Is Pole dancing exploitative or liberating?

Pole dancing gets somewhat of a bad rep as being a bit seedy, but there are plenty of women who find it to be a liberating and confidence boosting sport. What do you think?

Pole Dancing: Exploitative or Liberating?

Pole dancing is viewed by some Feminists are detrimental to female equality, due to its supposed objectification of women. The image of a Pole Dancer is traditionally that an exploited and desperate woman who has been coerced into the business through necessity. It is often bunched clumsily together in the media with lap dancing and even prostitution. Whilst this is sadly true of many women, I refuse to believe that this is representative of Pole Dancers as a whole. Indeed, many women actively choose pole dancing as a career where they can use their dancing talents whilst expressing their sensuality. Far from being objectified, the Pole Dancer has the power to hold the attention of the audience, to make their jaws drop on command. She has a fearless, strong sort of beauty that defies typical feminine beauty standards.   

Interestingly, whilst pole dancing is still stigmatised, burlesque dancing is viewed in much higher regard, being seen as somewhat of an art form. It is seen as a suitable evening out for a polite, well mannered couple or perhaps a high brow group of friends. Whilst you might hide the fact that you attended a pole dancing club from your colleagues, you might boast about the fact that you attended a burlesque evening. Burlesque has entered the mainstream in a way that pole dancing hasn’t yet quite managed to. Burlesque Stars such as Dita Von Teese have become household names and write bestselling coffee table books, that you would happily leave lying about the house. I would argue that this is partly due to a bit of old fashioned snobbery. Burlesque is seen to be a little bit middle class, whilst pole dancing is seen to be more working class and therefore is perceived to be a bit grubby around the edges.       

The perceived gulf between the two types of dance is rather unfair. Pole Dancing takes the gravity defiance of a circus gymnast, the grace of a ballerina and the core body strength of a world class weightlifter. This is before you even take into account that to watch a master Pole Dancer at work is really quite breathtaking. The British public are slowly starting to realise this in a myriad of ways. The significant physical benefits have been recognised in recent years.  Pole dancing is proving to be a popular exercise class, held by many mainstream gyms alongside legs bums and tums sessions and yoga groups.This has shown to be an excellent way in which to improve flexibility, strengthen your joints and can help you burn calories like wildfire. Most importantly perhaps, it is an exercise that will help you gain self confidence.  Becoming a Pole Dance Instructor is fast becoming a viable and profitable career choice for many Dance Graduates. The fun nature of pole dancing has meant that it has become a good choice for an alternative hen night or birthday party.     

Competitive pole dancing has become big news. Interestingly, many competitive teams have tried to distance themselves from the sports sexualised image. Many teams insist on modest costumes that cover the body and any raunchy moves in some competitions can lead to instant disqualification. There is now a campaign to make pole dancing an olympic sport. Viewed from a purely athletic perspective, this makes perfect sense. Professional Pole Dancing shares many similarities with established Olympic sports such as Gymnastics and requires the same type of skill set. It could therefore be potentially judged in a similar manner. However, the sexual connotations of pole dancing would prove to be difficult to maneuver around in an international setting such as the Olympics where some countries will inevitably be more open minded to its conclusion than others.

Organisations such as the Women’s Support Project refer to adult entertainment mediums such as pole dancing as being an example of “commercial sexual exploitation”. Although I do admire the work done by the Women’s Support Project in seeking to protect vulnerable women, I am puzzled by such language used to describe the pole dancing industry. To describe all aspects of pole dancing as being complicit within commercial sexual exploitation is rather sweeping and does not differentiate from venue to venue which, like many workplaces, vary greatly. Of course, there is still exploitation within the pole dancing industry, just as there is in a number of work sectors. Hell, I once worked for below minimum wage at a solicitors office which is proof that even the stuffiest of workplaces can exploit the crap out of you. The act itself is not where the exploitation lies. Also, one could argue that there is a huge difference between competitive pole dancing and pole dancing for tips at a local night club. Within debates, these two very different arenas often get impossibly tangled. One cannot talk about competitive pole dancing where the Dancers are properly trained and supported in the same breath as topless amateur Pole Dancers.

Overall, I would argue that pole dancing in the correct context can be liberating, but this does not mean that there isn’t exploitative aspects within the pole dancing industry. We need to take the argument away from the debate surrounding the act of pole dancing itself and to focus on the environment in which pole dancers are working. Living wage needs to be addressed, as does the safety of workers in the pole dancing industry.  I do not personally see the sexual connotations of pole dancing as a barrier to it being a legitimate competitive sport or indeed an appreciated art form. In truth, I believe that the inclusion of pole dancing in the Olympics would help to raise the profile of the sport in a positive light and create an open minded and constructive discussion regarding the nature of pole dancing.


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