Why Pole Dancing Is Not Only Sexy, But Deeply Empowering to Women in a Patriarchal Society
Until quite recently pole dancing had a negative stigma in our culture. The stereotypical dancer was branded a “slut” (or worse) for daring to find meaning, fitness, or even joy in the physical expression of her own body. Smeared with prejudicial associations, bold female dancers had to contend with small minds that connected the art form to seediness, strippers and prostitution.
Just as certain freethinking African American rappers willingly coopted the N-word to empower themselves, certain liberated women have also appropriated the act of pole dancing from its bawdy roots. These fearless souls have managed to transcend antiquated expectations of vulgarity. Their inspirational actions have helped changed public perceptions so that pole dancing has become a fitness sport as well as a viable expression of female strength, beauty and even spirituality.
Christine Giberson is one such courageous proponent of pole dancing. The founder of the compelling and educational blog, Pole Parlour, she is on the cutting edge of an unusual subculture. Full disclosure: a friend of my wife, Valerie, the two once worked together in the corporate world before starting their own respective businesses. In fact, Christine’s professional success as a graphic designer was helpful motivation for Valerie and me to start our creative content company, INK.
Christine was gracious enough to share her thoughts about pole dancing, something she is hugely passionate about it. She also supplied us with the great photos that demonstrate the inherent beauty of an art form that often gets overshadowed by political and moral considerations.
I hope you enjoy this fascinating interview.
Q: What drew you to become involved in the world of pole dancing?
A: I used to drive by a building near my work with big block letters “SECRET POLE DANCE STUDIO” across the top, and I was always curious about what went on inside. When I saw an online deal for the studio, I signed up, not knowing what to expect. Prior to this, I had never heard of pole dancing outside of a strip club! Needless to say, I was instantly hooked.
Q: What are some of the biggest misconceptions you find about pole dancing from people unfamiliar with it?
A: Unfortunately, much like my own experience, pole dancing is understood by most people to be synonymous with stripping. Which it is not. And although I personally don’t see stripping as something shameful, obviously this contributes to the negative stigma. One common way to distinguish between the two is that you get paid to strip, but you pay to pole dance! It’s more complex than that, but it is our job as pole dancers to educate the public. Many dancers have to hide this aspect of their life because of the unwarranted judgment from others. Instead, I encourage people to be more open about it when possible, and educate others about the merits of pole dance in order to increase public awareness and understanding. Pole dancing is art, athleticism, and spirituality rolled into one. It combines the artistic nature of creative dance, with the athletic strength needed to perform tricks and spins, with the spiritual experience of physically expressing one’s inner self.
Another common misconception is that pole dancers dress in “skimpy” clothing (it varies, but in general no less coverage than your average beach volleyball uniform) in order to look sexy. There is some truth in that, but more importantly, maximum skin exposure is vital to stick to the pole when executing spins and tricks! Cloth and fabric slip off the metal pole, which can result in a nasty injury. Same thing holds true with the “stripper heels” we dance in. They are designed to look cute, but they are made with rubber soles to prevent slipping, and that “trashy” vinyl actually provides extra pole grip.
And finally, people are often surprised to hear that there are many men who pole dance. Gay and straight! But because Pole Parlour is specific to femininity, I will not expand upon this further in the interview.
Q: Until very recently, society has demeaned women for pole dancing. How have outspoken advocates for pole dancing such as yourself changed the way our culture views this activity?
A: Oh, we still have a LOT of progress to make in this area! I think our biggest dilemma is that many people take issue with the sexual aspect of pole dancing. In fact, many dancers within the community try to deny it in hopes of gaining “legitimacy”. But truth is, real, authentic pole dancing requires a level of comfort with expressing sexuality. Otherwise, it would just be gymnastics. I think the problem actually lies with society for feeling justified to demean women who choose to pole dance, rather than the other way around. There is nothing inherently wrong with integrating sensuality in art. Just as we revere voluptuous nudes in Renaissance paintings and the erotic eloquence of a Walt Whitman poem, so should we respect and admire the sexual beauty of pole dance.
Q: On your blog’s About Section, you write that women should feel empowered by their female essence. Tell us why you feel this is so important and how does pole dancing contribute to female empowerment?
A: Feminine energy is defined as nurturing, sensual, and emotional, yet many women ignore these aspects of themselves in order to more comfortably (and successfully) fit into a patriarchal society where aggression and logic rules. By doing this, women are denying their innate nature. But through pole dance, we are allowed to explore and embrace this energy, and in a safe, uplifting environment. For many women — for the first time in their lives — pole dance has allowed them to feel comfortable with their sexuality and physically express their inner emotions. They are able to physically move and dance in a way where they feel comfortable and empowered by their body, rather than self-conscious or ashamed! And at the same time there is an undeniable strength involved, proving that grace and power are not mutually exclusive. It’s the dichotomy of a warrior goddess! Claire Griffin Sterrett, author of the book, Pole Story: Essays on the Power of Erotic Dance, makes the connection between empowerment and female sensuality when she wrote “Anyone who has ever danced erotically for another knows the tremendous power she has over that person. The quickest way to rob a woman of that power is to shame her out of it. And that’s the dirty little trick that has been played on women for centuries.”
