Perception vs. Reality

In order to understand what pole dancing is really about, perhaps society needs to examine what goes on behind the closed doors of a pole studio, where rows of vertical apparatuses suddenly become roadblocks to the outside world.

Perhaps people need to understand that inside of these facilities, what occurs is much more than dancing. Blood is sometimes shed, tears are sometimes shown, self-doubt sometimes coats confidence, and triumph sometimes tastes better than any meal the average person has had.

Muscles are stretched and strained as bodies contort in inconceivable ways. Strength is tested as dancers pull their body weight around the pole, straining to hold gravity-defying positions with attempt to make them look effortless. Nerves get worked and reworked while limbs grip the pole until they become numb to pain. Dizziness ensues and eyes wince as they peer down at the ground from 16 feet in the air.

Oh, and bruises, or “pole kisses,” as pole dancers so affectionately call them, form below surfaces of skin as welcomed badges of honor.

Inside of a pole studio, people can find exactly the same type of hard work, dedication, pain, and emotion that permeates any training facility of any major sport.

Yet, some don’t realize that’s so.

“I wish people understood that it’s hard,” Victoria Holt says of the discipline. “When people try to act like this is easy or that anybody could do it, that gets me going. People don’t realize it hurts and that it’s not easy. It’s not. We make it look easy because we work our butts off.”

And if someone starts taking a class for another person—to impress a partner, to join a friend so he or she doesn’t feel so alone—the opportunity for self-growth can be enough to keep them going long term.

“I’ve gotten so much stronger, definitely,” Holt says of her own experiences. “I’ve definitely learned so much about myself and how far I’m able to push myself.” (Hear more about Holt’s relationship with pole dancing and instructing in our interview below.)

Victoria Holt, pole dance instructor at Portland-based Ecdysiast.

“It’s a physical workout which is great,” adds Shannon Gee, the owner of Ecdysiast. “And also the creative aspect that allows individuals to express and create really adds so much goodness,” as does the challenge and pain that comes along with the practice, she continues.

“All of those things really create and allow the space for one to feel super empowered and strong and overcoming, and it’s just interesting how that’s so wrapped up into one apparatus and one genre of aerial movement. I just kind of find it amazing.” (Hear more of Gee’s thoughts on this and what it was like to open a pole studio in 2008 after working for years as a stripper in Portland in our interview below.)

Shannon Gee, co-founder and artistic director at Portland-based Ecdysiast.

Sometimes the people who take pole classes have had no little to no dance background, but are ready to rediscover themselves, like Tiffany Jane, who started pole dancing in 2012.

“When I started, I had just moved to California. I was coming out of a very bad situation, a very bad relationship. I was in a very dark place,” Jane says. “Pole kind of became that outlet for me to just escape mentally and build my self-esteem because I had a lot of body issues. It helped with confidence and coming back to finding me.”

Pole doesn’t just heal body issues. It also heals trust issues, Holt says.

“I just love how powerful it feels, people believing in themselves and trusting themselves,” she says. “That’s a really hard thing to do, and a lot of the time you don’t realize you don’t trust yourself, or that you have insecurities with your body. It really comes out in here.”

Sometimes the journey to greater self-confidence unleashes undiscovered dance abilities. Other times it leads to deeper flexibility, endurance, or understanding of the body. But it almost always results in rich friendships.

“In the pole dance studios, there’s a relationship and rapport between students,” Annemarie Davies says. “Students are coming there for a very special type of experience and they are all very aware of that and are all very kind to each other. It turns into a little family for them.”

That’s because competition in a pole studio does not often exist between students, Jane says.

“Everyone really joins together to learn from each other versus trying to bring each other down or beat each other. Really, we are all in this together to make this movement and grow the pole dancing fitness community as a whole.”

Up next: The Future of Pole Dancing