Empowerment in Pole



Everybody in the pole community talks about how pole dancing is empowering – that is, until they don’t like what another pole dancer is doing.  This is fascinating behavior – because it does not reflect the principles of empowerment at all.  So why does it happen?  And what do we mean when we talk about pole dancing being empowering? Let’s take a look at one definition of empowerment:


Empowerment encourages people to gain the skills and knowledge that will allow them to overcome obstacles in life or in their work environment and ultimately, help them with self-growth and/or their role in society.


So someone might come to pole dancing class to increase their confidence in their physical bodies through strength training.  Or they may come to increase their confidence in their sexuality. What we frequently forget is that pole dancing is empowering to different people for different reasons.  In the same way that a person might choose to ski for pleasure and relaxation, another will choose to ski for challenge and competition. As pole dancers, it’s important that we understand and accept the different reasons people decide to pole dance.  And given the stigma that still surrounds pole dancing, it’s important that as a community we present a unified front to the general public.  I started poled dancing because it was an amazing emotional and sexual outlet for me.  One of my closest friends in the pole dancing community was drawn to its athleticism and purity of form.  There is not a “right way” to pole dance.


But even more importantly it’s essential that as a community we resist denouncing one another.  As a primarily female dominated industry we are at a high risk for what psychologists refer to as relational aggression.  Relational aggression encompasses behaviors that harm others by damaging, threatening to damage or manipulating one’s relationships with his/her peers, or by injuring one’s feelings of social acceptance.  When you criticize or put down a pole dance style that is different from yours, you are undermining that group’s social acceptance in the community. One of the things that makes pole dancing so unique is that it grew from an informal art.  That is, pole dancing does not have a strict set of guidelines for movement the way ballet or other formal arts do. This makes it highly accessible to a vast number of women and men, who can choose to make it whatever they please.  Deciding that one style of dancing is better than another undermines the very roots of pole dance, not to mention the empowerment tagline so often associated with pole dancing.


It’s perfectly acceptable and healthy to have your own preferences when it comes to your dance style.  And it’s important to voice your
opinions.  However, it is just as important to respect the stylistic choices of your fellow pole dancers. After all, part of empowering others includes accepting that their choices have as much value as yours do.


- Claire Griffin Sterrett

Editor in Chief of Vertical Art and Fitness Magazine

Author of Pole Story