In Response to Timeline’s “Which came first, the Stripper or the Pole?”
The Pole Community online have gone BATSHIT crazy for this video which was posted to ‘Timeline’ Page on Facebook on Wednesday, with industry specialists and professionals citing it an ‘Historically accurate representation of the history of Pole’ and ‘a Stigma-busting piece of information to smash all those darn misconceptions.’
I call it a Slut Shaming, Misogynistic, deliberately misleading piece of propaganda, designed to try and gentrify and suppress the history of Pole, and give the general public a more acceptable and respectable version of origins. And how has this been done? By attributing the genesis of Pole to men. That’s it. Flat out whitewashing the entirely separate creation and development of an amazing and unique art and expressionism by Strippers, and instead using leading inferences and vocabulary that insist that Pole was stolen from men. Further, that men created a wholesome and impressive form of Art and Sport that dirty women sullied with their female bodies and appropriated, tarnishing the reputation of. Here, I’ll show you.
Straight away the descriptors are derogatory, mocking. There’s no “Long before skilled Striptease artists graced the mainstages of clubs around the world, rocking their Platform heels and driving the crowds wild with their impressive displays of athleticism and sensuality.” No, instead there is this sneering little sentence, giving no credit to the skill and artistry of striptease. Instead…..
Oh look! Here’s all those Positive descriptors! And who are they reserved for? The men, of course! The deliberate use of descriptive vocabulary paints one image as positive, and the other as negative. There is a clear message here that men had a ‘serious, respecable’ activity that was made a travesty of by Women. Still don’t see that this video is Misogynistic? Okay, here’s another example.
Now, in my opinion, if I had been creating this video, this would have been my opening. But I’ll talk about that in a little while. But what came next,
NO!!! NO NO NO!!! Firstly, it’s rubbish. Just from my own experience as a Pole Dancer of 13 years, the Gymnastic and Circus inspired moves came much, much later, like late 90’s early 2000’s later. After YouTube and other visual media (Pole Dance DVD’S such as Bobbi’s Pole Tricks, Pantera’s Pole Tricks 101, Tammy Morris Pole and Fire, I owned them all!!) became commonplace, and Pole Dancers globally were exposed to those influences to begin incorporating them. The moves that first developed were fluid, graceful Spins, Climbs, Poses and Straddles. If you can show me one Chinese Pole video that is predominantly Spin based, and features Open Legged Straddle Seats and Splits, I will eat my hat. The Chinese Pole is rubber – the video itself says it is not designed for fluidity. No female Pole Dancer in the 1960’s was emulating Mallakhamb.
This association is reaching at best, downright deliberate misdirection at worst, and there is absolutely no sufficient evidence provided to make this leap. Tell me the part in history where the Asian Circus masters came to America/Canada and taught the Hooochie Coochie girls to climb with their bare feet. I’ll wait..
So why infer this?? Well, although it of course is Historically accurate to say that Chinese Pole came first, and then Mallakhamb, and then latterly our ‘Modern’ format of Pole, it is absolutely incorrect to try and say any one came from the other. These are examples of what in genetics is referred to as ‘Convergent Evolution’, where identical or analogous traits develop independently in different parts of the World, exclusively to each other. Our modern version of Pole was EXCLUSIVELY the property of Striptease Artists until, the amazing Fawnia Mondey opened the first Pole Dance studio in 1995 (the credit to this awesome pioneer is the only saving grace of this piece of crap video, all hail Fawnia!) and Pole moved into the mainstream.
Deb Riley being awesome.
When Deb Riley first dreamed about the move called the Starfish, she hadn’t seen Chinese Pole artists do it. She dreamed about it, she tried it, she created it, it is hers. Yes, it is a move performed hundreds of years before she bravely took to the pole to see if her imaginings could become a reality, but SHE did not know that. This is the very basis of Convergent Evolution. You cannot attribute her creation to a man, it is hers, even if it had been done by someone else the other side of the World. The same with Felix Cane’s Spatchcock, and Elisabeth Marchenko’s Rainbow. I remember ALL these moves being created, and trust me, no Chinese acrobat came and gave them to us. The strippers gave them to you, you’re welcome.