I should mention, there is a competitive component to pole dance: official competitions are popular around the globe, and there is even talk of incorporating pole dance as an Olympic sport. However, Pole Parlour does not subscribe to the idea of standardizing creativity, so even though I support dancers who chose to compete, I do not speak for this aspect of pole.
Q: How has pole dancing positively affected your life and why would you recommend it to other women?
A: I can share my personal experience, which I know is representative of so many other women who have also discovered pole dance. I showed up for my first class 2 and a half years ago in an oversized t-shirt and yoga pants. I could barely lift myself on the pole, despite being a life-long gym bunny. I felt uncomfortable when I was asked to freestyle dance to the music. I felt unattractive, awkward, and anything but sexy.
Fast forward to now. For the first time of my life, I feel comfortable in my own skin, muffin top and all! I’ve learned to respect my body for it’s strength and performance, and have opened my mind to beauty in all shapes in sizes. Pole dance is a sisterhood. When you are at a pole dance studio, women — true to their nurturing nature — support and encourage each other (of course there are exceptions to every rule, so if you find yourself at a studio where this is not the case, you should leave and find your pole tribe elsewhere!) And because of this support and encouragement, I’ve been able to explore and embrace a side of myself that’s been locked away: the feminine, sensual side that is part of my nature, but that society had programmed me to feel ashamed of. Essentially, pole dance has helped me fight this stigma and given me confidence in my womanhood, as cliché as that may sound! And this mindset has emanated into my personal and professional life, as well. I now have a clear vision of who I want to be in this world, and hope to spread this fierceness and self-acceptance to all the women in my life.
Q: How did you come up with your stage name? What advice would you give other women trying to come up with their own?
A: My stage name — Crimson Minxxx — has allowed me to embrace my alter ego when I perform. My hair is bright red, hence the “Crimson”. A minx is defined as a “boldly flirtatious girl”, and when I perform, I want to maintain that level of engagement and excitement with my audience. And the triple “X” was some creative flair because I unapologetically embrace the eroticism of dance!
Stage names are part of the fantasy of performing. You’ll also find stage names in other pursuits, such as burlesque (Dita Von Tesse, Calamity Chang) and Roller Derby (Suzy Hotrod, Gazelle from Hell). Stage names don’t just add entertainment value, but they also allow one to be “out of character” and creatively express themselves in a way perhaps not typical in one’s day-to-day life. I actually wrote a blog post on the subject, if anyone needs help coming up with their own!
Q: Is there a spiritual aspect to pole dancing? If so, how would you describe it?
A: I certainly think there is! When the music starts playing, it’s common to lose track of your immediate surroundings and deeply connect with your inner self, expressing your emotions through dance and movement…. I’d say that qualifies as a spiritual experience! Undoubtedly, pole dancing can be quite transcendent.
Q: What is the “feminine mystique” and how can women tap into it?
A: The “feminine mystique” is the mysterious, seductive quality inherent to all women. It comes from embracing the feminine essence we discussed earlier. However, many women have trouble connecting with this part of themselves because of conditioning that comes from living in an energetically “male” society. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with masculine energy! But when it becomes a woman’s dominant nature, the mystique is lost. The “feminine mystique” requires relinquishing control and allowing oneself to be vulnerable, soulful, and comfortable with her own sensual nature. Pole dancing allows women to shed the “shame” of this femininity, and in turn project the confidence, passion, and over-arching empowerment that comes from connecting with one’s true inner self.
Q: What advice would you give a woman who is interested in pole dancing but is reluctant to try because of either their shyness or body self-image problems?
A: I’d say they would be best served by signing up for a pole dance class! It is my belief that no woman should ever feel shy or embarrassed by her body. As previously mentioned, when women are given an opportunity to explore the physical and creative capabilities of their bodies in a safe, empowering environment, they learn to recognize the strength and beauty they possess. I truly believe that pole dancing and the body positive movement go hand in hand. And I should mention that a dance background is not required! One does not need formal training to dance: this ability is within us all.
Q: Last, How can pole dancing be an inspirational force of change for good in the world?
A: In many ways! Pole dancing has created meaningful, supportive sisterhoods around the globe. Women in these communities inspire and encourage one another, both in and outside of the studio. This is a microcosm of the emerging paradigm of women lifting each other up, rather than breaking each other down. This is a powerful thing, and a positive deviation from a culture where competition among women has been the norm.
Also, studies have shown a link between women’s empowerment and overall good global citizenship. And as I’ve argued throughout this interview, pole dance empowers women. For so long, the media has bombarded us with images of the “ideal” female. And this projection isn’t very diverse (or accurate)! It’s time women stopped allowing society to dictate how they should look and act. And this can only happen when women are able to accept and embrace themselves — their unique beauty, strength, and sexuality — and feel empowered by their innate essence. When a woman understands how it FEELS to be empowered, no projected “idealized” version can make her believe she is otherwise.
My thanks to Christine Giberson for a great interview. If you wish to learn more about all things pole, please visit her site: http://www.poleparlour.com/