Bear cubs, The Wall Street Journal, and Pole Dance.

I recently found myself, against the astute advice of Pole Geek, reading the comments about this adorable photo. The photo was part of a “Name the Image” contest, and the title selected was “Teton Pole Dancers.”

I understand that I am extremely biased about pole. I think pole is wonderful. I think it is only sexy if you want it to be, but can also be appropriate for children. I think it is a sport and/or an art that utilizes a vertical bar, and you can make it into whatever you want. This versatility is one of the things I love about pole.

Biases aside, I cannot even begin to comprehend how the title paired with the image could be offensive. It is a PICTURE OF BEARS! Not even bears, but bear cubs. They are climbing a pole, because that is what bears do. The caption is funny because it contradicts with the idea of people dancing on a pole, which is clearly not happening in the photo.

Apparently other people see it differently. “As much as I love the photo, I’m disappointed that you selected that name for it. The name alone would prevent me from purchasing it.”

On a more hopeful note, there were also many supportive comments, like “I love the name you picked… very playful” and “Great title!”

All of this brings me to the recent Wall Street Journal article about pole dancing. Check it out here if you haven’t already read it so you know what I’m talking about.

The article highlights IPSF competitions, which feature a strong focus on athleticism over expression, extremely strict dress codes, and sanitized names for pole moves. Many, many pole dancers are upset about the idea behind the competitions because they feel that it sanitizes pole dance, turns it from a form of expression into a soulless sport, and basically sucks all the fun out of pole dance.

What does this have to do with the Teton Pole Dancers?

I think that having a super sanitized, desexualized, athletically based arm of pole might be a way to introduce pole to new people. In particular, it could speak to those who are so narrow-minded that they object to a photo and caption that doesn’t even involve humans.

The reality is that most pole dancers already sanitize pole to certain audiences, whether they admit it or not. When I first try to show people what it is that I do, I always send them a link to this video of Oona Kivela. I never send a link to this video, which I love equally much. Both videos are true, but I’m selective about which one I use to introduce people. Having a high profile, athletically based competition would be one more way that people can introduce others to the idea of pole as a sport that is not offensive.

There are two giant problems with using sanitized dance to appeal to those people. The first is that you aren’t really changing anything at all by having separate, sanitized versions of pole. One of the more empowering things about pole is that it is OK to be sexy (if you choose that). I love the idea that you can be strong, smart, career oriented, driven, AND sexy. For some reason, the socially prevalent belief is that you have to be nerdy and smart or sexy and stupid. That’s a pretty narrow dichotomy, and most women don’t fit into one or the other. I personally want to be smart, driven, successful and sexy. It can be done, and pole is empowering because it showcases how you can have it both ways. (Read more on The Spin Diaries.) Using a sanitized competition negates the value of sexy, and so it still siphons people into either/or categories. Narrow minded people will still look down on any other type of pole. Because looking down on awesome things is what narrow minded people do.

The second huge problem is the issue of funding. It will be easier to find sponsors for sanitized pole, and chances are high that that funding won’t be duplicated for less-sanitized versions of pole. The risk would be losing all the variety that makes pole special, or creating pressure to conform to the athletic model of pole, instead of the current climate, which is open to all different styles.

I don’t know what the right answer is for the pole community. Part of me feels that ISPF type competition can be a gateway into all pole has to offer. It might help people not be so averse to even the word pole that a photo of bear cubs could put them up in arms, and it might encourage people to try it and lead them to all the other parts of pole that are but part of me feels that they might lead to a very narrow, sanitized, not fun or sexy version of sport like everyone else seems to fear. What are your thoughts?

For more excellent blogs about the sanitization of pole, please check out the blog hop!

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7 Comments

  1. Really good points! I totally see what you mean about sanitized pole being a possible gateway (I hadn’t thought of putting it that way) because I definitely choose carefully how to introduce people to pole and almost always go for a sanitized intro, which does siphon people into a category! I really want pole to maintain all genres (like speed skating versus figure skating) and I don’t know how to have them all happily co-exist.

    Reply
    • It’s hard, and to me the critical issue is funding. If all sponsorship goes into ISPF type competitions, probably that will be what most people start focusing on in their own practice. If other styles were easily able to “answer back” with their own high profile showcases or competitions, I wouldn’t worry at all. Actually, I think the super-gymnasticky version would be kind of badass.

      Reply
  2. P.S. I’m not sure which Spin Diaries post you were referring to. 🙂

    Reply
  3. Agreed — great points! I totally catch myself sanitizing pole depending on who I am talking to! Sometimes I am a walking contradiction. 🙂

    Reply
  1. Best of Pole Dance Competition Blog 2013 | poledancecompetition

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