A Brief History Of Pole Dance

28th Dec 2011

The Pole Story"If for some reason, the idea of your dancing being connected to the strip club scene is upsetting to you, if you desperately need to distance what you do from what those 'other girls' do, if you truly believe that you are doing this because it’s just a really good workout, then I strongly suggest you spend some time thinking about why you chose pole dancing.  Because there are a million ways to get fit without putting on six inch stilettos, a bikini and swinging sensually around a pole."  Quote from The Pole Story.

There has been a push lately to distance "pole fitness" from the strip clubs.  While pole dancing is often associated with stripping, the strip clubs aren't even where pole dancing started.  What is the history of dancing on a pole?

Maypole dance, which dates as far back as the 12th Century, is a pagan fertility celebration.  One version was performed around a wooden pole, as dancers twisted ribbons around the pole as they danced.  You can usually see it recreated in modern times at Renaissance Faires.

Mallakhamb is an Indian sport where tricks are performed on a wooden pole.  It also possibly dates back to the 12th Century, and was revived in the 19th Century. The English translation of Mallakhamb is "pole gymnastics."  The pole used in Chinese Pole more closely resemble the poles used in modern day pole dance.  However, these poles are often covered in rubber to allow performers to "stick" better.  These two sports are generally male-dominated. 

According to Sheila Kelley's book, "The S-Factor," pole dancing in the West started in the 1920's when the middle pole of a circus sideshow tent became the "dancing pole."  She also says that pole dancing moved into clubs in the 1950's as burlesque became more accepted.  Sheila credits the 1980's for making strip clubs popular in the United States and Canada.  However, "[t]he earliest recorded pole dance was in 1968 with a performance by Belle Jangles at Mugwump strip joint in Oregon."  Quote from ezinearticles.

Fawnia Dietrich opened the first exotic dance school in Canada in 1994.  Sheila Kelley followed suit by opening multiple studios in the United States after training in exotic dance for a movie released in 2000.  Strangely, although exotic pole dance appears to have originated in Canada and the United States, pole sisters in many parts of Europe and Australia seem to have an easier time being accepted.  It is not clear when pole dancing became popular in the UK and Australia but some of the most talented pole dance professionals have come from those parts of the world.

Although many people are trying to make pole dancing about fitness-only by adding gymnastics-inspired moves or taking contortion classes in order to bend in amazing ways, we should still acknowledge to the roots from which it was born.  There are many ways in which we can get in shape so if we are bothered by the exotic roots of pole dance, perhaps we should find another fitness routine. 

Photo: Claire of the Pole Story courtesy of Gregory Beylerian.