There shouldn’t be a stigma around pole fitness anymore

So why is there?

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It’s the fitness craze which has swept the nation, but still pole fitness is branded seedy.

Even now, after our very own uni finally established the Pole Dance Society earlier this semester, dancers are still being viciously labelled strippers and prostitutes. One even admitted they’d be hesitant to put it on their CV because the sickening stigma still exists, and prejudice prevails.

Despairingly, the stereotypical pole dancer is pigeon-holed as a young, attractive, skinny “slut” who gets their kit off for a living, even though pole dancing has been around for years. Pole fitness itself strives to distance itself from its pole dancing origins as an attempt to rebrand the sport. The reality is you cannot tell a pole dancer from their appearance, age, gender, sex life or choice of clothing, and this narrow perception shouldn’t exist.

When trying to set up the university’s society, now President Jenna Davison had to convince the Guild it was a valid sport before they’d even consider it. And it’s not the first time a society like this has caused controversy at the University. In October 2013, burlesque classes were banned because of their “promiscuous” nature.

In a letter to the Guild, Jenna wrote: “The negative connotations faced by pole dancers are the associations with strip clubs, which could not be further from the truth. Obviously, the sexy side will always be present, but other branches of pole dancing include art, sport and fitness.

“Some of pole dancing’s loudest critics have never tried it nor witnessed the sport and dance element themselves. It is no sexier than any other dance troops present at the university. Of course, pole dancing has sexual origins but it doesn’t necessary represent this as a modern fitness activity.”

Second year Emma Cassidy, who studies Veterinary Medicine, explained the obstacles she has had to overcome as a member of Pole Society. She said: “I’ve had a lot of stick with my weight, as apparently ‘fatsos’ like me shouldn’t be poling. Some people can be pretty offensive, and other people look me up and down with raised eyebrows, generally very surprised I can swing my lardy arse round a pole.

“Even I think of a slender tall person with long hair and gentle flowing movement when I think of pole fitness, which is really odd as I only know like two people who fit that description. It is important for us to be differentiated from the stripping side of things, but if people want to practice and make it seductive and sexy, they should. I do feel the word has to get out there about just how diverse it can be.”

Scarily, Emma isn’t the only one who has had abuse hurled at her for being involved with pole fitness. Zoology student Lauren Burton doesn’t brag about her dedication to the sport, and even confesses she’d consider hiding it from an employer.

She said: “If I post a photo on Facebook I have comments saying ‘you’ll be a stripper yet’. When I’ve been out, if I pole with friends we get crowded by guys, and girls get really bitchy because they can’t do it. I’ve had guys ‘joking’ they’re going to take a picture up my skirt. I’m not sure I would tell an employer about it because it’s not necessarily any of their business. But, I wouldn’t be completely opposed to telling them because I do it for fitness.”

Fresher Caroline Mucklow refrains from calling it pole dancing because of the harsh stereotypes surrounding the activity.  She told The Tab: “I’m so glad I started pole, it’s so good for you and I feel like it’s already improving my core strength. But I am so fed up with the stereotype. The moment you tell anyone you do pole dancing, they automatically make comments assuming all girls who do pole are easy and slutty, which is probably why we call it pole fitness. We feel the need to make a point we’re doing it for fitness and fun, rather than because we’re sluts.”

Jenna, who also studies at the University, blamed ignorance for the stigma. She added: “I don’t think people understand just how versatile pole is. I am interested in the performance side of it – which if you said this to a non-poler they would think meant stripper – but I mean routines which evoke emotion and give you the wow factor. Many people I pole with are into the sport and fitness side of it, because obviously it’s an all body work out and what it does to your body is insane. It’s so strongly related to gymnastics and requires a lot of skill.

“Obviously there is always going to be a stripper aspect to pole, but that is one element of it. If it was just representing strippers, then it doesn’t correlate to the amount of amazing world champion male pole dancers there are. I personally find pole a part of my life rather than a hobby, and apart from what I study at uni, it’s the only thing I have really had a passion for.”

Just what will it take for this absurd, unjustified stereotype to end?