The Blog

The Inner Conflict of a Feminist Pole Dancer

Having pole danced for more than five years now, I've met many different women from many different backgrounds, and the thing that has really opened my eyes, is that they have many different motivations.

I have a confession. I'm a feminist. And a pole dancer. Oh yes, and I used to hate pole dancing so much once I wrote a short feature slagging it off.

Ah. Awkward.

Well, you know, life is a journey and since writing that feature I've taken up pole dancing, founded a company specialising in private pole dancing lessons, and spent many a sleepless night trying to resolve that particular inner conflict.

For the record, I stand by the sentiments of my feature and admit that it's the mother of all grey areas - so, perhaps the best place to start is by clearing a few things up...

Pole dancing has a terrible image. Articles like this one in the Guardian are indicative of what the general public (OK, in this case David Mitchell but I think we can extrapolate it out) knows about pole dancing, which is very little and could be summed up in two words: Spearmint and Rhino.

But, despite the unwavering confidence of its detractors that pole dancing is a singular, and singularly awful, thing, the fact is that its physical language is incredibly diverse.

To break it down, pole dancing runs the full length of the slut-o-meter - at the end that you could show your parents you have: circus, acro and tricks-based pole; in the middle, also with a parent-friendly rating, you have: contemporary, lyrical and theatrical pole; and at the end that gets the Daily Mail frothing at the mouth you have: sensual pole all the way up to something a whole lot more full-throttle.

So, believe it or not, it's possible to pole dance for Jesus and for Peter Stringfellow, and I wouldn't recommend either.

Is dry-humping a pole OK?

At the epicentre of the feminist pole dancer's turmoil, however, is whether expressing yourself in a sexual way is problematic or not.

Does dancing like this, as David Mitchell posits, show how much women are confused about sexism? Does it damage a society already besieged by the pornographication of our culture? Does pop feminism ('if I choose to do something then inherently it's OK') have an insidious ripple-out effect?

Actually, these are all considerations, hence the 2am-ceiling-staring.

It's hard to dismiss concerns about mainstream culture giving women a bum deal, shaming them left, right and centre, homogenising female beauty and sexuality, not giving a stuff for soaring rates of cosmetic tinkering and eating disorders...

...but, simultaneously, let's not dismiss how hard it is for women trying to navigate an increasingly complex world.

For plenty of women there is an internal battle between politics and vanity, a conflict between a growing freedom to express their sexuality amid a cultural narrowing of how it's framed, a wariness of gender politics that can eat themselves as they go full circle, and a desire for autonomy while not wanting to be held responsible for feminism's downfall because of a penchant for plastic heels.

As to how I feel about it personally, well, I love the sensuality and physicality of contemporary dance, and the tension and intelligence within the choreography, and I don't see a damn difference between that and what's happening on the international stage and what I consider pole dancing now is (I am, of course, thinking Oona, Natasha, Marlo, Elena, Bendy Kate... and not forgetting the boys Alex and Edouard).

I also love the fierce, unapologetic filthiness of the far end of sensual pole dancing (Alethea, Olga, etc). Yes, it doesn't have an easy fit within feminist thinking, and no, it's not my personal style, but amid the doe-eyes-and-oh-look-here-are-my-giant-jugs passivity of Page 3 and lads' mags I find it quite refreshing.

And for the record, let it be said for digital perpetuity, those women? They are artists and athletes.

One size (of 7-inch stripper heels) doesn't fit all

More to the point, having pole danced for more than five years now, I've met many different women from many different backgrounds, and the thing that has really opened my eyes, is that they have many different motivations.

Maybe someone's motivation is purely physical and they love that pole dancing is so engaging they forget they're exercising? Maybe they get a thrill out of doing something hard and scary?

Maybe it's more emotional and they're finding a way of being more at ease with themselves in a culture that expects women to have an innate inner sexpot she can wheel out on demand, a nuanced difference from wanting to titillate men? Maybe they're dealing with a lot in their life and this is an hour of carefree frippery?

Or perhaps they're just eking out an hour from a busy week for themselves when they're not parenting, commuting, spread-sheeting for remuneration and generally holding the domestic shit together for no remuneration?

Indeed, one of the beautiful things about pole dancing is headspace it gives you to explore, challenge, create, and play - rare and beautiful things for most adults!

So, do it your way, for your own reasons, and two-fingers to anyone's disapproval. That's a feminist sentiment, non?

To get to the nub of it, pole dancing has single-handedly dragged its sequinned-arse out of the gentlemen's clubs and into the public sphere, evolving at a break-neck speed to fearlessly push the boundaries of physically capability and redefine itself as something epically beautiful and awe-inspiring.

And, crucially, it's done that without the influence, direction and help of men.

And that, dear reader, is why I think pole dancing is one of the most feminist things to be happening culturally at the moment... and why I can sleep at night.