Although it’s hardly the most common form of exercise, pole-dancing has been on the rise in the UK, and has been spreading through the student population of Leeds. Hannah Ryder tells all about her preferred past-time; from the adversity of bringing a pole to halls, to debunking the controversy surrounding pole-dancing.
When I unceremoniously erected a pole in my kitchen, word of the ‘stripper pole in Block J’ flew throughout my accommodation. That label is for the naive. It is not a ‘stripper pole’; not something I was using to entice men, or to strip with, but a genuine, official piece of sporting equipment for my own personal fitness. And yes, it was up in my kitchen.
My flatmates had sniggered when I brought in the extensive set of equipment needed to set up my pole. They’d giggled about my audacity to practise in the kitchen, with no discomfort that anyone might see me. We amused ourselves having a few drunken spins, including a slightly tipsy lesson during pre-drinks. Yet when I revealed I do it for sport they were sceptical of its validity, cracking unknowingly offensive, and clichéd jokes about how flexible I must be, how I must be earning so much money. It is simply aggravating! For someone confined to the ground, afflicted by problems with my legs, most sport was uncomfortably painful for me. It wasn’t until the age of 17 that I stumbled across pole dancing. Suddenly, I wasn’t confined to the ground, instead practising a sport in which you positively look, and feel, like you are flying. It is stunningly beautiful and I fell in love.
By labelling me a slut, a stripper, a whore, you are simply caging yourself, restricting your freedom to feel empowered by something fun and completely harmless.
This isn’t a common opinion. Pole dancing is always stigmatised, overly sexualised and degraded by those who do not practise it. My attempts to stop my friends referring to it as ‘stripping’ fell short, and although it was a harmless joke I felt devalued – my skill unappreciated. Shockingly, word of ‘the stripper pole in Block J’ spread; not through students, but through my accommodation’s management team. It had been up during a kitchen inspection, and according to rumour everyone had had a go on it, including the warden and the manager. I was not informed, nor asked, only hearing about it through a friend who overheard said staff loudly joking about it in the reception. She’d had the kindness to comment I actually did it as a sport. They’d turned something important to me into a running joke, and I was furious. Yet even more infuriating is the women who degrade my sport. In my opinion, the move to accept untruthfully over-sexualised sports is a move towards respecting and understanding female bodies. Pole dancing is sexually empowering, without resigning females to a role of temptress, a ‘slut’. Personally I felt empowered in myself, gaining confidence in how I looked and knowing that, despite learning to respect my sexuality, I was still a powerful woman in my own right. As Antonio Banderas quotes in Take the Lead, ‘if your sixteen year old daughter is strong and secure, and trusts herself, how likely is she to let some idiot knock her up?’. This quote may refer to salsa dancing, a dance that has manage to shake off its stigmatized chains, but it struck me to the core. With contemporary mass media churning out an ideal that women should be fit and active, whilst also penalising those who dare move towards the image of masculinity by gaining large muscles, it’s impossible to know which way to turn. Try pole dancing. Once you begin to respect yourself, it’s impossible for others not to respect you. By labelling me a slut, a stripper, a whore, you are simply caging yourself, restricting your freedom to feel empowered by something fun and completely harmless.
Shockingly, word of ‘the stripper pole in Block J’ spread; not through students, but through my accommodation’s management team.
Honestly, I don’t struggle to see why people disregard pole dancing. I understand, it is done at strip clubs. But you cannot describe a bit of ass shaking, to be crude, as pole dancing. It isn’t feasibly possible to strip when you’re hanging a good few feet in the air. The skill needed to perform some of these tricks should be applauded, and gradually are; as a dance form pole is coming up trumps, with championships spreading across the world. It’s a phenomenon in China, with a growing community in the UK. Cardiff is renowned for the skill of its pole dancing team. We even have a society here at Leeds University and I commiserate you to attend one of their GIAGS. It won’t feel ‘whorish’ or ‘slutty’, it’s more likely to feel like an intense workout. Because that is what it is. There is no correlation between ‘stripping’ and true pole dancing. Yet commonly I suffer jokes and slight taunts. Here I am learning to love, respect and trust my body. I’m getting fit without dreading practises. I have honestly never had more fun and possessing such a rare skill is invigorating. It’s something I can be proud of, talk about without shame. For those of you who only see it as stripping, I can honestly say you’re simply missing out.
Photographs: boostfitnessmarketing.com, Hannah Ryder, Youtube: FLPoleFitnessChamp