With all of the controversy surrounding conversations and events about pole dancing, the history of pole dancing gives us a good understanding of what different cultures and groups used the pole for.
I was surprised as I did my history research...I found that the true origins are unclear, tracing back through African tribal dances, May Poles in the 12th century, Victorian era Maypole and finally 1950s burlesque. From fertility dances and rites for attracting the male attention, to exercise, the purposes for pole dancing have varied just as much as its history has.
Some believe that the history of pole dancing originated from African tribal dancing. Women would dance around a wooden pole in front of the men they were engaged to. The tantalizing dance they performed was intended to show how she wanted her future husband to make love to her.
The other proposed history of pole dancing came about in the 12th century with the May Pole. The intention of the dance was to boost fertility, in which where women would dance around a vertical wooden pole. The wooden pole was meant to be phallic in nature. It was typically performed in May and lasted until the year 1547, when the May Pole was destroyed as a pagan idol. This form of the May Pole is not to be confused with the 'chaster' version that the Victorian era created, using ribbons.
A closely related discipline to pole dancing is Mallastambha, a strength training completed on an iron pole, known as the stambha. Beginning as an ancient Indian sport, it builds physique in the same format as pole dancing, though it was typically designed for men. The men would twist, turn, bend and hold positions up the length of the pole, developing dexterity and agility.
Here is a video clip demonstrating the sport:
It seems that pole dancing disappeared for several centuries and reappeared again in the 1920s. During the Depression, circuses would travel around with tents. In the side shows, women would dance around the tent poles, sliding up and down and holding poses. This entertainment gained quite a bit of popularity (what a surprise). These were called “hoochie coochie” dances. As word travelled, pole dancing became more and more prevalent within the burlesque scene throughout the 1950s.
Then it evolved into something more modern and familiar to some of us. The earliest recorded pole dance in the U.S was in Oregon in 1968 and was performed by Belle Jangles at Mugwumps strip joint. The craze took off and spread to Canada’s red light district in Vancouver, where pole dancing was featured throughout many nightclubs. The women would dress in themed costumes, use musical routines and dance seductively in their performances.
These shows quickly spread to the United States, popping up through gentlemen’s clubs and strip clubs everywhere and lost the whole 'theme musical' aspect but kept the seduction, scant amount of clothing and pole.
In the 1990s, Fawnia Mondey, a Canadian, not only competed in pole dancing competitions, but began teaching the dance. She even released the first instructional video on pole dancing. As this came out, pole dancing spread throughout the world, including the UK and Australia.
Today, pole dancing is still considered both sensual and erotic by many, is still found in strip clubs, but it has also evolved as a form of aerobic dance and is soon to be in the Olympics as many have petitioned for it to become a recognized sport! Many fitness clubs offer pole dancing, where women (and men!) are signing up to not only exercise, but to gain self confidence.
Groups of women will get together and hold “hen parties” to learn pole dancing as something to talk about and unite with as well.
The sport and dance is still changing and people's views of it are changing as is evident by many articles and discussions that come up in the pole dancing community.
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