Over the last year pole dancing has become a struggle for me. Not because the moves are hard or because I can't bend my body in unfathomable ways but because of the way I often see that pole dancers treat one another. Let me also begin this letter by saying, I myself, am guilty of mistreating friends and fellow pole dancers. Yes, I was embroiled in a 2 year fight with someone over a facebook post. I was hurt so I shut her out. I was so angry and my pride was so hurt I could barely look at her. It was the inception of Peace & Pole and my role as an Ambassador that made me rethink our fight. As I found and felt myself being mistreated and excluded I started to realize the gravity of the situation. I would have dreams about this long lost friend, inside I did miss her a lot but couldn't bring myself to recognize that because truthfully my ego and pride was in the way. I wanted her to apologize to me. Two years later after a bunch of coffee and wine - we sat for the first time and recognized how we had hurt each other, teared up a little, hugged and have worked on reforming a broken friendship. Was arguing over our individual visions of what the pole dancing community is/should be worth it? NO! NO! NO! We missed out on years of friendship and points in our lives where we could have really used each others support because *I* was too proud. I take the blame for this one because I have difficulty expressing myself verbally, if I'm hurt I tune out and freeze out.
Over the last year I've been forced to realize some ugly truths about myself. As I learn to communicate better and understand my own emotions I am seeing more clearly some upsetting things in the world of pole.
This entry has been a long time coming but today I am overcome with words that I want to share based on some recent happenings.
United We Stand Divided We Fall. Uniting a group of passionate, talented and brilliant people is difficult because with the talent, passion and brilliance comes independent thought and opinion. I'd like to simply point out that we can have commonality and still have our individual beliefs and missions. I have never met a pole dancer who thought pole dancing was only for them. I've only met warm and welcoming people who are happy to share their passion with everyone they meet, encouraging whom ever will listen to take up pole. I think it's safe to say as a broad goal or perhaps belief, we all think pole is awesome and think everyone should have one. Where we begin to differ is what we define pole as. It gets judgmental on all fronts - this is what I don't like to see. I am not a fonji performing acrobatic dancer, neither am I as sexy as I'd like to think I am, but that doesn't mean that I cannot be inspired and enjoy the givings of other performers who are different than I am . I can have my own opinion on competitions, competition outcomes, rules and regulations set by certain organizations but what I don't have a right to do is actively put someone down for their choices, opinions or style. I have right to my own thought and it is my job as a person sharing space with others in a COMMUNITY to respect even the things I am not fond of, so long as those things are not unsafe, harmful, illegal or unethical.
Unity begins to dissipate as pole grows. In some ways this is healthy and okay. It's just important to remember that inspite of our thoughts or feelings about the way in which pole is presented, performed or regulated that we all agree that pole dancing is amazing and has many, many facets to it. This brings me to the heartbreak I feel today seeing certain situations unfold in what I feel has been a divisive way.
Pole Organizations. Pole is small. Most organizations are 1-2 people. We do not yet have a large, known panel of pole dancers running the pole world. This is both a good and a bad thing. At the moment we have many small organizations planning events and competitions for us - the community. These organizers spend tireless hours considering how they want to present themselves, their organization and pole dancing to the world. Backing up a second. I had mentioned that talented, passionate, brilliant people have their own individual thoughts and beliefs - this translates to currently that organizations run by 1 or 2 individuals will have specific visions. Do you know what is awesome about this? We are creating an opportunity for EVERYONE'S feelings. If you are a fitness person - it's all about the tough tricks, no heels, no sexy - there is a place for you! If you are all about the sexy, 8 inch heels and writhing floorwork - there is a place for you! If you are all about taking your amazing dance skill and combining it with pole - there is a place for you! Why? Because all of our organizations are just 1 or 2 people and somewhere in their thinking and vision of pole lies something that you will agree with and want to be apart of. The organizations that differ from you - offer new opportunities you wouldn't be interested in. That's really an amazing and freeing thing.
