Pole dancing has taken on many forms, opinions, and significances since its inception over a hundred years ago. In recent years, we've watched it bloom from a skill associated with stigma to a prevalent exercise craze. Today, we're taking a look inside the art form, its history, and the unsung heroes behind its evolution.
Sensual entertainment appears in America in the late 19th century, by way of Egyptian street performers. The cultural practice of dancing in exchange for money was known as Ghawazi. Over the years, traditional belly dancing expanded to include gyrating on tent poles in order to attract spectators. In an era where American women were heavily clothed and conservative, this certainly shocked the culture.
In the 1960's and 70's, the Strip Club as a popular establishment is on the rise, and with it, the art of pole dancing. Unfortunately, due to their salacious nature, strip clubs were thought to exist on the outskirts of society, and were not well regulated. It was generally accepted that the safety and respect of the performers was not prioritized. This culture contributed to the negative association with pole dancing and pole dancers.
With artists like SZA consistently celebrating her love of pole dancing, Jennifer Lopez including a pole routine in her Super Bowl Halftime Show, and Lil Nas X sliding down a pole to the underworld in the unforgettable "Call Me By Your Name" music video, pole dancing has risen to great prominence in mainstream media nowadays. Its cultural relevance has contributed to the popularization of pole dancing as a recreational hobby and respected art form.
It is not uncommon to see people installing poles in their homes, or going to their local exercise studio to learn pole acrobatics. Some believe pole dancing is on its way to becoming an official sport, recognized by the Global Association of International Sports. While this is generally thought of as a positive shift, it is hard to ignore the irony in the sanitization of a practice that has long been disrespected and dismissed. Pole dancing and its associated professions have long been stigmatized, as most sex work still is. When culture moves forward for the better and manages to normalize such practices, it is important to remember the countless people who helped build this art form, often through years of scrutiny and shame. It's time to celebrate them, too.