What is the history of pole dancing? Where did it come from?
The true origins of pole dancing are unclear, tracing back through African tribal dances, May Poles in the 12th century and finally 1950s burlesque. From fertility dances, attracting male attention and exercise, the purposes for pole dancing have varied just as much as its history has.
Some people believe that the history of pole dancing originated from African tribal dancing. Women would dance around a wooden pole in front of the men they were engaged to, this was believed to show how she wanted her future husband to make love to her.
More pole dancing came about in the 12th century with the May Pole. The dance was performed to boost fertility, in which where women would dance around a vertical wooden pole.
It was typically performed in May and lasted until the year 1547, when the May Pole was destroyed as a pagan idol.
The Victorians created another form of may pole dancing, using ribbons. In some cases the maypole is a permanent feature that is only utilised during the festival, although in other cases it is erected specifically for the purpose before being taken down again.
Mallastambha is also very similar to pole dancing, this is an ancient Indian sport where strength training was completed on an iron pole, known as the stambha. Mallastambha builds physique in the same way as pole dancing, the men would twist, turn, bend and hold positions up the length of the pole, developing dexterity and agility first used during the 12th century, as a form of training for wrestlers.
The word “Malla” means wrestler, while “khamb” translates as pole. The sport of Mallkhamb has athletes climb up a wooden pole, 55 cm in diameter,at the base, and 35, at the top, and perform various poses and feats. The pole is most often made of teak, because of its sturdiness, and before exercises begin, it’s rubbed with castor oil, to prevent friction.
Pole dancing appeared again in the 1920s. During the Depression, circuses would travel around with tents. In the side shows, women would dance around the tent poles, sliding up and down and holding poses. This entertainment gained quite a bit of popularity and were called “hoochie coochie” dances.
Word of the sexy new dance spread quickly throughout the country and was much talked about. Mention of the Hoochie Coochie dance at the dinner table drew sharp glances from wives. Children mimicked the dance on school playgrounds. Men snuck out to watch the Hoochie Coohie dancers perform in erotic back alley shows. The Hoochie Coochie dance craze continued through the early 1900′s and slowly faded into history as even more erotic forms of dance (e.g. striptease) took center stage.
With the growth of burlesque in the 1950s, pole dancing moved from the circus tents into bars. The pioneers of burlesque such as the famous performer Gypsy Rose Lee, helped spread the art of the strip-tease, which involves a gradual and sensual undress to partial or complete nudity.
Performers usually move at a slow pace, with sexually suggestive movements, taking off layers one by one, or covering certain body parts with their hands as an additional tease. It is said that Gypsy began strip-teasing by accident, when a wardrobe malfunction caused a strap of her dress to come undone exposing her to the audience, as she tried to cover-up and re-assemble her outfit.
Then it evolved into something more modern and familiar to some of us. The earliest recorded pole dance in the U.S was in Oregon in 1968 and was performed by Belle Jangles at Mugwumps strip joint.
The craze took off and spread to Canada’s red light district in Vancouver, where pole dancing was featured throughout many nightclubs. The women would dress in themed costumes, use musical routines and dance seductively in their performances.
These shows quickly spread to the United States, popping up through gentlemen’s clubs and strip clubs everywhere and lost the whole ‘theme musical’ aspect but kept the seduction, scant amount of clothing and pole.
In the 1990s, Fawnia Mondey, a Canadian, was one of the worlds first pole dancing champions and in the 1990′s Fawnia produced the very first instructional pole dance DVD which was the first step towards pole dancing becoming the International fitness craze that it is today.
As this came out, pole dancing spread throughout the world, including the UK and Australia.
There are many celebrities who have endorsed pole dancing as one of their fitness regimes. These include;
- Terri Hatcher – Star of Desperate Housewives – Famously attends classes in LA.
- Dannii Minogue – Singer – Pole danced in her music video ‘Put the Needle on it.’
- Kate Moss – Supermodel – Performed on the pole in a ‘White Stripes’ music video
- Demi Moore – Hollywood Actress – Starred as a pole dancer in the movie ‘Striptease’
- Christina Aguilera – Singer – Performed with the Pussycat Dolls Burlesque show in LA
- Daryl Hannah – Hollywood Actress and star of pole dancing movie ‘Dancing at the Blue Iguana’
- Kelly Brook – Model/Actress – Starred as a pole dancer in the London stage production ‘Eye Contact’
- Sadie Frost – Actress/Fashion Designer – Busy working Mum who loves pole dancing for fitness
Today, pole dancing is still considered both sensual and erotic by many, is still found in strip clubs, but it has also evolved as a form of aerobic dance and is soon to be in the Olympics as many have petitioned for it to become a recognized sport! Many fitness clubs offer pole dancing, where women (and men!) are signing up to not only exercise, but to gain self confidence.