Let's Get Personal. One of the problems with pole being so small currently is that there are few opportunities and I feel it's the lack of having a lot of opportunity that creates so much personal anger towards organizations. I remember seeing a competition that required splits and being angry simply because at that time I could not perform the trick and therefor didn't qualify. It was a bitter pill to swallow that one skill would keep me from qualifying from the only existing competition. Out of that frustration for me and others came the thought that perhaps there should be more competitions with differing criteria. The competitions we see today are the embodiment of someone's vision - not a large corporation. That person sat down and took the time to really think about what they think the best pole dancer would be - for some competitions it's the finalist with the best tricks, for others to be the best you must perform certain moves and going further for some organizations it's a full blown image. I remember when the USPDF first came about and one of the pieces of judging criteria was sensuality or sex appeal. I don't believe this is any longer criteria as pole dancing has come a long way since the inception of the USPDF. However, let's go back to that first year and think about dancers who are not sexy - I wonder if they felt segregated against or simply felt they didn't qualify? No one was upset that year with the winner or the criteria. It was OKAY to judge competitors on sex appeal! Today there are many would disagree with that criteria and be upset about it. At the end of the day that was the vision the USPDF had of their perfect winner. Does their perfect winner fall in line with what perhaps you or someone else may think is the best? Maybe. Maybe not. But is it wrong? No. When people disagreed with criteria they created new competitions (opportunities) with new criteria. Simple as that.
As competitions and events evolve and multiply we see an array of rumors, turmoil and unhappiness with pole dancing as a competition or a show. We have seen pole dancing around the world grow from something once done in nightclubs to something that now includes men and even children. We all have our own opinions about pole moving from the sexy to something more grand scale and it's our job to promote pole dancing the way WE see fit PERSONALLY. It is not the job of someone who runs an event to CHANGE their personal and moral beliefs to fit what an individual or group of people believe pole dancing should be. It's our job as individuals to seek out like minded organizations and support them by participating, trying out and performing.
Sexy Vs. Fitness. Let me begin this by saying inspite of some personal growth over the last year in my dance I still fall in line with the sensual if I had to describe myself. I love hip rolls, slow writhing movements, floor work, story telling and the unabashed fierce feeling I have when I see myself in a sparkled bikini whipping my hair around like Sammy Hagar. LOVE! With that said, I want to take you to a moment in August 2012 the day before I would compete, sitting watching the North America Pole Dance Championships and watching Samantha Star take the stage. I didn't know much about Sam outside of her youtube videos. I knew she was strong, a fitness type dancer with some brilliant tricks but that was all. Half way through her routine I look my Agent Kat and we both are laughing - just laughing at the sheer astonishment and JOY of what we were seeing! Sam's routine has been my favorite tricked out routine I've ever seen. It was dramatic, interesting and fun - I could feel her passion for what she does in the back of the room. I had goosebumps. This was the first time someone acrobatic had held my attention and made me FEEL something. We still aren't quite sure what was going on in her story - I think she was an alien on planet discovering pole, Agent Kat thought perhaps she was a robot. In that moment what happened to me was transforming. That was the first time that I realized I enjoyed athletic pole. I realized what my trainer Leigh Ann had been saying - you absolutely can be an athletic artist. Up until that point - I thought of some the amazing routines I had seen over the years - and hadn't realized there were many more trick oriented routines that I loved but I gave them little attention because I couldn't dissect them for personal use - instead I would find myself wandering back over to Karol and Alethea and drooling over their body waves, leg movements and sexy tricks. I had deprived myself of some amazing things that could inspire me because I decided I only liked sexy dancing. I know and have friends who feel the opposite, who blush watching our sexy stars grind away sensually in their mind blowing tricks. They are missing out on some amazing art! Just like I was. So what's the point of all this name dropping? The point is - if we can't appreciate things outside of what we do it's really hard to grow. I would challenge fitness, tricky based dancer today to do a private sexy dance for yourself and to myself and others like me - I challenge you to trick it up! Put on some dubstep and have some fun.
