It’s funny to think that something that started off as disrobing while gyrating against a metal pole could soon be recognized as an Olympic sport. But that’s just how far pole dancing has evolved. From an erotic performance, to a fitness exercise, to a worldwide sport, pole dancing has come along way from its beginnings. But where exactly are those beginnings?
Though not exactly known, there has been a great deal of speculation in regards to the origins of pole dancing. To begin with, one of the influences is said to be the Chinese pole, which has been around for centuries as a form of entertainment. Chinese pole circus acts are non-erotic, with both male and female performers executing climbs, slide downs, and feats of strength like the flag (sticking out horizontally from the pole using the arms). Sometimes acts featured multiple poles in which performers would jump from one pole to the other and complete various acrobatic techniques.
Another possible influence arises from India, where the sport Mallakhamb has been around since the 12th century. Originally intended as an exercise for wrestlers, eventually Mallakhamb evolved into a competitive sport, with 29 Indian states competing in national Mallakhamb competitions every year. Done mainly by men, the sport features leg grips, drops, and holds that utilize entire body strength, balance, and flexibility. Tricks are done on a pole made of wood with a wooden ball on top, larger in diameter than the modern Western pole used for pole dancing.
What’s truly believed to be the real origins of Western pole dancing began in the American circus. Early American circuses often featured a “dancing girls” tent as part of one of their sideshows, in which for an additional fee, men could go watch girls dancing suggestively. Since the tent was usually held up by a pole, the girls began using the tent poles for balance, until gradually the pole became part of the act, and eventually known as a “dance pole.”
With the growth of burlesque in the 1950s, pole dancing moved from the circus tents into bars. The pioneers of burlesque such as the famous performer Gypsy Rose Lee, helped spread the art of the strip-tease, which involves a gradual and sensual undress to partial or complete nudity. Contrary to normal disrobing, a strip-tease performer does exactly what’s in the name, and “teases” the audience to beg for more clothes to be removed. Performers usually move at a slow pace, with sexually suggestive movements, taking off layers one by one, or covering certain body parts (i.e. the breasts) with their hands as an additional tease. It is said that Gypsy began strip-teasing by accident, when a wardrobe malfunction caused a strap of her dress to come undone exposing her to the audience, as she tried to cover-up and re-assemble her outfit. Pretty soon the “wardrobe malfunction” became a commonplace segment of any strip act.
The first ever recorded strip-tease pole dance is said to be in Oregon in 1968 by the Belle Jangles at Mugwumps strip club. From there the idea of stripping with a pole moved to Canada, where pole-dancing exploded in the 1980s. The combination of sexually suggestive movements, removal of clothing, and wanton handling of a phallic symbol (i.e. the pole) became very popular, and the stripper pole quickly spread into the United States and eventually the rest of the world. The opening of the first Spearmint Rhino strip club in 1989 in Upland, California featured a stripper pole, as well as subsequent Spearmint establishments throughout North America, solidifying the pole as a staple of the modern day gentleman’s club. Many clubs also started offering an additional entertainment known as a “lap dance” in which patrons could experience a one-on-one, hands-free, up-close strip-tease.
Mostly recognized as an indecent and salacious behavior, it wasn’t until the mid 1990s that pole dancing began to shed its stigma. Fawnia Mondey, one of the pioneers of the stripper pole and pole dancing champion, began teaching pole dancing classes in the 1990s, and released her own pole dancing DVD. Slowly but surely throughout the early 2000s, pole dancing started to be recognized as an excellent tool for fitness maintenance, as well as an empowering and confidence-building mechanism for women. Many gyms and fitness centers began offering pole dancing courses as a way to stay in shape.
From there, pole dancing has evolved into a legitimate sport. The U.S. Pole Dancing Federation was founded in 2008, and hosts the annual championships to find the best pole dancers in the country. World-wide, the World Pole Sport Federation brings over 25 countries together to compete annually for the Miss Pole Dance World trophy. And recently, pole dancing officials from around the world have been petitioning the International Olympic Committee to add pole dancing as an official Olympic sport. Although it’s too late for the 2012 London games, there’s no doubt that one day we may see gold, silver, and bronze medals awarded for the greatest pole-dancers on the planet.
Although most poles used in pole dancing are a standard diameter of about 2 inches, there are two types of poles used in the sport. The most common is the stationary pole, which is usually fixed from the floor to the ceiling. The other is the spinning pole, which rotates around on its axis using ball bearings. Spinning poles are usually used for attaining greater momentum to perform tricks that require high speed.
Regardless of the type of pole, many of the tricks performed in pole dancing incorporate every muscle of the body, making the sport an excellent total body exercise. Tricks vary from different types of spins, to inversions, to holds, to climbs and falls. Performers often must learn to support the body in precarious yet aesthetically pleasing positions, using only a few inches of skin such as the inner thighs, ankles, or hands. As a result, most pole dancers develop amazing body strength and create bodies that are in peak physical condition.
For an impressive pole dancing display that is sure to both wow and excite your audience, call 855-ZEN-ARTS or email to book one of our amazing pole dancers today!