There are a few downsides to being a pole dancer. Being unable to moisturise 24 hours prior to contact with the pole, dry hands from the chalk we use, and bruises that map out pole moves on my body. However, the biggest one is a lack of public knowledge about what pole dancing truly is.
“I’m a pole dancer.” I say confidently. The look of shock – expected. The stutter before saying: “Oh… yeah, I heard that’s a great way to keep fit…” – expected. “So you’re a stripper?” – not so expected.
It’s been a source of debate for years now, but there was a recent charge in the heated argument when daytime show This Morning decided to air children pole dancing, asking “is it okay to let your child pole dance?”
Three girls aged between 8 and 11, wearing black shorts and tied crop shirts, performed a brief routine of moves in the studio. They performed dizzies, Geminis, and even a handspring, something that pole dancers who have been practicing for 3 years struggle to do. However, viewers quickly took to Twitter to blast the girls, calling it ‘child pornography’ and ‘sexualising young children.’
Firstly, according to BUPA, the number of children considered obese has more than tripled in England over the past 25 years. The media is constantly inundating us with photographs of kids gorging on chocolate and chips, and imploring us to cut back the sugar and increase the exercise. Pole is one of the best exercises you can do. Before every class, I warm up for 10 minutes. Running, squats, stretches, crunches, the dreaded burpees… That’s before I even start lifting my own body weight up into the air using either just my hands, or pushing my body away from the pole using just my feet. Since dancing, I’ve noticed I’ve toned up, gained muscle and gained strength, and even got into my splits. We shouldn’t be telling children which exercise they should and should not be doing, we should instead be praising them that they’re doing any at all… and be thankful that they’re enjoying it.
Secondly, if you think three kids swinging round a metal pole is sexual, guess what? You're the one sexualising it. If you see some children pole dancing and immediately think of burlesque or seedy strip clubs, that is not the kids', not the mothers', and not pole dancers' fault – it’s yours. The use of pole for exercise goes back at least eight hundred years to the traditional Indian sport of mallakhamb, where people would showcase their strength. The Chinese pole uses two poles on which men (yes, men pole dance too!) would perform as they leap from pole to pole. Over time, the poles moved to inside tents, and then gradually the burlesque performers began incorporating them. Pole dancers, pole fitness fanatics, whatever you want to call us, are essentially using poles for what they were originally intended for!
As a child, I was a massive tom boy. I hated makeup, hated skirts and dresses, and would be found in my garden, covered in muck, climbing trees and refusing to come down. There is nothing different between these children climbing trees to climbing poles, except they’re getting professional tuition in how to do it safely. The Mum’s on the show defended sending their kids to these lessons, and so they should – they’ve got their children on a great path to fitness. Telling your parents you’re a pole dancer is always a daunting experience, luckily I’m blessed with a Mum as open minded as those on This Morning – she had no problem with me setting up a pole in the family house, and even had a spin herself.
And finally, to those people labelling the costumes on the children as ‘skimpy’. Go and climb up a smooth, metal 45mm diameter pole in leggings and a jumper, hang using just your legs whilst pointing your toes and with a smile on your face. You can’t. The ONLY way to pole dance is skin on pole contact. When performing moves such as a jade, or a Gemini, you need to use the side of your body and thighs for grip, thus the need for shorts and crop tops. I’ve seen beautiful pole costumes, not sexual, from massive golden capes to glittery skirts at this year’s show. There’s something deeply concerning that people feel a child looks ‘sexualised’ if they’re wearing shorts and a crop top – it must be tough going to the beach or swimming pool if that’s how you feel. Girls wear the same, if not less, in rhythmic gymnastics and such sports.
Pole Sports UK, a non-profit organisation consisting of industry experts, released a statement in regards to the recent press attention. They assure the public that in events where children are performing, they adhere to NSPCC ‘Children in Sport’ guidelines. They also implore the critics to consider this: “In the same way that gymnastics has many different forms including artistic, rhythmic, aerobic, trampolining and tumbling; pole too comes in a variety of forms. The participation of children in pole should not be viewed negatively, but celebrated. Sport for England currently have a 'sports for all' campaign to encourage more girls into sports; traditionally gymnasts and ice skaters have a short career in international sports and most sports are male dominated.” Of course, some of the best pole dancers around are male too!
It’s down to the public to stop associating pole dancing with strip clubs and burlesque. Pole fitness, pole dance, pole gymnastics, whatever you fancy, is an art form and a form of exercise that is growing and growing. There are classes popping up all over Glasgow, Scotland, the World, even at Universities. I’ll always be proud to be a pole dancer, but I’ll be even prouder of the public when they stop sexualising it.