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Feminism and the Pole

posted 7 Sep 2011, 07:53 by Natalie Watkins
Hey guys,

A slightly less upbeat post this time around, but I think it's an important one.  I've been asked recently about how I present the fact that I pole dance to family and friends, and importantly, how I deal with the perception that it is in some way 'anti-feminist'.  I wanted to answer that here for a couple of reasons.  I want to make my feelings about this public, I want to make sure that you all know you're not alone in having to deal with some negative reactions, I want to give you all a few more options for what to say when you're challenged about your dancing and I'd really like to know your thoughts on this.  I know this blog doesn't allow comments yet (damn my tech fail!), but please email me about this one!

First of all, let's address who actually criticises us for pole dancing.  I've had quite a few conversations with people who are outraged that I'm dancing, let alone teaching.  One thing they all share is a lack of knowledge.  Not one of them had seen a clip of me dancing.  In fact, none of them had watched any actual pole dancing.  The closest most of them had come was the brief glimpses you get in films of a girl writhing against a pole to demonstrate that the location is a seedy strip club.  They have no idea of the strength, determination and outstanding pain threshold required to become an accomplished pole dancer.

So this gives us the first way to counter the complaints.  We can educate them.  We can explain what pole dance is.  We can show off our bruises (well, the more 'family-friendly' ones at least), we can detail the months of training, we can show youtube clips.  We can demonstrate in a hundred different ways that this is a complex, sophisticated art that takes strength, skill and stamina to perform.  For most people, this is all that's needed.  They realise that they're criticising us for something we're not actually doing.  They see what we do, they admire our abilities and (with a little luck) apologise.

Unfortunately, I find this somewhat unsatisfactory.  It fulfills part of my desire, i.e. it lets people understand what I actually do.  What it doesn't do is address the underlying point, which is that they feel they have the right to police my actions.

So, I have two other general points.  The first is that pole dance is actually a very female-dominated form of dance.  Unlike so many other forms of dance (such as tango, for example), pole dance is usually performed by a woman alone.  We're not dependant on a male dance partner, and certainly not 'led', with our choice of moves dictated to us.  Pole dance celebrates female strength, female power and female choice.  When I'm dancing, it's all about me.  My emotions, my passion, my power (and sometimes my falling on my butt).  The dancer chooses how much she gives to the audience.

Added to which, you can't be a great pole dancer without muscle.  The ideal pole aesthetic is (in my opinion) a much healthier one than can be found in many magazines.  Pole dance women are strong, powerful women who never have to ask for help to open a jar.  We know our own limits, our skills.  We recognise our achievements, know our strengths and work for what we want.  What's more feminist than that?

The second general point is that exercising choice (particularly where one's own sexuality is concerned) is the cornerstone of my interpretation of feminism.

When it comes right down to it I have the right to writhe against a pole if I want to, even if it doesn't take strength and skill and so on.  I don't see anything particularly feminist about restricting a woman's choices.  I enjoy pole dance.  I want to do it.  That's the only justification I ever need to give.  My pole dancing is only slutty if I choose to make it slutty.  It's graceful if I choose to make it graceful.  And both of those choices are equally valid.

For me, any restriction I accept simply because I'm worried about what other people might think is a failure.  It diminishes me, and I'm better than that.  I deserve better than that, and mostly I deserve better of myself.  My feminism requires that I fearlessly do the things that matter to me, that I accept the consequences and that I attempt to enable those around me (of either gender) to do the same.

So, this has become rather more of a rant than a 'how to' guide about how to answer those difficult questions.  Hopefully, the outline of the three main strands you can argue (pole dance isn't what you think.  Pole dance is about strong women.  Feminism is about creating choices) will at least prove helpful when you formulate your own arguments.  Which argument path you choose will depend at least a little on who you're talking to and what you're hoping to achieve.  In the end, however, you have to choose your own path.  Follow it fearlessly (or at least pretend to be fearless) and remember I'm with you all the way.

And don't hesitate to ask if there's any more I can do to help/clarify this.

Much (much, much) love

Natalie
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