Pole dance’s exotic heritage

January 24, 2022

Many sources will tell you that pole started as early as the 12th century when Chinese acrobats would leap between two 20m poles or even mention traditional African dances that involved tall sticks or staffs, some may even suggest it started with the maypole.

But, pole dance as we recognize it likely started in the 1920s in America with the ‘hoochie coochie’ dancers.

These performers would travel to various cities and stage sensual shows, often dancing around the main support pole for the tent. It wouldn’t take long for the pole to move indoors to bars and clubs. Due to the already sensual nature of the dance, it wasn’t long before burlesque elements started to creep in to these shows and the style was solidified. 

The earliest recorded strip club performing pole dancing was Belle Jangles’ in Mugwump strip joint in Oregon, USA. Cool name my guy, too cool for me to not find a way to mention it here.

However, it wasn’t until the 80s when spins, climbs, flips, inversions and stripteases started to come along and became a key feature of the strip club. However, for a long time, pole dancing was exclusively taught to exotic performers. It wasn’t until the 90s when a Canadian dancer called Fawnia Mondey, who had just been teaching her fellow performers up until that point, started renting out her club to teach civilians the art of pole dance.

Fawnia in her early days

By the early 2000s she was able to open her own studio where she would run classes and record wildly successful home pole fitness videos. The craze rapidly moved out from Canada and swept across North America as well. Women loved feeling sexy and empowered and roleplaying as a stripper for an hour a week. The release of the film Striptease in 1998 certainly added fuel to the fire - don’t we all want to feel a little like Demi Moore?

Since then, there has been a move to strip (ha, get it?) pole dance of its exotic heritage and rebrand it as a sport to make it more palatable to the general public and much more acceptable for people with a regular 9-5. Which, to be honest, I understand. Sex work has been heavily stigmatised for as long as its been around - to be mistaken as a sex worker could mean losing your job, your friends and even your safety. 

But, it’s 2021, and it’s time to acknowledge that all forms of sex work are real, skilled jobs and to stop appropriating an artform literally invented by strippers whilst shunning them and tagging our Instagram pics #notastripper.

It’s time to accept that being sensual and feeling sexy are part of what makes us human and that there’s no shame in that. That's why we embrace and refuse to erase pole dances exotic heritage.

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