Why is it that there is often such a negative association with pole dancing? While the act of striptease exists in American culture, and has often accompanied a pole, stripping is not the only form of pole dancing.
In fact, pole dancing has existed in different societies throughout history and does not have one distinct origin. There are some theories supporting the idea that pole dancing originates from tribal dancing in Africa, in which a woman would dance with a wooden pole for her future husband to demonstrate the type of lovemaking that she desired. Another possible origin of pole dancing is from Europe's Middle Ages. Like the dancing in Africa, a wooden pole was used by women to entice men.
One may argue that the previously mentioned purposes for dancing with a pole were erotic in nature. However, this is not true for all cases of pole dancing. Take, for instance, Mallakhamb, a strength training completed on an iron pole, known as the stambha. Beginning as an ancient Indian sport, it builds a good physique in the same way as pole dancing, though it was typically designed for men. It is highly unlikely that this sport would have a negative connotation, even in the United States, despite its similarities to modern-day pole fitness. Instead, it seems that more people would notice the skill involved in the activity, as they should. The word "Mallakhamb" translates to "gymnast's pole".
India is not the only nation to have used pole dancing for non-sensual reasons. 'Pole Climbing' is one of the main traditional acrobatic numbers in China; vivid descriptions date back 1,000 years. Like Mallakhamb, Pole Climbing is a sport requiring a physical body with an impressive capacity for skill, strength and balance. Is it even possible to reduce these two cultural activities to "striptease"?
Of course not. Why is it so difficult, then, for many individuals to conceptualize pole fitness as simply "gymnastics with a pole?" Perhaps it is due to the fact that many are unaware of the extensive history of the art. Additionally, the history of pole dance in the U.S. is more of one of seduction.
Pole dancing was introduced to American society in the form of circuses during the Great Depression. Women would perform "hoochie coochie" dances on the poles of the circus tent, which were quite suggestive. As these dances became more and more popularized, pole dancing in the U.S. entered the burlesque scene, around the 1950s. Eventually, pole dancing evolved into a recreation mostly found in gentlemen's clubs.
In the 1990s, women started coming out with instructional videos on how to pole dance. With this shift in mindset, more women began pole dancing for sport, hence the name "pole fitness." Countless competitions and performances are held for pole fitness, in which highly talented athletes participate. In fact, the International Pole Dance Fitness Association has approved of K.T. Coates pushing for pole fitness to be included as a sport in the next Olympic games.
It is about time that pole fitness is recognized for the sport that it is. In fact, it may be stated that the tremendous effort that one must put towards the challenging activity may make it more strenuous of a workout than most other sports.
It is also about time that more people begin to open their minds. Pole fitness, is very different from striptease. A striptease is a sexually-oriented dance that takes place in exotic dance clubs and may use a pole for very basic moves. Conversely, pole fitness includes a multitude of tricks, climbs, spins, inversions and so forth on the pole that demand a high level of skill, precision, strength and flexibility.
If one feels the need to compare pole fitness to other recreations, compare it to yoga or gymnastics. Many of the moves are quite similar or basically identical.
Here are just a few examples:
Main image: Linsey S., instructor at Pole for the Mind, Body & Soul