Pole in the Olympics

How do you feel about pole dancing being in the Olympics?

Chances are you already have an opinion formed. Because someone has probably already asked you, at some point in the recent past.

We’ve all seen the various groups trying to get pole into the Olympics, and read the various opinion pieces on why it would be great for our “sport”, or why it would forever ruin what we do by stripping away (ha, ha) what we love about it. It seems like you need to either be with it, or against it…and presumably, against it because the idea of gymnastics-style, “sanitized” pole dance forces us to compromise our sexuality, our sensuality, our celebration of the female.

Other people are upset at the “direction” that our industry is moving in. There is a lot more modern dance, a lot more lyrical, a lot more gymnastics and acrobatics finding its way in to influence the current trends in pole dance. Where has the sensuality gone? Where did the sexy go? What happened to all the heels? Are we trying to deny the historic origins of our sport? “No, wait, pole dancing originated from a bunch of overly flexible Indian men, didn’t you know? They run up and down thick wooden poles like a spider on a stairmaster. Yes, that’s where pole dance came from.” And meanwhile, the girls in their sequined bikinis and heels hear that argument and roll their eyes. Because they know that it doesn’t make sense to say that modern pole dance evolved from Mallakhamb, or Chinese pole, if the very apparatus we use is polished, making clothes a hindrance. And the argument rolls around and around until we turn blue in the face from shouting at each other. In the end, it matters little where you think pole really began, it matters where you think it’s going.

A lot of people seem to feel like these are polarizing issues in our community. That there is a great big line drawn in the sand, and you have to decide what little clan you’re standing in the sandbox with. The distance across this line is so great that you can’t even see the other side.

Let me ask this: If you are against pole in the Olympics, why? Is it because you think that the sport will quickly become overrun by gymnasts who are stronger/more flexible? Guess what? That’s ALREADY happening. I don’t think that the “sanitization” of pole is happening because we are trying to get more accepted– I think it’s the other way around– I think it’s because we’re getting more accepted that trained dancers and gymnasts are coming to pole.

Are you thinking that it’s not right to take away the sensuality that you feel makes pole dance what it is? What about all the thousands of pole dancers worldwide who ALREADY do fitness-based pole? Do you think they should pack up and leave?

Are you maybe against the idea of young women and children in pole dance? That’s already happening too, albeit a more fitness-based version. The tricks are not inherently sexy, it is the intention behind the movement that makes it so; and unless young women and children are being exploited, I can’t see any reason to deny them from an apparatus that can be completely gymnastic and non-sexual.

Are you maybe against the idea because you think it’s silly to put a style of dance in the Olympics? Maybe you think that it’s akin to putting ballroom dance or Irish stepdancing in the Olympics. But that’s not giving much credit to the pole pioneers who HAVE found a way– in just the last few years– to make their movements and tricks highly gymnastic. Some of the things that are being done nowadays are certainly in line with the tumbling passes you see on a mat, or on the balance beam…. And think of how much more difficult and ridiculous it could become if people started training from a young age on the apparatus of pole. How much higher could the ceilings be raised?

Maybe you don’t want the taboo removed. Maybe the idea that pole dancing is sort of naughty is what attracted you in the first place, and you don’t want to see that changed. Maybe you feel like transforming pole dance into pole gymnastics makes it something you are less interested in, or want to be part of less. Maybe you enjoy thinking of yourself as sort of a frontrunner, ahead of the trend, and a participant in something that is edgy. Maybe you’ve found a part of your sexuality, identity, and self-confidence through pole that you didn’t know before, and you want other people to have the opportunity, and attraction, to find that same self-discovery in pole. But you know what? Empowerment is empowerment. It doesn’t come from how high your heels are, what tricks you can do, what tricks you can’t do, what studio you go to, what you look like in a sports bra, or whether or not you can do a split. EMPOWERMENT comes from self-confidence that comes from a healthy place within. What you need to do to find that, is up to you, and not for ANYONE else to decide. If it takes sneakers, sports bras, and bike shorts with gymnastic moves, then so be it. If it takes sequins, glitter, and platform shoes, so be it. But who are you to limit anyone else?

Pole dancing in the Olympics, to me, comes down to this: It may not be important to you, to have validation from anyone else. But to a certain group, it is important to have the public validation that comes with being accepted by the Olympic committee. Because some people who DO see this as fitness, want others to acknowledge how much work, and really—how extremely difficult—that pole dancing can be. Whether or not you agree with that, it is important to THEM. To think that it is a detriment to pole dance as a movement modality is to ignore evidence to the contrary. There are modern dance competitions. There are YOGA competitions. Do those modalities suffer creatively because some people want to have recognition from a board of judges? Do the competitions limit anyone else from expressing themselves however they want?

I don’t understand why it has to be either/or. I don’t understand why there isn’t enough room in pole dance for the fitness-based and sensual dancers to all have their cake and eat it too. Let me ask this: why do we all have to agree? Why can’t we all accept that different opinions are good, and that different styles are good, and that variety within our own ranks only makes us more diverse, and appealing, to a larger range of people? If we are truly empowering ourselves, we are all working together to grow.

It doesn’t matter if you work for a different studio, write for a different magazine or blog, or have a different teaching style or certification program. It doesn’t matter if we have different philosophies on what is important or how to teach something. I see a lot of boundaries and little cliques being formed, based on what you wear, or what kind of music you dance to, or what kind of “style” you have when you move. And that’s okay. That’s natural—to want to band together with people who are like you. And it makes sense—now that pole dance is becoming so diverse, finding people like you is comforting. But to exclude, to make it about “us” versus “them”—well, then you’re closing yourself off from growing.

As we learn and incorporate new movement vocabulary, new ways to navigate up, down and around our apparatus, it can only result in making it easier to truly express ourselves in our dance: passion, honesty, creativity, and truth in our movement; pushing of boundaries and comfort zones, and breaking down of walls. Pole dance is dance. It evolves based on the audience, and the participants. As people from various backgrounds and training styles come to pole, they grow and expand our definitions of what pole dance can be. And who are we to stop that evolution? Why would we want to?

Monday’s post: Workshops update