Ancient Pole Sports
Let’s start with what almost every other article states as the origin of pole dancing. There are two ancient sports called “Chinese Pole”, which is of course from China, and “Mallakhamb” originating from India. Chinese pole dates back over 2000 years ago. It is remembered for the amazing acrobatic ability, and strength it requires. The performers usually use two rubber poles reaching as high as 30ft. Mallakhamb on the other hand uses a thick wooden pole. Mallakhamb, which literally means wrestler and pole. It is also renowned for the massive amount of raw strength and agility required to master it. Both of these sports however were and still are male dominated.
So why is it that the pole dancing we know of today is stereotypically recognized as a sexy performance act for women? What I’ve described above steers far away from our modern perceptions? That’s because the modern pole dancing stereotype is referring to it’s western origins.
The history of pole dancing
Pole dancing was invented during the great depression in the 1920s. Travelling circus shows would host “hoochie coochie” dances. The dances consisted of women sliding up and down seductively on the poles that held the up circus tents. Back then, pole dancing was invented to please the sexual curiosity and desires of men. Unsurprisingly, these shows were quite popular. In the 1950s strip clubs started popping up, capturing the essence of this idea. So the term stripper was born. Strippers started to evolve their dancing styles throughout the 80s. They started incorporating floor work, choreography, and pole work that advanced past bumping and grinding on a brass bar. Strip clubs had become a global concept by 1990.
Strippers were the only ones pole dancing at this point. There were however a few strippers willing to bridge this gap between the general public and the dancer community. Fawnia Monday, a Canadian dancer became one of the first to pioneer this gap. She and many other dancers in the 1990s had opened up studios and created instructional videos and DVDs about pole dancing. These home videos were the first to introduce the concept of a home pole to the world. Pole dancing competitions such as miss pole U.K. and Australia started popping up by 2005. Pole dancers from around the world have been sharing their moves, instruction, and experiences, upon the creation of social media in the 2000s. They have since been opening the world’s eyes to the different styles pole has to offer.
Trying to erase history
However, knowing all this, saying pole dancing originated from strip clubs is still a little controversial. Some say the pole dancing originates from Chinese pole, an African tribal dance, Mallakhamb, or some other old pole related ritual/sport. These ancient practices have influenced some tricks used in the pole dancing styles we have today no doubt. However, without the strippers who were willing to share pole dancing with the everyday person, we probably wouldn’t have modern day pole dancing. Had strippers not opened their doors to the general public, like Fawnia Mondey had done back in the day, the sport may have never entered our mental hemisphere. Chinese pole and other male dominanted pole sport would probably be all we know.
There are those that would like to disassociate from real pole dancing origin. This is understandable as some people don’t like the sexual stereotypes associated with pole dancing. This is especially true as more and more youth participate in it as a sport and artistic hobby. After all, pole dancing being family friendly, and accessible to all will only benefit the pole dancing community. However, when we disregard the hard work strippers put into creating and sharing pole dancing with the world, something doesn’t seem right. There’s even a hashtag going around called #notastripper. The people who wish to whitewash pole dancing’s history probably wouldn’t even be able to know of its existence without the strippers who introduced it in the 90s.
There is no single inventor of pole dancing. There are just those that became the first to pioneer it into the practice we know today. The various pole dancing styles keep evolving due to worldwide influences, whether ancient or made up yesterday on an Instagram post. We should be proud of where pole dancing came from, and understand that it’s come a long way to be the inclusive practice it is today. Hopefully pole dancing continues to progress and evolve. I also hope everyone will be able to look past the stereotypes that don’t apply to all forms of pole dancing, but still embrace the origin of pole dancing.