An Open Letter to Pole Dancers

Feb 18, 2013

Over the last year pole dancing has become a struggle for me.  Not because the moves are hard or because I can't bend my body in unfathomable ways but because of the way I often see that pole dancers treat one another.  Let me also begin this letter by saying, I myself, am guilty of mistreating friends and fellow pole dancers.  Yes, I was embroiled in a 2 year fight with someone over a facebook post.  I was hurt so I shut her out.  I was so angry and my pride was so hurt I could barely look at her.  It was the inception of Peace & Pole and my role as an Ambassador that made me rethink our fight.  As I found and felt myself being mistreated and excluded I started to realize the gravity of the situation.  I would have dreams about this long lost friend, inside I did miss her a lot but couldn't bring myself to recognize that because truthfully my ego and pride was in the way.  I wanted her to apologize to me.  Two years later after a bunch of coffee and wine - we sat for the first time and recognized how we had hurt each other, teared up a little, hugged and have worked on reforming a broken friendship.  Was arguing over our individual visions of what the pole dancing community is/should be worth it?  NO!  NO!  NO!  We missed out on years of friendship and points in our lives where we could have really used each others support because *I* was too proud.  I take the blame for this one because I have difficulty expressing myself verbally, if I'm hurt I tune out and freeze out. 

Over the last year I've been forced to realize some ugly truths about myself.  As I learn to communicate better and understand my own emotions I am seeing more clearly some upsetting things in the world of pole.

This entry has been a long time coming but today I am overcome with words that I want to share based on some recent happenings.

United We Stand Divided We Fall.  Uniting a group of passionate, talented and brilliant people is difficult because with the talent, passion and brilliance comes independent thought and opinion.  I'd like to simply point out that we can have commonality and still have our individual beliefs and missions.  I have never met a pole dancer who thought pole dancing was only for them.  I've only met warm and welcoming people who are happy to share their passion with everyone they meet, encouraging whom ever will listen to take up pole. I think it's safe to say as a broad goal or perhaps belief, we all think pole is awesome and think everyone should have one.  Where we begin to differ is what we define pole as.  It gets judgmental on all fronts - this is what I don't like to see.  I am not a fonji performing acrobatic dancer, neither am I as sexy as I'd like to think I am, but that doesn't mean that I cannot be inspired and enjoy the givings of other performers who are different than I am .  I can have my own opinion on competitions, competition outcomes, rules and regulations set by certain organizations but what I don't have a right to do is actively put someone down for their choices, opinions or style.  I have rights to my own thought and it is my job as a person sharing space with others in a COMMUNITY to respect even the things I am not fond of, so long as those things are not unsafe, harmful, illegal or unethical.

Unity begins to dissipate as pole grows.  In some ways this is healthy and okay.  It's just important to remember that inspite of our thoughts or feelings about the way in which pole is presented, performed or regulated that we all agree that pole dancing is amazing and has many, many facets to it.  This brings me to the heartbreak I feel today seeing certain situations unfold in what I feel has been a divisive way.

Pole Organizations.  Pole is small.  Most organizations are 1-2 people.  We do not yet have a large, known panel of pole dancers running the pole world.  This is both a good and a bad thing.  At the moment we have many small organizations planning events and competitions for us - the community.  These organizers spend tireless hours considering how they want to present themselves, their organization and pole dancing to the world.  Backing up a second.  I had mentioned that talented, passionate, brilliant people have their own individual thoughts and beliefs - this translates to currently that organizations run by 1 or 2 individuals will have specific visions.  Do you know what is awesome about this?  We are creating an opportunity for EVERYONE'S feelings.  If you are a fitness person - it's all about the tough tricks, no heels, no sexy - there is a place for you!  If you are all about the sexy, 8 inch heels and writhing floorwork - there is a place for you!  If you are all about taking your amazing dance skill and combining it with pole - there is a place for you!  Why?  Because all of our organizations are just 1 or 2 people and somewhere in their thinking and vision of pole lies something that you will agree with and want to be apart of.  The organizations that differ from you - offer new opportunities you wouldn't be interested in.  That's really an amazing and freeing thing.