Why does this persistent inference that Pole descends directly from Male Pole Arts exist? It comes down to an ingrained sociological belief system that women’s sexuality is a thing to be ashamed of, and morality is directly linked to how openly or prolifically a woman (or basically anyone who isn’t a straight white man) is sexual. So because the development of pole from sex workers is considered ‘shameful’, but people want to do it, they need to find a means of justification to ‘cleanse’ themselves morally and absolve themselves of any associations with ‘dirty’ women, lest they be painted with the same brush. Thus, these types of videos that don’t actually say directly “Men Poled first! That makes it respectable! It’s not our fault the strippers sullied it! We’re doing the proper Patriarchal circus stuff!” but present the media in such a way that all of this is whispered, insistently, are absolute sharing fodder to the ‘New wave’ Pole Dancers looking for validation.
This is propaganda, trying to lump pole in with Asian Circus and make a mockery of the strippers that ‘stole’ it to try to titillate men. The want pole in the Olympics, and they’ll do anything to whitewash the connotations.
Being influenced by alternative artistic sources is a wonderful thing, and Pole has been inspired by hundreds of influences to become the Art form it is today, from Ballet, to Yoga, Gymnastics, Ice-skating, even Martial Arts. It is a shame that all of these influences were completely ignored to push the agenda of historical mis-representation, but I will try to be kind and just say maybe they didn’t want the video to be too long. Then they might have had to cut some Stripper shaming out, and that would be absolutely unthinkable.
And here, lay the most telling part of the whole video. Why, aside from only mentioning 3 basic incorporations, label the influence of ‘Striptease’ showing a bare-feet leotard clad gymnastic female performer, doing a Flag deadlift? (It’s Bendy Kate by the way, and she’s flipping awesome, but she does NOT represent the Stripper Style community and she would not claim to!) Why was there not ONE female performer shown to represent modern Pole in a positive way, wearing heels? Why, when discussing the Artistic validity of Pole, was it invariably accompanied by a video of a male pole dancer? (Go ahead, re-watch the video, the only time heels are shown is when associating to Strippers, there is not one representation of ‘Modern’ pole that is not male, bare-footed or being credited to Asian Circus influence!) This is Slut shaming, and it is alienating a huge faction of the Pole community, and insulting the very pioneers who were brave enough to step out of the clubs and give you your Industry as it stands today.
Had this video been labelled ‘How has Pole Dance changed and been influenced over the last 100 years, I would have been all for it. If it had started with the Hoochie Coochie girls in 1900, and then discussed influences of ancient Asian Pole Arts coming into play around the turn of the Century, I’d be right with ya. But not only does this video deliberately mislead viewers regarding our history, it goes on to bizarrely confidently define what Pole dance is as a Genre today.
DO NOT PRESUME TO TELL ME WHAT ‘MODERN POLE IS!!! The insinuation of over-simplifying Pole into a culmination of 3 totally different cultural performance types is offensive, ignorant and crude. I don’t perform Mallkhamb influences when I perform. I perform Striptease influenced Pole Dance. Don’t tell me who I am inspired by. I was Pole Dancing before Pole Dancers knew what the fuck Mallkhamb was. How dare you tell me how I perform and practise my passion, my career, my life??!
The stunning Jamie Taylor. Not doing Chinese Pole.
If you are going to produce a video that fails to represent my community, my sisters, our life experience of Pole Dance, at least have the decency not to attribute our whole damn history to the wrong gender. “Pole was originally for men?” GTFOH.
Peach Lee Ray, certainly not representing Mallkhamb.
CHINESE POLE was originally for men. MALLAKHAMB was for men. POLE DANCE is ours. It is the sex workers’, the strippers’, the Hoochie Coochie girls’, it is the housewives’, it is the insecure and un-confident students’. It is mine. Take your Patriarchal propaganda and shove it up your arse.
Sexy Style Icon, Sally Ann Giles