The History of Pole Dancing

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The history of pole dancing - even with all of the controversy surrounding conversations and events about pole dancing, looking into the past and at similar style sports gives us a good understanding of the context in which different cultures and groups have used poles for. 

What you find when you research the history of pole dancing. 

Fertility Dances

I was surprised as I did my history of pole dancing research online...I found that the said true origins are unclear, tracing back through African tribal dances, May Poles in the 12th century, Victorian era Maypole and finally 1950's burlesque. From fertility dances and rites for attracting the male attention, to exercise, the purposes for pole dancing or athletic feats performed on poles 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.

There has even been recorded history about a "pagan" religion that worshiped a fertility goddess Asherah, and as a part of the worship ritual, sexual acts were performed around trees and what was called "Asherah poles" and temple prostitutes would dance around the poles and trees in simulation of intercourse with the god Baal. 

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.

Sport or Athletic Style Pole

There's Chinese pole and another closely related sport, 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. This is where lots of current "pole history" articles say our current form of dance came from. 

According to several sources, 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.

For me, this is where real pole dance started.

All of the above mentioned and probably more unknown history influenced what we know as pole dance today. Dancing around and on a pole has evolved into something more modern and familiar to some of us - what we know as the "stripper". 

I love going to strip clubs just to watch these dancers - some you can tell are new and learning their way around the steel (or brass, whatever their pole happens to be made of) and some of these gals (or guys!) are just bada** tricksters! It is just a very different and special experience to watch performances that are done by people that do this as their work. Not to say I don't enjoy performances at conventions, showcases and competitions, it's just so raw and real to be in front of a woman dancing on a stage on a pole who represents where most of our styles of pole dancing in studios today came from. 

But back to history - 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. Fawnia is also f#$king awesome and has brought us the Pole Expo, a yearly, large pole dance convention in Las Vegas. 

Below is a great compilation of this topic by Pole Parlour. 

Films and Documentaries.

The sport and art of pole dance and pole fitness is being documented more on film now. 

Blood, Sweat & Sequins is a documentary that follows several competitors in the Miss Pole Dance Australia competition and gives the viewer and up-close look at what goes into training for one of these competitions and the challenges dancers can face. 

Fistful of Steel is a documentary in the makings about pole dance, its evolution, development and influences and features several internationally known performers, competitors and pioneers in the industry. 

Pole dancing today. 

Today, pole dancing is still considered both sensual and erotic by many and is still found in strip clubs. But it has also evolved into a fun fitness venue in studios around the world, 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.

Many studio instructors are former exotic dancers and I think they have much to bring to the table when teaching. 

There are:

  • athletic/gymnastic styles
  • sexy/exotic dance style
  • stripping and pole dance
  • contemporary pole 
  • and many more styles that are evolving. 

Whatever your opinion is of the history of pole dancing - how and where it got started - we all have one thing in common - we freaking love it! But in reality, things evolve and all of these different sources of history probably contributed to what we do today. 

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.

Do you have an opinion too on the history of pole dancing? Share it with us!

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