Let's Get Personal.  One of the problems with pole being so small currently is that there are few opportunities and I feel it's the lack of having a lot of opportunity that creates so much personal anger towards organizations.  I remember seeing a competition that required splits and being angry simply because at that time I could not perform the trick and therefor didn't qualify.  It was a bitter pill to swallow that one skill would keep me from qualifying from the only existing competition.  Out of that frustration for me and others came the thought that perhaps there should be more competitions with differing criteria.  The competitions we see today are the embodiment of someone's vision - not a large corporation.  That person sat down and took the time to really think about what they think the best pole dancer would be - for some competitions it's the finalist with the best tricks, for others to be the best you must perform certain moves and going further for some organizations it's a full blown image.  I remember when the USPDF first came about and one of the pieces of judging criteria was sensuality or sex appeal.  I don't believe this is any longer criteria as pole dancing has come a long way since the inception of the USPDF.  However, let's go back to that first year and think about dancers who are not sexy - I wonder if they felt segregated against or simply felt they didn't qualify?  No one was upset that year with the winner or the criteria.  It was OKAY to judge competitors on sex appeal!  Today there are many who would disagree with that criteria and be upset about it.  At the end of the day that was the vision the USPDF had of their perfect winner.  Does their perfect winner fall in line with what perhaps you or someone else may think is the best?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But is it wrong?  No.  When people disagreed with criteria they created new competitions (opportunities) with new criteria.  Simple as that.

As competitions and events evolve and multiply we see an array of rumors, turmoil and unhappiness with pole dancing as a competition or a show.  We have seen pole dancing around the world grow from something once done in nightclubs to something that now includes men and even children. We all have our own opinions about pole moving from the sexy to something more grand scale and it's our job to promote pole dancing the way WE see fit PERSONALLY.  It is not the job of someone who runs an event to CHANGE their personal and moral beliefs to fit what an individual or group of people believe pole dancing should be.  It's our job as individuals to seek out like minded organizations and support them by participating, trying out and performing.

Sexy Vs. Fitness.  Let me begin this by saying inspite of some personal growth over the last year in my dance I still fall in line with the sensual if I had to describe myself.  I love hip rolls, slow writhing movements, floor work, story telling and the unabashed fierce feeling I have when I see myself in a sparkled bikini whipping my hair around like Sammy Hagar.  LOVE!  With that said, I want to take you to a moment in August 2012 the day before I would compete, sitting watching the North America Pole Dance Championships and watching Samantha Star take the stage.  I didn't know much about Sam outside of her youtube videos.  I knew she was strong, a fitness type dancer with some brilliant tricks but that was all.  Half way through her routine I looked to my Agent Kat and we both are laughing - just laughing at the sheer astonishment and JOY of what we were seeing!  Sam's routine has been my favorite tricked out routine I've ever seen.  It was dramatic, interesting and fun - I could feel her passion for what she does in the back of the room.  I had goosebumps.  This was the first time someone acrobatic had held my attention and made me FEEL something.  We still aren't quite sure what was going on in her story - I think she was an alien on planet discovering pole, Agent Kat thought perhaps she was a robot.  In that moment what happened to me was transforming.  That was the first time that I realized I enjoyed athletic pole.  I realized what my trainer Leigh Ann had been saying - you absolutely can be an athletic artist.  Up until that point - I thought of some the amazing routines I had seen over the years - and hadn't realized there were many more trick oriented routines that I loved but I gave them little attention because I couldn't dissect them for personal use - instead I would find myself wandering back over to Karol and Alethea and drooling over their body waves, leg movements and sexy tricks.  I had deprived myself of some amazing things that could inspire me because I decided I only liked sexy dancing.  I know and have friends who feel the opposite, who blush watching our sexy stars grind away sensually in their mind blowing tricks.  They are missing out on some amazing art!  Just like I was.  So what's the point of all this name dropping?  The point is - if we can't appreciate things outside of what we do it's really hard to grow.  I would challenge fitness, tricky based dancer today to do a private sexy dance for yourself and to myself and others like me - I challenge you to trick it up!  Put on some dubstep and have some fun.

Removing Sex and the Sex Industry From Pole.  Did pole come from stripping?  Yeah.  Does it have to stay there?  No.  Why?  Simply because if the goal of this loving community is to include everyone we cannot keep it for strippers or the sensual only.  I know many of us want to.  Many of us don't want the heels and hip rolls to go away but just because some express themselves using the pole in a different way than we do doesn't make it bad.  The influx of gymnasts and trained dancers has created a wealth of new movements and tricks that we wouldn't otherwise have!   Are those tricks for everyone?  Will everyone like them?  No.  But that's what makes art amazing - you can paint with whichever color you like and who knows in a year you might just want to use that color - I for one, think it's great that the color exists and is available to me.

