Public opinion is changing right before our eyes. Pole dancing is finally becoming considered as a respectable sport, in which both men and women can participate.
When our generation hear the expression ‘pole dancing,’ they think of pole fitness rather than strippers in a seedy club. Pole dancing has been around for centuries and can be traced back eight hundred years to the Indian sport of ‘Mallakhamb,’ a performance in which men do different holds and spins around a wooden, vertical pole. Modern day pole dancing has only started to become popular with the public since the turn of the millennium, as promoters of pole dance fitness tried to change people’s perceptions of pole dancing to a less erotic form of dance. There is rumour that it will soon become an Olympic sport - not surprising considering the physically demanding nature of it, even at a basic level. Although it may look easy to a novice, pole dancing requires a lot of flexibility and mental durability, not to mention the significant strength necessary in the upper body and core.
However, the sport is still victim to criticism and judgement, and the attack is predominantly against its male dancers. Being a part of the Glasgow University Pole Dancing Club (GUPDC) myself, it has come to my attention that, more often than not, male pole dancers are stereotyped - people assume that they are gay. From my experience, men thrive in the classes, because they have the advantage of a naturally stronger upper body and core. Sexual orientation does not come into it. I spoke to Findlay Wilson, one of the level one teachers at the GUPDC, to find out a little more about his experience as a straight, male pole dancer.
How long have you been pole dancing for?
Just over a year.
What made you start pole dancing?
Partly just for kicks and partly because I wanted to do some exercise- and GUPDC seemed like it was a nice and friendly community.
What is the best thing about pole dancing?
Spinning around upside down! That and being able to show off on lampposts.
When you told your friends that you are going to a taster session, how did they react?
With indifference generally - my pals aren’t the type to judge. Some came with me and a few joined the club too.
Does your family know that you pole dance, if so, what was their reaction?
Yep. My dad thought it was cool that pole classes were so readily available. My mum was fine with the classes but was visibly shocked by me for the first time in my life when I told her I’d performed in a public show (GUPDC annual show will be on 17th and 18th of February 2016!). I’ve since convinced her to see past the taboo and she no longer thinks I’ll end up working in Stringfellows so it’s all good.
A minority of people have been known to make the assumption that male pole dancers are gay, do you get that a lot?
Some people assume that I’m gay but I haven’t had any direct conversations about it.
How do you deal with this stereotype? Do you feel they look at you differently when you tell them you are a male pole dancer and not gay?
It doesn’t bother me who people assume I fancy. I think the assumptions come from the homonormative conception of gay men as being ‘feminine,’ often middle class and almost always cisgendered. The issues faced by the wider lgbtq+ community (such as transgender rights, mental health, and homelessness) are more pressing than the slight confusion I cause some people by pursuing a ‘feminine’ activity.
What is the message you would send all the men out there who would like to try pole dancing but are still a bit unsure if they should because of this stereotype?
If you’re worried about doing something because some people might perceive you as being gay, I think that you should get over your insecurities, reflect on your assumptions, and try something new. If you let prejudices rule your actions, you’ll miss out on a lot of magnificence in life.
Leaving you with Findlay’s words of wisdom, don’t give in to stereotypes. Pole dancing or any other sports is for everyone. Next time you feel like trying out something new, try pole dancing and if your friends tease you for it, invite them along with you.