That's right, I said what I said and I will not take it back, but I will explain myself. First, let me say that I support and stand behind all sex workers . Second, I was a Stripper for a very long time, I worked in several different clubs across the US between 1997 and 2015, I currently work as a Bartender in a strip club and I own and operate Scarlet Studio which is a Pole Dance Studio in Brockton MA. Which gives me a very unique perspective on this subject.
"True Love is born from understanding"
~ The Buddha
I have been in the Pole Industry for over 20 years now, and I have had many conversations with a variety of people about Pole. Conversations with other instructors, with students, with my parents (always an awkward one), with friends, with men and, with Strippers. Depending on an individual's experience with Pole the conversations can be quite different and I often find myself attempting to explain and educate others on the nuances between poling for recreation and poling for occupation.
I feel that I need to clarify that the information I am about to share is based on my personal experiences over the 20 years that I have been working in the Pole and Strip Club industries.
The Roots of Pole
The History of how Pole Dance became 'mainstream' can vary slightly depending on who you ask. If you ask me, I credit Fawnia Mondey who, in the 1990's, began teaching Pole Dancing classes to 'normal girls' in Las Vegas (I use the term 'normal girls' to describe those girls who pole for recreation not occupation). Like myself, Fawnia Mondey was a stripper and in an effort to 'legitimize' the Art of Pole we leaned into teaching pole as a form of fitness and took steps away from teaching pole for occupational education. At that time I believe that many "Pole Pioneers" felt that appropriating the art was the best way to share our knowledge and create viable businesses. Looking back, I personally regret not holding truer to my Stripper roots, but one cannot change the past we can only move forward.
What happened within the Pole Industry from the late1990's into the early 2000's was actually quite amazing. It was, and still is, one of the fastest growing fitness movements across the globe. Yes, you read that correctly, Pole Dance is a global phenomenon, growing at what some consider to be surprising rates. The decision to teach pole as fitness and not as occupational education worked wonders for legitimizing Pole as a Sport. Several groups began forming nationally and internationally in the 2000's with aspirations to standardize the activity. There was also a movement to have Pole recognized by the Global Association of International Sports Federation (GAISF) as an actual Sport, which finally happened in 2020. The validation of Pole as a Sport was a huge win for the Pole community at large however, this 'win' came with some unforeseen drawbacks.
Death to The American Stripper
Ironically, American Stripper culture was dying while Pole Dance was beginning to blossom. The early1980's into the mid-to-late 1990's proved to be an epic time to be a Stripper in America. The birth of The Gentleman's Club created an entirely new genre of Stripper and thanks to MTV and bands like Motely Crue, the iconic image of a Stripper will forever be as they were depicted in videos from this time frame. The rise and fall of the American Strip Club is an amazing blog topic that I may choose to write about in the future, but for now I want to focus on how Pole Dance culture began to alienate Strippers and ultimately make them terrible pole students.
'Normal Girls' vs Strippers
If you are new to Pole or not on Instagram, you may not have noticed the #notastripper movement. This happened somewhere around 2015, and I have no idea if the hashtag was purposely meant to through shade at Strippers or to simply say, 'I pole dance and I am not a stripper', but it sure did cause quite a backlash. Personally, I was furious. I absolutely took this as disrespectful and ignorant. Here were these 'normal girls' showing off their Pole skills that without Strippers like myself and Fawnia Mondey, they would have never learned. It felt like a slap in the face. It felt like Strippers were being shamed by a community we created! A divide had occurred within the Pole Industry and it needed to be rectified.
"Never the twain shall meet..."
Looking back it is clear how the divide happened, and honestly, I am not sure it could have happened any other way. The stripping had to be stripped away for the art to thrive outside of the strip clubs. The "Pole Pioneers" had to create curriculums that were safe and digestible for the general public in order to build viable business models. The drawback for this decision left the majority of Pole Dance Studios in the US to be run by non-Strippers, teaching non-Strippers. Why is this a drawback? Because it alienates today's Stripper.