Removing Sex and the Sex Industry From Pole. Did pole come from stripping? Yeah. Does it have to stay there? No. Why? Simply because if the goal of this loving community is to include everyone we cannot keep it for strippers or the sensual only. I know many of us want to. Many of us don't want the heels and hip rolls to go away but just because some express themselves using the pole in a different way than we do doesn't make it bad. The influx of gymnasts and trained dancers has created a wealth of new movements and tricks that we wouldn't otherwise have! Are those tricks for everyone? Will everyone like them? No. But that's what makes art amazing - you can paint with whichever color you like and who knows in a year you might just want to use that color - I for one, think it's great that the color exists and is available to me.
Just because someone is a pole dancer or using an apparatus found in a strip club doesn't mean they have to support stripping or the sex industry . I think a better conversation about this is asking the personal question "Why don't you support the sex industry?" There are a thousand good reasons someone may not be sex industry friendly. I personally have issues about the gross abuse of women that happens in the sex industry as a whole which is why I am very delicate with the whole subject. I have had very good friends employed in varying aspects of the sex industry, some of whom are very successful and happy and some who've been mistreated and abused. While I know that abuse happens in all jobs and industries (TRUST ME, I KNOW) what really irritates me is that in the sex industry it can be physically damaging to a woman (or a man.) I have seen blind eyes turned towards women who have been raped, molested and physically abused by bar management and customers alike. This kind of thing has to stop. This doesn't mean I don't support sex workers, it's because I DO support them, I want all of them to work in clean and safe environments but what it does mean is that I have to ask myself if it's something I want to be associated with. I personally have never set a rule or standard disallowing anyone from any background to perform simply because my events are for the sole purpose of the community to bring us together so that we can enjoy one another in a safe, clean environment. However, with that said, there are others out there who are actively promoting pole dancing to a whole new audience, that new audience becomes MY audience once they get hooked. It is a cycle. Just because my vision is different doesn't mean it's better. I firmly support EVERYONE who is out there making a difference with our sport/art/dance and sharing it with those who may not otherwise know how amazing and empowering this is. I would love to see everyone expressing themselves through pole dance and feeling the power and strength I feel. I want everyone to feel great about themselves. I now realize though, the way I dance may be off putting to others, I'm not going to change it, just recognize that there are different ways to bring in new people and they will be attracted to different aspects of pole.
The only thing I have found that I truly cannot support is the in fighting, name calling and bullying that I sometimes see when things get controversial. Instead of anger, I'd like to see conversation and education. Let's not make it personal anymore. Let's stop telling people their vision is wrong because some people disagree with it. Let's start making a difference and looking for places that we can create more opportunity for performers and competitors. Let's ask questions that get us closer to understanding one another. Let's not forget that we all LOVE what we do and we are blessed to have the talents and abilities we have. Let's take inspiration from one another and show kindness in the difficult times.
I encourage everyone reading this today to find a way to share their vision of pole dancing in a kind and ethical way with the community and the world. How? Make a video. Write a blog. Post pictures. Go say something kind to someone about their pole dancing. Watch a video of a type of pole you never would before. Dance in a way you've never danced before. Everyone reading this today, share your story. Tell us about YOU, how YOU got started, what YOU love about pole, YOUR thoughts on the sex industry. Let's open up a dialogue that will help us learn and grow from one another - let's share the negatives in a positive way. Let's see if someone we may not always agree with gives us something new to think about.
And finally, reach out to those local to you. Peace begins at home. Think about your words and actions and see if there is a better to enact them so as to connect with another dancer and understand her/his hurt and pain. It's so amazing that we have all of these differing opinions because for me at least, I grow more in an industry that I love because you the community give me things to consider that I never would have before. I would love for us to be able agree to disagree but still kiss and make up.