The following article written by Bella Vendetta originally appeared in “Harlot Magazine” now defunct.
One would think that with the surge in pole dancing as a form of fitness and sport, there would be a big break in stigma against strippers and other sex workers who use pole dance as a way to make money.
One would think that, but one would be wrong.
In almost every article written about pole dancing as a fitness trend, or when a new studio opens you will almost always see some form of variation of the phrase “Pole dancing, it’s not just for strippers anymore.” Every studio owner who gets interviewed by the press seems to want to make it very undeniably clear that they are NOT strippers, and that the type of pole aerobics and gymnastics that they practice are NOT degrading to women and are just a great workout. They want you to know pole dance is a way for a women to feel good about her body, to feel powerful, it certainly is NOT anything like what those nasty, dirty, no self respecting strippers do!
One would think that this legal form of sex work would be more acceptable than ever. There’s televised award shows and showcases showing pole athletes emulating strippers, flawlessly pulling of practiced moves that we have created and in some cases are even named after us.
But more and more we are left OUT of the conversation. Folks want to erase stripper and stripclub culture from the sport. They want to distance themselves from us as much as possible.
There have been many arguments, with no real conclusion as to the origins of pole dancing. Chinese acrobatic pole, ancient Indian Mallakhamb, circus and sideshow performance. Pole fitness enthusiasts like to throw this history at us to try and prove the fact that they are NOT like us, what they do is an ART, a PERFORMANCE, a SKILL. I will never be one to argue about the origins of the craft, but the fact remains that modern pole fitness most closely resembles POLE DANCING, like the kind you see at a stripclub. The acrobats of yesteryear never donned 7 inch pleaser heels or glittery outfits or finished their routines with hair flips and booty pops. That is stripper culture, the culture you want to emulate yet distance yourself from at the same time.
The pole fitness community even went so far as to create a hashtag #notastripper so people on social media wouldn’t get them confused with those pesky, ever present, good for nothing sex workers.
Strippers pushed back, with our own hashtag #yesastripper and many articles erupted talking about the old news of strippers and adult entertainers being kept OUT of the pole fitness movement.
We all know it. At least once a month a group of women come in, tipsy on white wine to talk shit, to let us all know they they are REALLY good at the pole, but like, the REAL sport, not the poor excuse for pole art we are doing on stage.
What a lot of civilians fail to realize is that unless you’re at specific gentleman’s clubs or maybe Las Vegas, whether or not you are nasty on the pole will have very little to do with your success as a dancer. Lots of dancers who are great at the pole save that stuff for special moments, special crowds, people who TIP. Generally, we don’t feel a need to show off for a group of self proclaimed “pole junkies” with disapproving looks on their faces.
Sometimes you DO get the glorious feeling of landing in a loud split, or clacking your heels at just the right time and money rains down from above and the crowd goes wild. Sometimes, and more than likely, you’re risking life and limb to do some incredible upside down feat and people sip their beers and watch the game and don’t pay that much attention.
We didn’t learn our pole tricks in a controlled environment. In a clean studio with brand new sturdy poles that get cleaned multiple times a day. We didn’t practice with no makeup on with a group of our peers in a well lit, encouraging environment. If we cared enough or knew enough we brought our own cleaner and cleaned the pole off in between stage sets to get rid of the baby oil and glitter lotion so we could stay trying to get nasty on the pole.
We practiced in the dark club. With loud music, which more than likely sucked. Sometimes with a fog machine blowing smoke at us. On a stage other sweaty bodies have been rolling around on all day and night. In front of a live audience. Of cheering and jeering and leering men. Drunk men. And drunk ladies. Mean ones who yell “Do a pole trick!” and when you bust out the spin you’d been working on all week yell“that sucks!” and laugh out loud at you.
We practice on dead sunday afternoons and early saturday nights before the crowds get there. In 7 inch or 8 inch heels. Sometimes with a few drinks in us. And we don’t just wear the heels for an hour or two while we’re practicing. We wear them ALL NIGHT LONG. For seven hours or more. And we more than likely also walk up and down stairs to get to stages bathrooms and dressing rooms in them too.
Our peers are our direct competition. And if you are the new girl at the club it might not be some welcoming loving vibe where everyone wants to show you how to do that awesome shoulder mount you saw. Some of the other dancers might want to show you up. They might even be the ones sitting at the bar giving you nasty “so you think you all that” looks from across the room.