Just because someone is a pole dancer or using an apparatus found in a strip club doesn't mean they have to support stripping or the sex industry .  I think a better conversation about this is asking the personal question "Why don't you support the sex industry?"  There are a thousand good reasons someone may not be sex industry friendly.  I personally have issues about the gross abuse of women that happens in the sex industry as a whole which is why I am very delicate with the whole subject.  I have had very good friends employed in varying aspects of the sex industry, some of whom are very successful and happy and some who've been mistreated and abused.  While I know that abuse happens in all jobs and industries (TRUST ME, I KNOW) what really irritates me is that in the sex industry it can be physically damaging to a woman (or a man.)  I have seen blind eyes turned towards women who have been raped, molested and physically abused by bar management and customers alike.  This kind of thing has to stop.  This doesn't mean I don't support sex workers, it's because I DO support them,  I want all of them to work in clean and safe environments but what it does mean is that I have to ask myself if it's something I want to be associated with.  I personally have never set a rule or standard disallowing anyone from any background to perform simply because my events are for the sole purpose of the community to bring us together so that we can enjoy one another in a safe, clean environment.  However, with that said, there are others out there who are actively promoting pole dancing to a whole new audience, that new audience becomes MY audience once they get hooked.  It is a cycle.  Just because my vision is different doesn't mean it's better.  I firmly support EVERYONE who is out there making a difference with our sport/art/dance and sharing it with those who may not otherwise know how amazing and empowering this is.  I would love to see everyone expressing themselves through pole dance and feeling the power and strength I feel.  I want everyone to feel great about themselves.  I now realize though, the way I dance may be off putting to others, I'm not going to change it, just recognize that there are different ways to bring in new people and they will be attracted to different aspects of pole.

The only thing I have found that I truly cannot support is the in fighting, name calling and bullying that I sometimes see when things get controversial.  Instead of anger, I'd like to see conversation and education.  Let's not make it personal anymore.  Let's stop telling people their vision is wrong because some people disagree with it.  Let's start making a difference and looking for places that we can create more opportunity for performers and competitors.  Let's ask questions that get us closer to understanding one another.  Let's not forget that we all LOVE what we do and we are blessed to have the talents and abilities we have.  Let's take inspiration from one another and show kindness in the difficult times. 

I encourage everyone reading this today to find a way to share their vision of pole dancing in a kind and ethical way with the community and the world.  How?  Make a video.  Write a blog.  Post pictures.  Go say something kind to someone about their pole dancing.  Watch a video of a type of pole you never would before.  Dance in a way you've never danced before.  Everyone reading this today, share your story.  Tell us about YOU, how YOU got started, what YOU love about pole, YOUR thoughts on the sex industry.  Let's open up a dialogue that will help us learn and grow from one another - let's share the negatives in a positive way.  Let's see if someone we may not always agree with gives us something new to think about.

And finally, reach out to those local to you.  Peace begins at home.  Think about your words and actions and see if there is a better way to enact them so as to connect with another dancer and understand her/his hurt and pain.  It's so amazing that we have all of these differing opinions because for me at least, I grow more in an industry that I love because you the community give me things to consider that I never would have before.  I would love for us to be able agree to disagree but still kiss and make up.      

PoleFitMomGreat post Charley! The funny thing about pole (for me) is that I teach fitness - and I LOVE THAT! But what first got me started was wanting to feel sexy after giving birth to 2 children. I wanted to embody that sexy feminine feeling again - since I did not feel like my body was mine (breastfeeding, carrying pregnancies back to back, being a stay at home mom). I really needed the sexy aspect. Then a video by Karol Helms popped up on my YT search and I remember being so blown away by a basic butterfly. LOL, and then the sexy kind of went away when I discovered that so many different things could be done on the pole. Now I am somewhere caught up in the fitness, the sexy, and the dance expression. What I have come to realize is that it doesn't have to be just 1 thing. It can be them all!

