As the Australian competition season comes to a close, it is notable to acknowledge the variety of styles and styles of competitions out there. If five years ago you would have told me what the number of not only national but international pole competitions would be at the end of 2011 I would probably have laughed in pure disbelief. It is somewhat saddening then to note that throughout the sphere of pole dance there seems to have developed an ‘us and them’ mentality between different styles- fitness versus glamour, heels versus no heels, the presence of sensuality in pole dance or the rise of a contemporary dance-inspired pole style. Whilst one always has the right to choose their style or scene, it is extremely disheartening when these debates enter the public sphere, such as bodies attempting to prevent exotic dancers from participating in competitions or even competitors publically belittling competitions for rules around whether or not heels can be worn.
Diversity is a wonderful thing. It allows us to as performers to explore not only the different facets of our sport, but additionally provides a platform for performers to tap into their own strengths and truly explore personal styles. Exploring the range of performances from last year’s International Pole Championships, which brings together an extremely broad range of styles from all over the globe, is like opening a treasure chest. It is almost impossible to choose a favourite pole dancer when competitors bring such different strengths and offerings. From my own personal perspective, variety in competitions mean someone like me- who has a chronic ankle injury essentially resulting in a complete inability to wear high heels for risk of permanent damage to my entire leg, much to my enduring sadness- have the opportunity to compete at all. To attempt to hinder anyone stylistically is to hinder growth, not only of the sport as a whole but the platform for new tricks and combinations- and who would want that?
It must also be considered that many within pole dance are fighting for our passion to be accepted by mainstream society, a bid to be included in upcoming Olympics a high priority for some. Regardless of whether or not you care about being in the Olympics, one cannot deny the value that having a diverse range of competitions does for the social acceptability as well as accessibility of pole sports/dance/fitness. Having worked in several different studios I, as many others do, recognize that some students find the prospect of taking classes in shorts and heels intimidating, and may prefer to find a studio based purely around fitness. Though it is easy for us within the community to easily liken the two, outside the community many preconceptions still exist.
One can and should never deny the connections between pole dance and its sensual roots, many of the pioneers of pole dance having a background in exotic dance- nor the fun or glamour that comes from dancing in high heels, or the mechanisms that allow women to access their sexuality, whether through the development of confidence and positive body image or the wearing of six inch heels. Conversely, we should not minimize our connections to circus or fitness based roots, and it must also be acknowledged that restricting the performance or competitor base to heel-based competition would only reinforce the connotations that many use not only to belittle the sport but the individuals who choose to participate in it. Gender barriers in pole dance have already been broken down significantly, it seems bizarre then that something as trivial as style can create such tension and negativity.
Competitions are not just an opportunity to showcase skill. They give performers something to strive for, motivation for self-improvement and to not only achieve new personal goals but break new ground for all. Acceptance and encouragement of diversity not only in competitions but pole overall will create the optimum environment for students, competitors and our sport as a whole. Though we may be a large and passionate community, the reality is our sport is still young and growing exponentially. Although we may have our favourite competitions to watch, or may have certain styles that we prefer, instead of criticizing the other branches of pole let us be positive and supportive, and see how much further we can as a collective go.
What are your favourite styles of pole dancing? Do you have preferred styles to watch that are different to how you like to practice? What kinds of pole dancing have you tried?