Pole-dancers from Edinburgh talk strength, empowerment and pole-dancing in 2017. Perhaps it’s time other women let them get on with it.
10 years ago, a young woman confessing to her father that she had taken up pole dancing may have given him a heart attack. Fast forward to 2017, and Louisa, a 20-year-old from Germany, delightfully shows me a picture of her dad hanging upside down on a pole. “When my parents came to visit, I took them along to a pole class, they loved it.” If a father can show support of his daughter’s pole hobby, it seems like the sport has finally shaken off its sleazy, sexualized, dollar-bills-in-knickers stigma that many know it for.
Anne, now a pole-dance teacher, began her journey under very different circumstances. “Back then, you were one step away from being a prostitute.” 30 years on from her first day as a stripper, Anne’s weekly classes are miles away from the bars where she started dancing. “The classes are fitness focussed, you lose that blockage of where it came from. Girls are doing it for themselves, not for a man, nor to make money.”
But some feminists continue to hold a grudge; feeling the need to remind pole dancers of its seedy past. “Pole dancing was born in the strip club — a place that exists to exploit women for male pleasure. This is not something the women’s movement needs to “take back” — it’s something we need to put an end to. There are so many ways to celebrate women that don’t involve showcasing your crotch for an audience and writhing around on the floor in heels,” writes Megan Murphy, founder and editor of Feminist Current, Canada’s largest feminist website. Her article opposing pole-dance generated a lot of contention. Pole-dancers were offended by the presumption that you couldn’t be a pole-dancer and a feminist; as many believe that the pole actually empowers them.
Students at Anne’s school have experienced this empowerment first-hand, many finding it to be a healthy experience to work out almost-naked, with other almost-naked bodies. “I know a lot of girls find the gym intimidating,” said Louisa, “when I came here for the first time, I saw girls and guys of every shape and size. I didn’t need this ‘perfect’ body.”
Erika, a full-time mother from Peru, agreed. “When I first came to class,” she says, “I covered up in baggy clothes. I had so many stretch marks after giving birth, I felt like I would be judged. But then you see everyone else stripping off – not to be sexy, just because that’s how you grip the pole! It made me question why I had these fears. Now, I just take my clothes off. The stretch-marks don’t matter.”
Even if stigma is still attached to the sport, these girls show no signs of caring. “People that judge are probably not happy with their own lives,” suspects Erika. Teacher Anne recognises that there is an element of judgement from other women, “often, there is resentment towards woman who pole dance. It’s almost like a snobbery – they think they are too good for pole dancing, and what it represents.”
For something that has given so many women joy, fitness, body-confidence and a social support group, it seems wrong that other women continue to belittle the sport. Just because society has shaken itself out of the old-fashioned norms of men telling women what to do, it doesn’t mean women can now tell other women what to do. Everybody deserves a second chance; and not to be burdened with re-enforced judgements based solely on their past. Perhaps, pole-dancing deserves this second chance too. The sport, and all the women who do it, deserve our respect – if not for the act itself then for these women having the confidence to do whatever the hell they want.