Thanks for having the courage to write this and post it! xoxo
Feb 18, 2013
SaphyreThis is really great, Charley! When I was little I wanted to dance, but I was child number 5 and my parents couldn't afford to send me to classes. In Jr High, I loved being able to bend and leap and flip flop, but still couldn't take any formal gymnastics lessons. In my early 20's I got into the fitness world with my first step aerobics class, but was never a gym rat. In my late 40's, I needed to get my ass back in shape. I discovered pole quite by accident, as a friend was opening a studio. The first pole video I ever saw was Jenyne Butterfly's performance to 'Dog Days are Over' and I was hooked! I am awed by performances by Sergia Louise Anderson for her incredible strength and athleticism, but am equally awed by Alethea's sexy, sultry lines. My own style? I'm not really sure. I don't have natural dance ability, but I have nice long legs, and flexible hips. I can amaze myself by doing either a cool floor move, or by getting my first shoulder mount. Doesn't matter to me, as long as I'm having fun and keeping in shape. As far as the competitions and controversy, well, I think that it's all due to growing pains. I think you sum it up quite nicely. I do hate to see people get their feelings hurt. It all reminds me of the clicks we had in school, which were always tough to watch. By the way, my husband and I were soooo blown away by Samantha "Star's" Midwest performance that I put exclamations points and a capitalized "WOW" in my booklet! It was my personal favorite. (no offense to the other great performers!!) I agree with PFM. Pole doesn't have to be just one thing, Some times you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't.
Feb 18, 2013
CharleyI really think pole can be all things to all people. I've been blown away more recently by things I never thought I would. Like, not just good tricks, but the creativity of linking certain tricks or pole transitions or really anything! I am glad we have a broad community of different people - this is how we grow. My only hope is that we always respect each other :)
Feb 18, 2013
chemgoddess1 Paid Member"Instead of anger, I'd like to see conversation and education. Let's not make it personal anymore. Let's stop telling people their vision is wrong because some people disagree with it. Let's start making a difference and looking for places that we can create more opportunity for performers and competitors. Let's ask questions that get us closer to understanding one another."

^^ THIS!!!!

I was verbally attacked by basically stating this exact same thing just yesterday. Once people start getting overly emotional with their responses to a controversy either people stop listening or it escalates to the point of name calling and finger pointing. There are competitions that cater to every single walk of pole but I do not see that any single competition has to cater to all walks.

And I am madly in love with Samantha Star. She totally blew me away.

One last comment, I am saddened that a group that is supposed to be uniting pole artists is acting like a tabloid.
Feb 19, 2013
litlbit Previous Paid MemberWELL STATED Charley!!! THANK YOU! Because my goal is to teach and educate in my city, I steer clear of the controversy. I prefer to choose my battles wisely, and focus on what I have here. Living where I do, I am isolated from the "Pole Community". Only Veena and David C. Owen have come here to support my studio and pole. I have been emailed by others that want to charge a fortune to come here and either perform or do workshops. I understand they have expenses, it's not that I wouldn't love to have them...I simply can not afford them. I have been extremely fortunate that this community I live in has been very positive thus far in accepting pole.
Feb 19, 2013
I C AnukaI believe attacks, harsh discussions about personal preferences and ignorance of other persons' rights to express themselves in the way they want can happen in every community, environment and industry. But the thing is- if we are aware of this, we can work to improve.
This community definitely is great to be with. So- let's be kind and respect each other and lead as the example, pole-sisters and pole-brothers! :)
Thank you, Charley, for your post!
Feb 19, 2013
Cantetinza17 Paid Memberwell said. I haven't ran into anyone that had a negative veiw of what I do...yet, but I plan on just saying "you believe what you want and I believe what I want". And leave it at that. Hopefully I won't get sensitive about it, but its always hard to be attacked over something that is not the "norm".
Feb 19, 2013
PtOfNoRtrnI think the main thing to remember is that we all have our own different opinions and viewpoints, and we are all entitled to have them and should respect one another in that regard. There are things I see and have seen that I don't agree with, but it's not wrong just because it's not personally for me. We should all try to keep that in mind. When it comes down to it, there is nothing else quite like the pole community and regardless of how one persues it or achieves it, we are all sisters and brothers in pole.

Personally, I have a very athletic body and take a very athletic approach to pole when mastering tricks. Thats what years of gymnastics and ice skating does to you. On the other hand, I am a dancer, so I'm very artistic about it too, thanks to the years of jazz dance and ballet. But despite the athletic side and the artistic side, there is this extreme sexy side that comes out naturally. So I'm like a combination of them There are some things I do that no matter how hard I try to tame it, it still comes out looking very sexual anyway. But I think that's just it. We all have our own way and our bodies move how they move. We shouldn't fight that, we should embrace that - no matter what - and not worry if it's athletic or artistic or sexual. Thats one of the main things that keeps me poling - the freedom of expression, no matter how it comes across. I pole with out shoes, I pole with shoes, neither is more right than the other.