Some of us have kids to support and rent to pay and a car to buy and probation fines and student loans and medical bills and other shit going on and that’s why we’re stripping in the first place, so maybe we don’t have enough extra money to buy a $300 Xpole, and maybe we don’t even have a living room big enough to practice spins in anyway.
So we can only practice at the club. And THOSE ones, are the ones who really deserve the goddamn pole awards.
Some of us love pole so much, and get so good at it and have so much fun and love the feeling and want to take it to the next level so we decide to go to a pole studio for lessons. And do you know what happens?
It’s not really a loving welcoming vibe there either. They’ll tell you well, I understand you’re an “exotic dancer” but what we do here is different. It’s aerobics, it’s fitness, it’s gymnastics, it’s aerial yoga, whatever it is it is NOT stripping. And you can argue maybe that you’re a feature dancer and can show them video of you doing inverts and more advanced moves and they’ll still treat you like shit and tell you you need to re learn everything and start with basic beginner lessons.
And if the other students in the class catch wind that you’re a stripper, they’ll alienate you all over again. Just like being the new girl at the club.
Except now you’re PAYING instead of MAKING MONEY.
I put up a photo on My facebook from one of My birthday parties of Me on the pole, a crowd below Me throwing money. My stripper friends liked it.
Any of My non sex worker friends put up photos and videos of their progress on the pole and everyone congratulates them, tells them how strong they are, how amazing. They write blog posts about how hard it is and how much it hurts and proudly post instagram photos of their bruises to prove that they are warriors #notastripper
So, it’s awesome and inspiring and empowering if you pay for the privilege of pole dancing. But if you make a living at it, it’s disgusting and degrading.
So, what can you do? What can WE do? Maybe you now feel a little conflicted because you think pole dancing looks like a lot of fun and you’re friend got a groupon for lessons and you were thinking about trying it.
So, here’s some things you can do.
First of all. If you have enough extra cash to get pole lessons, you have enough money to support a pole dancer making their living as a sex worker. That doesn’t mean you have to go to the club and drop $300. Go on a sunday afternoon when there’s no cover charge. Ask the dancers who is the best at pole there. Find that dancer, tip them $20 and ask for a pole show. They’ll be thankful I promise.
Tell them you’re thinking of taking pole classes, ask if there’s a studio they recommend. Hell, maybe THEY want to teach you and you can have one on one lessons from an actual professional. They can probably even teach you the hair whip for real.
There’s no nationally or internationally accredited way to get certified to be a pole teacher. The artform in it’s current state is that new. It’s exciting. It’s so new that it’s not too late to make this a great venue to destigmatize sex work.
To the studio owners and teachers I say:
Find the best polers in the adult industry and ask them to teach at your studios. Have classes specifically for dancers. By dancers. For dancers. With sliding scale fees. One night a fucking month, it won’t kill your business.
Start a scholarship fund for sex workers who really fucking deserve to be at pole showcases but can’t afford the travel or entrance fees.
If strippers want to come take classes, let them show you what they are capable of so you can place them at the proper skill level. Maybe even learn a thing or two from someone who has potentially been doing this a lot longer than you.
Ask instructors how long they’ve been doing pole. For some it’s as little as 6 months before they are teaching! Go and ask the stripper who is nasty on the pole how long they’ve been practicing….
Don’t let someone who just discovered this make money without recognizing all he hard work and innovation put in by STRIPPERS. Let those who have paid their dues reap the benefits.
Ask studios if they have any former or current dancers who work there. See how they react. If they stick their nose in the air and assure you that nobody like that is associated with the studio, school them and leave. Don’t go to that studio.
Find another one. One that’s more welcoming to sex workers.
If your studio has pole showcases, go to the clubs and let the dancers know. Let them know they are welcome to enter competitions.
And fellow strippers: We have to just keep going to classes, keep entering competitions, keep getting nasty on that pole. Let them know we are NOT going away. Offer lessons. Find out what it takes to become an instructor. Infiltrate! Win awards and shout out the club you work at on the mic. Ask your favorite customer to pay for entrance fees etc if you have to. Show up to the stage.
TODAY on the site, in honor of this post is a full photoset of My VERY FIRST photoshoot at My home club: Club Centerstage in Springfield, MA. I released the full photoset of bb stripper Bella and a full VIP blog about My experience at the club and stripper fashion.
JOIN NOW to see it all!