News has just broken that Olympic Pole Dancing ambassador Katie Coates, through her passionate and relentless campaigning for the last decade, has managed to get pole dancing recognised as an “official” sport by the Global Association of International Sports Federation (GAISF). This takes us one step closer to acceptance as an Olympic sport, which has always been her endgame.
While this is wonderful news for many in the community, we are undoubtedly divided on this issue. My own personal views aside, I wanted to open a discussion on why many polers believe inclusion of pole dancing in the Olympics could have a negative impact on our sport, but also explore the flip side – why many are thrilled at the news.
To start with, let’s look at the arguments in favor of campaigning for inclusion in the Olympics.
These seem to revolve mainly around publicising and “legitimising” pole dancing. However this could be broken into a couple of discussions:
BY “LEGITIMISING” THE SPORT, WE BREAK DOWN SOME OF THE BARRIERS TO ENTRY THAT MANY MAY HAVE, MEANING MORE BUSINESS FOR STUDIOS, WHO ARE THE LIFEBLOOD OF OUR COMMUNITY
For me, this is the strongest argument in favour of the campaign. Leaving aside “winning medals” (which I think is possibly the least valuable argument in this discussion), when I speak to studio owners, the ever-present concern is getting new beginners in their doors.
Disregarding the fact that some would say there is an over-supply problem with studio numbers vs. local population, few would argue the fact that many of their potential target market do not consider pole “on their radar” because of their misinterpretation around what pole is.
While athletes on the Olympic stage may not be a true representation of pole, they do provide a very obvious alternative aesthetic to the typical “sexy” style that is still most commonly associated with pole dancing in the muggle world.
It is also true that “pole athletics” do not feature at all on the timetable of many studios, however making something “mainstream” would undoubtedly attract more numbers to try it out.
BY PUTTING POLE ON THE OLYMPIC STAGE, WE WOULD CEASE TO EXPERIENCE THE SUBTLE (OR NOT SO SUBTLE) JUDGMENTS AROUND THE ACTIVITY, WHICH DRIVE SENSATIONALIST STORIES SUCH AS THE TIRED OLD “KIDS ON POLE” DEBATES
While many of us don’t suffer from our friends and family’s judgment over our chosen passion, it’s clear that some of us still do. Almost every second day I see discussions in pole dancing chat groups about boyfriends, family, acquaintances and others influential in a poler’s social circles, having insulted or abused that poler simply because she has shared an image or video of herself pole dancing.
By offering a clear alternative perspective to the ingrained prejudices of society at large, we could vastly improve the poling experience of so many of our community members.
Some of the perspectives put forward by people opposed to the Olympic dream include the following:
IF THERE WERE A LARGER DEMAND FOR POLE CLASSES, WE COULD SEE PLACES LIKE LARGE GYM CHAINS OFFERING POLE FITNESS
There is no doubt truth in this concern, and probably the argument that speaks to me most in the “no” camp. Of course pole already exists in gyms, however at this point it is most commonly found in small boutique gyms where the pole area is run more like a pole studio, rather than part of the broader “group fitness” program.
The reason this could be problematic, for me mostly boils down to safety concerns. It’s no secret I am critical of pole teachers who don’t have relevant qualifications and the hard truth is that many non-qualified teacher exist now, even without expansion into places like your local YMCA.
However, at least with a dedicated pole studio the focus is more likely to be on creating a safe and fun learning environment. In the gym paradigm (where the approach is maximum turnover for minimal outlay), pole is more likely to be taught by existing gym instructors who are “trained” in a syllabus, without having an understanding of the unique mechanics behind pole and how that can so easily lend itself to injuries.
For me, safety is an absolute can of worms already – bringing others into the mix who have little to no foundation in the community seems like a recipe for disaster.
Besides this, learning pole from someone who doesn’t even do much pole would do very little to spark the passion in prospective students – which undermines the whole idea of getting more people to do it in the first place.
OUR “UNDERGROUND” AND “NON-MAINSTREAM” STATUS IS WHAT MADE POLE APPEALING IN THE FIRST PLACE
I have heard people say this and to be honest I think it’s a self-centred argument. Pole can be anything you want it to be, regardless of who around you is doing it, whether it’s “mainstream” or not.
“POLE FITNESS” AS IT WOULD APPEAR IN THE OLYMPICS WOULDN’T ACCURATELY REPRESENT OUR SPORT AND OUR ART
This is a legitimate argument, because it absolutely wouldn’t. The Olympics is no place for the kooky creativity of some Pole Theatre routines, or the glorious peacocking of Miss Pole Dance. While providing an alternative “athletic” vision might be appealing for some, others might find it boring, unattainable and/or alienating.
Food for thought – would the increased coverage for pole caused by Olympic inclusion mean more people would spend the time finding out about the diversity of pole styles that exist? A YouTube search will never be short on providing a plethora of options!
THE NEED TO “LEGITIMISE” POLE DANCING COULD BE SEEN AS A CLEANSING OF OUR STRIP CLUB ROOTS, WHICH MANY MAY PERCEIVE AS CREATING FURTHER STIGMA AGAINST STRIPPERS OR STRIPPER/EXOTIC STYLE POLE
I have heard this as an argument, and again I’m not convinced by it. However, I can genuinely see both sides here.
I am indubitably in favor of exalting not just all styles, but all backgrounds of polers. As a former stripper and feminist, I consider the stigma around all forms of sex work and female sexual empowerment a relic of the misogynistic views and practices that have governed our society for millennia. It is both damaging and tiresome.
I believe discussions around “pole fitness” need to be very careful so as not to alienate or further stigmatise other forms of pole. Unfortunately the easy way around these discussions is for proponents of “pole fitness” to distance themselves from our stripper foremothers, and thus contribute to the problem.
I don’t believe the act of publicising “pole fitness” is in itself problematic, how it is handled would be the issue. Ultimately, it could be used as an opportunity to throw light on these discussions and actually help challenge these prejudices.
Ideally it would, but realistically it may not.