The majority of my current student base is made up of 'normal girls'. Girls who came to my studio for a variety of different reasons. Some of them found what they were looking for and others found something they didn't know they were looking for. I have 2, maybe 3, girls that I know work as Strippers, and to be honest they didn't tell me that they were Strippers. I just knew. I knew because I could see how nervous they were. I knew because I could see how guarded they were and how they tried to water themselves down so they wouldn't be 'found out' by the 'normal girls'. I knew because I know what it feels like to be the Stripper in a room of women that are not Strippers. See, although the 'normal girls' want to act like they think Stripping is a cool romantic notion, when it actually comes to being around a Stripper, suddenly the mood changes and judgement rears its ugly head.
Girls who join a pole class who are working as Strippers have a unique set of stumbling blocks beyond feeling like an outcast. Let us count the ways:
First, they are attending a class full of content that has been appropriated from the industry they work in. They are being told that a certain walk around a pole now has a name and that there is a way to do this walk correctly. Just empathize with this for a moment and let that awkwardness sink in.
Second, they are being taught these appropriated movements by a 'normal girl' who has (most likely) never even been in a strip club let alone been on a strip club stage or given a lap dance. Chew on that and try to swallow your pride.
Third, these girls are trying to become better stage entertainers but for the most part are being taught to do tricks with no real semblance of application. Try going to an art class and walking away feeling like you learned absolutely nothing that you can apply to your current art practice.
Fourth, and I would like to thank Jeni Janover for pointing this out to me when she was teaching me Liquid Motion, Strippers have 'licks' or a stock pattern of movement that they have been using on the job for weeks, months or even years. This means that they now have to retrain their bodies to learn new movements. I can tell you from experience, this is extremely difficult, frustrating and emotionally deflating. It is harder to forget 'licks' than it is to learn new movement patterns when you have no 'licks'.
Fifth, these girls are really, really, really hard on themselves. The expectation they put on themselves is that they should be able to Pole Dance with ease compared to 'normal girls'. Which is silly, but ask yourself this: if you were an Italian wouldn't you be hard on yourself if you were a lousy cook compared to a heritage that is not known for their kitchen prowess?
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
~ Mother Teresa
Okay, now that we all have a better understanding of the situation we are in we can clearly see why Strippers make 'terrible pole students'. Honestly, the situation is't anyones fault. It is basically an oversight that occurred in our decision making from 20 years ago. Like I stated in the beginning of this blog, I wish I had stayed truer to my Stripper roots but hind sight is 20/20 and we are where we are. Instructors with little to no knowledge of how to teach pole as occupational education + the stumbling blocks of a Stripper = a terrible pole student.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel though! In the last 5 years I have begun to see a shift in the Pole Community as a whole. The branching out of Pole Dance Gene's (Sport/Competition, Artistic and Exotic), the acknowledgment of where Pole Dance originated, and the support of, and non-shaming actions, towards sex workers has been refreshing to witness. I can clearly see that the next generation of Pole Dance students are way more encouraging, accepting and supportive of the ballsy girls that choose to work as Strippers than their predecessors.
So how can Pole Instructors become better at teaching students that work as Strippers? I will share a few of my teaching methods that I have found to be successful:
I treat everyone like a Stripper. I assume that all my students at some point either want to be a stripper, want permission to embrace their inner stripper or are currently working as a Stripper.
I teach dance first and tricks second. Dance is attainable to every body, tricks are not. I also teach dance moves as foundation pieces for tricks so that when students want to learn a trick they already have the foundation piece needed.
I turn the dam lights down and I let my students dance freely. No one wants to let loose and embrace their inner stripper under harsh lighting. Once fundamentals are taught and understood we begin to incorporate them into our freestyle dance right away. This creates a well rounded progression instead of learning tricks and then having to go back and learn the dance element that links it all together.
My final thought on this topic is this, white washing history dooms the future. We can see where we veered off course and now it is time to correct that course. I truly believe in the next 5 years Pole Dance Studios and their instructors will begin to change pole curriculum and give the students what they really want - authenticity.