Girl Power – The Feminism of Pole Dancing

It's 7:30 on a Tuesday night, and I'm surrounded by other women, of all shapes, sizes and ages, wearing very little and having the time of their lives. The music is pumping, everyone is chatting animatedly, and waiting to go in for their classes. It's pole time and there's not a gym-bro in sight.

I first found my way to pole three years ago, after I'd started getting involved in weight lifting. I was missing aspects of my performing days, and looking for something that blended the two - and I confess, I've always been a sucker for exercise that incorporates fun outfits and great music.
Learning to appreciate my body for what it can do rather than what it looks like was a long journey, and one that regular exercising - especially weight-lifting - started. But I was still riddled with body issues - still worried about getting too big, still watching every bite that went into my mouth like a hawk, and still treating food, and my body, as something to wrestle with rather than as my vessel for making my way through life. I wasn't respecting my body - I was fighting (endlessly) with it. And I was so incredibly tired.

Pole first caught my eye when I saw a documentary called Blood, Sweat and Sequins about the Miss Pole Dance Australia competition - and I was instantly captivated. I learned a few key things in the course of that program - one was that these women were incredibly strong and fantastically artistic, and the other was that their confidence and showmanship was absolutely off the charts. Afterwards, I did a little more research and discovered that I happened to live in one of the top cities in the entire world for pole dancing - where some of the best athletes in the sport lived, trained, and competed.
This meant that there was an abundance of studios for me to choose from - and it was all a matter of what I was after. Some focused more strictly on athleticism - no heels, no sexy choreography, more coverage as far as outfits go. Others are more entrenched in their sex-worker roots with an emphasis on exaggeratedly feminine choreography, heels as high as you can go, and outfits that wouldn't be out of place in the clubs that brought the art-form into the mainstream. It's all a matter of what you're comfortable with, and what you are after. Me, I went for the sexy side of things - the idea of women taking ownership of their sexuality in an art form previously seen as strictly exploitative had always been interesting to me. So I signed up and from there, it was love at first spin.
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People often think I'm joking when I say that pole dancing is the most empowering hobby I've ever been involved with - but for me at least, it's absolutely true. Nowhere else have I encountered a group of women who are so encouraging and welcoming, who encourage you to become as strong as you can, to own your own journey, and to embrace your body for the wonderful things it can do and the work of beauty it is.

In any given class, you will see women of all shapes and sizes strutting their stuff with the confidence of Beyonce, in outfits that show more than most are used to (and yes, this is actually for a purpose - you can't stick to the pole with fabric, only skin) - and frankly, the body positivity is off the chart. You won't see anyone covering their wobbly bits, or trying to hide their bums - they're too busy rocking the moves they're learning and embracing the exhilarating feeling of flying off the floor.
You'll also quickly notice that age is not a factor. The woman next to you defying gravity could be fresh out of high school - or she could be in her sixties. Neither is athletic ability or a history in dance an important factor - classes are structured in such a way that anyone can learn at their own pace and gradually build up the strength and finesse to execute the moves. Many of the women in my class have never danced before.

Pole for me is an exercise in feminism - and I'll tell you why. It's a place where women learn to love their bodies so fiercely and to celebrate them for their strength, and for everything they can do. Where women of all backgrounds and ages encourage one another for every small victory and embrace where everyone is on their journey. Where women come together to celebrate and express female strength, sensuality and sexuality; not for the male gaze, for each other and more than that - for themselves.

By: Siri Williams


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