't want to. (If you do think that: Mind your own business about how people want to dance.) The argument is not which of these two styles should exist, but about how they should coexist.

And the problem from my perspective is that people are so adamant about their opinions that they are not really understanding each other. Fortunately, as an independent poler/instructor not attached to any studio, I've been exposed to a lot of different poling environments, and I feel I'm in a good position to see both sides of the story. And since I can see how passionate everyone is, I think it's a good idea to step back from the particulars of the pole community and turn our thoughts elsewhere.

It's the 80's. (Late 70's, whatever. I'm good at music, not history.) You're a disenfranchised youth. Everybody's running around in suits trying to screw each other out of money. Greed, hypocrisy, and a life that tastes like cardboard. You're in school, it's horrible, but real life is going to be worse. Dead end.

And then one day you and your friends are out smoking and being bored and you wind up at CBGBs and your life is changed. You have found the counter culture, you have found music, life, friends, actual fun, and a big fuck you to society. You don't have to be a prick in a suit, you can be a badass with spiky green hair. You don't have to have a white picket fence, you can have body piercings.

You become totally immersed in the punk scene and you've never felt so alive. You adopt the fashions, worship the bands, and let society know how you feel about it. You trade the emptiness of jumping through hoops for disinterested teachers for crazy nights of drinking and partying with your friends.

And you're going along finally feeling like yourself, when some moron shows up spewing all this stuff about how we have to get all the drinking and drugs and crazy clothes and hair out of the music venues. They wanna play "punk music" but they don't want any punks around. And you're like, "UH, DUDE. YOU'RE IN THE WRONG FUCKING PLACE. THIS IS WHAT PUNK IS."

OK, chance of scene. It's the 80's. You're a young musician. Played guitar your whole life. Obsessed with Hendrix, the Beatles, everyone. Every paycheck goes straight to the music store for another stack of records (or tapes, we never did decide what year it is). You've been gigging around a bit and jamming with your friends, but nothing you would call a real band.

And then one day you hear the Ramones and your life is changed. You have found your musical calling. Punk puts every other kind of music in its place. It is strong, it is loud, it is in your face, but it has a disingenuous simplicity. No frills, no trills, just real music. And it sounds awesome.

You instantly get your friends on board and start a band. You start playing out at CBGBs and you are awesome so you amass a following very quickly, enough to make you local celebrities. You make some demo tapes and fans are going wild for them. You're finally right where you want to be.

Before you know it, a major label gets ahold of your tapes and is interested in signing you. Your career would be made. A rock star.

But the label wants to see you live, and there's just no way. You appreciate your fans exuberance, but those venues are a mess. People are dressed to intimidate. Underage kids are drinking and fighting. A suit wouldn't last thirty seconds in there.

Not to mention, the whole fans behaving like jerks thing is kind of getting to you. You're all in support of tossing back a few beers, and leather jackets do look pretty awesome, and sure guys should be able to pierce their ears if they want to. But the "image" of punk is sort of drowning out the music, and you're sick of fights breaking out at every show. Your little sister really wants to come see your band play, but you're afraid something could happen to her.


So here we have two people drawn to the same scene for very different reasons. Two people who value different aspects of it, and find their goals at odds. One thinks that punk is about what you wear, how you party, and your attitude towards society. The other thinks it's about three chords and the truth, and the rest is fluff that is currently driving people away. Unfortunately, the scene is so small that musician guy and spiky hair guy don't have a lot of room to break off from each other, They don't really have anywhere else to go.

Stalemate. End scene.

I think you get the point. And I'm not really proposing a solution, just wanted to show how both sides can make sense if you look at them from a different perspective. Can you separate the music from the message? Well, I think Paul Ryan being a fan of Rage Against the Machine answers that question.

Some people want to pole to express their sensuality, and taking that away would be missing the point for them. Others want a cleaner image so that they can share pole with their children and get it into the Olympics. And we can have different naming conventions (pole dance, pole fitness, aerial pole, pole art, exotic pole dance, acrobatic pole), but for the most part we are too small of a community to split ourselves up in a way that will affect how the public views us. I mean, I used to do taekwondo. Did you know there are two versions of taekwondo, traditional and WTF? If you're not already involved in martial arts, you probably didn't know that. If you formed a mental image of someone doing taekwondo, you wouldn't have asked yourself first which branch it was. This is as opposed to say, being a politician, and being a Republican or Democrat. So many more people know basic politics than basic taekwondo that they would know to ask that question if you introduced yourself as a politician. But unlike with taekwondo practitioners, the image matters more for polers, because due to the sexual aspects, it affects when and where it is appropriate to perform it, or even talk about it.

There is one more point I want to make about naming conventions, though. OK, so let's say athletic people call what they do "pole fitness," and sensual polers should then use "pole dance" or "exotic dance." But they don't want to do that because they want to imply that what they are doing is different from stripping--not that they think there's anything wrong with stripping, but they don't necessarily want people to think that's what they do. Guess what? That's exactly how many athletic polers feel about exotic pole. They don't think there's anything wrong with dancing sexy, but they don't want people to think that's what they do.

Anyways, I know it's kind of a dick move to point out a problem and not propose a solution. But I felt that the problem was that people didn't understand the problem. So I hope I helped a little bit with that. And before anyone flames me, let me point out that I'm not an interested party. I'm not attached to sexy pole, I'm not trying to get it in the Olympics; as always I'm happy just doing my own thing and working with anyone who wants to work with me, whatever their persuasion. So I don't have a horse in this race (until I come up with a solution and write a blog about that). Just want to see everyone getting along!

Image from


  1. I love your punk analogy so much; makes it very clear. I just wish people weren't freaked out so much by sexuality and slut shaming.

    1. Thanks Shannon! :) I know what you mean. I think that slut shaming is something we SHOULD freak out about. But I think a woman deciding for herself how sexual (or not) she wants to be/her studio to be/her competition to be is not slut shaming. It's analogous to feminists arguing that women should be able to choose to have careers, and then getting mad at those who choose to stay home.

  2. Absolutely. And I see how I worded that up there, not what I meant. I meant there should be less slut shaming over poling.