Respect ourselves and each other - embrace your pole sisters and brothers - even if they do it differently than you do or would do. That's part of whats makes our community great!
Feb 19, 2013
Mz Kittywow I am blown away and so very glad to have read your post.... I am very opinionated on some topics and really have to be careful not to offend- this was yet another gentle reminder that words hurt and words heal as well.
Feb 19, 2013
Black OrchidThank you for the post, Charley. We all have strongly held beliefs and it is hard to negotiate conversations about them...but having perspective and the willingness to listen is key. I really appreciated the points you brought up. We need to keep talking, keep dancing and keep changing minds without tearing each other down. Easier said than that for sure but worth the effort in the end. xo.
Feb 19, 2013
PowerTwirlI am going to blog about this all soon too. I just can't seem to get a post together that would be short enough to hold people's attention. It would be a novel. But basically... what I'm seeing lately is a lot of women trying to define pole dancing and one going so far as to say trick based pole was not truly pole dancing. It seems an open mind towards the sexy side is the only acceptable type of open mind. The sexy side doesn't seem to have an open mind towards the trick side. So I don't know why the door can't swing both ways. That's just what I'm seeing. I believe pole dance is whatever the dancer wants it to be. Sexy. Fitness. Or BOTH. Take out the pole and just use the word dance... many types of dance... salsa, modern, ballet, hip hop. The same can apply to pole dance. There are many types. Do whatever competition suits you. If it doesn't apply let it fly, to quote Flavor Flav.
Feb 20, 2013
CharleyI think since "pole fitness" and "pole studios" really did come from the clubs - the sexy people find themselves feeling defensive because they see an art they cultivated changing and change is hard and it's scary. With that said, because (early) pole studios were an evolution of strip clubs I think they feel the "cleaner" the sport/art/dance gets - the more judged they will be -therefor feeling the need to be on the offensive instead of feeling like they can be open to the evolution. It's basically like this - the sexy was the only child for awhile, then another baby came along and took the attention and so we have to find away to make the sexy realize they are special and are certainly not judged but thanked and get the sexy to realize the fitness/dancey baby is important to growth of the family.
Feb 20, 2013
PoleFitMomJust as long as I don't have to potty train those dancing babies ;o)
Feb 20, 2013
CharleyLOL! But you're so good at it! LOL! The #1 reason we got a cat was that we didn't have to potty train, lol!
Feb 20, 2013
CharleySerious props to the moms out there who figured out potty training! That is the one thing keeping me from child bearing. How do you teach it?
Feb 20, 2013
sparrowI'm so geeked out by Samantha Star, like you Charley, I like the sexy and the shoes, but I laughed and cried when I saw her 'robot' performance...SS is one that I would loooove to train with. 'Like' her fb if you haven't already, and see her stuff on youtube.

Super awesome post and responses.
Feb 21, 2013
Black OrchidThe pendulum will always swing back and forth between two polar happens in every genre of dance until there's sufficient diversity and sufficient opportunity to access that diversity of style. Bellydance has gone from adoring tribal hip-hop to the "gooey emotional Egyptian" style to an aggressively isolation-based "American" style to the 70s AmCab style etc, that's just one example. Being able to see things from that perspective also helps people to not feel defensive about the style they are comfortable in, I think.
But to be specific about the "sexy" vs "tricks"...while I think that the growth of a modern/lyrical and circus/gymnastics approach to pole has been awesome & necessary, IMO its really saturated the market so proponents of a sexier dance style are pushing back. It'll swing back around until we find a balance again.
We need to be willing to check our language and assumptions about pole styles amongst ourselves so that we can get the public to understand that one is not better or more revolutionary than the other. I think that's what pisses off proponents of one style or another. If you can't talk about how amazing pole is without adding the "but we're NOT like strippers!" meme that has a unsubtle moral tinge, we'll always be defensive with each other.
Feb 21, 2013
Twilight StarrI was drawn to the pole initially because it was a bit taboo (so outside my comfort zone), but I stayed because of how it made me feel. It put me in touch with my body, my sensual side and gave me the best workout I've ever had.

It's too bad that instead of competitions, there weren't more celebrations/collaborations of what pole can be so people could appreciate all aspects of what pole has to offer.

Just like people have preferences in music and dance, they'll have preferences in pole. They aren't better or worse, they're just different. @Charley, I like your comment, "if we can't appreciate things outside of what we do it's really hard to grow." We'll always have our style, but throwing in something new is what keeps us engaged, excited and eager to continue to pole - in any form.
Feb 21, 2013
Anonymaits a great blog, " but because of the way I often see that pole dancers treat one another" it s normal that not everyone can get along or think the same way. There is always jaleousy between woman since the beginning of times millions of years ago and that will never change. We can make efforts, but sadly it will remain
Feb 22, 2013
Colleen Previous Paid MemberThis blog post was written 3 or 4 years ago, but I'm just now seeing it today. All I can say is that I'm glad I'm into pole just for fun and not for competition. I'm a full-time author and writer, and I already deal with drama in the author world. I don't need the additional drama that can be found in the pole world. One type of drama is enough.
Aug 20, 2016
omg i got this after 3days of practice. doesn't hurt as much anymore and i can hold hold for a lot longer now. thanks veena. your tutorials are awesome!
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