I am a body in space.
If I have a pole near me, am I due less respect?
How can this be?
Is it about ethical labour?
Which are the ethical jobs and is it easy or complex to categorise them?
Do women’s jobs have a particular ethic to consider?
Are women to be judged harder if you don’t like their job?
Are we all aware of the shared history of sex workers and stage performers?
If I dance then does this piss you off?
Or am I only due respect if we assume that this could not have been my choice.
What if I’m actually one of many feminists on the pole?
Does that mean I can be listened to yet? Or still spoken for?
We’re making a show
It’s poledance which is sometimes sexy, and came from stripclubs
It’s also live electric guitar which is often a lot of willy waggling
It’s a show about shame, power and privilege.
Let’s see what happens.
You can’t mistake pole dancing for something else. Once there’s a pole there, it’s clear what sort of dancing you’re doing: therefore – beyond that single unchangeable condition (you can have more than one pole on the stage, but no fewer) – it’s a form you can bend.
There’s been pole dance performances that incorporate ballet, rollerskating, headbanging, cheerleading, clowning, “stripper-style” and swimming (I mean both in the costume and movement vocabulary, and where the poles are actually in the water).
“Stripper-style” is now one aesthetic choice among many. It denotes slinky floorwork, bump n grind, fiercely big shoes, sometimes actual striptease. My background is pole competitions. While sexy pole can happen in select competitions (sometimes within its own specific category), many will disqualify you if you do it, or are caught doing something that looks like it. It is surprising that despite the massive inflatable grey elephant that comes tied to every pole – a large part of the industry is perplexingly doing its absolute best to pretend like it ain’t derived from sex work. There’s a narrative going around that it originated with Indian mallakhamb in some places, for goodness’ sake. The battle for artistic respectability requires serious cognitive dissonance.
So: pole dancing is unmistakable and yet there are distinctions. When it is ok?
A compliment I had once, from an old man: “I loved it: it wasn’t sexy at all!”
A compliment I had once, from a young woman: “It’s great to see someone being… human on the pole.”
Pole is a very visible arena for tensions around women’s bodies, women’s work, shame, power and privilege. Far from a casual choice – it is impossible not to be political when near this object.
When we discuss our performance with folks, somebody will ask if Keir is pole dancing and Rose is playing the guitar. Sometimes this is asked as a joke – when it’s a joke, it’s always asked by a man. But sometimes it’s a genuine artistic question, and as such it’s a valid one.
The short answer is no, because artistically, we’ve decided it would be pretty boring to watch people doing something they’re terrible at. (For an hour.)
But the longer answer is no, because we think it is more interesting to utilise the forms from where we are and examine how it came to be that we got here. And what we will do now.
Rose Biggin has a PhD in immersive theatre and is a writer/performer. www.rosebiggin.uk
Keir Cooper is a theatre-maker, performer and guitarist. www.keircooper.uk
They have made a piece together – it’s at The Yard in a couple of weeks in NOW16 Festival.