Pole dancing, has seen many faces through the years. Once found exclusively in brothels and gentleman's clubs, pole dancing has now become quite mainstream. What used to be closeted and pigeon holed in the genre of stripping is now being widely used as a form of fitness, artistry, sensuality and stress release. With World and US Federations supporting this "sport", people across the world are looking at pole dancing with new eyes. But where did it all begin?
There are some that are of the opinion that the rather chaste Victorians re-branded the historic May pole as something of innocence as previously it had been a pagan fertility dance dating back to the 12th century. The origins of Mallakhamb (man of power or gymnasts pole) which is yoga practiced on a wooden pole and on rope (practiced in India), may date back to 12th century but the discipline is suspected to be formed as recently as 250 years ago. Another closely related discipline is Mallastambha (gymnasts pillar). This "pole dance" practiced by wrestlers incorporates the use of an iron pole to build up strength. Mallastambha is really no longer practiced. Today pole Mallakhamb is practiced by men and boys and rope Mallakamb (Indian rope tricks) is practiced by women and girls.
Throughout history, many dance forms have had to strive to gain the recognition and the respect that each deserves. Before they were widely accepted, dance forms such as ballet, the waltz and the tango came under severe scrutiny. Ballet, as classically conservative as it is viewed today was the pole dancing of its day. Any dance that highlighted the feminine form or physical contact was often viewed this way. Remember in the 16th and 17th centuries the only physical contact or self expression that was accepted in public was the occasional handshake or blush. The tangos, the latin sensual dances were very often linked to brothels.
In the height of the American Depression traveling fairs would go from town to town entertaining the crowds featuring erotic Hoochi Coochi Dancers. The word Hoochi Coochi originates from the hip movement performed by the Hoochi Coochi dancers. Today we would simply equate it with the good ole bump and grind. The pole girls would dance suggestively on a small stage in front of crowds of cheering men. Think Vaudeville. The tent pole became known as the dance pole. Pole dancing started to evolve to bars as burlesque became more acceptable in the 50’s. Not much was heard about pole dancing until the 1980’s when pole dancing and striptease became popular in Canada and then the US.
In 2006 pole dancing took the biggest leap with the evolution of pole fitness, allowing everyday women to take up pole dancing as part of their fitness routine. Actually, a large percentage of women who take pole dancing classes eventually get their own poles in their homes! I can include myself in that number. With the ease of portable, removable tension mount poles, one could even take them on vacation.
Pole dancing continues to grow into a widely accepted, reputable form of dance fitness and exercise. Cirque du Solei have used Chinese pole acts. The difference in Chinese pole is that skin must be covered as the pole is covered in a sleeve of rough rubber that allows grip. Many techniques are similar to pole dance, but the performance is less fluid. Recently there has been some tentative crossover. Much of the aerial work in circus has crossover and uses similar techniques to pole dance. These include corde lisse (a descendant of rope Mallakhamb) and Tissu or silks.
Although attitudes are starting to change, by not calling the act 'pole dancing', instead referring to it as ‘pole fitness’; it is deemed acceptable by the general public. Some believe that pole dancing should keep its name and move forward with artistic pole dance by women. Pole dancing is a form of dance that involves dancing on and around a highly polished metal pole. It incorporates gymnastic moves, with freestyle movement, ballet and modern dance in different dimensions which include static and moving positions on the pole an
d dancing free of the pole. We even look forward to a Men's competition in the 2010 World Championships. But can those guys really upstage the ladies? I think not ;)