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Media Training for Pole Dancers

By on August 22, 2017

Whether you are officially talking to the media in some capacity or just talking to friends about your new passion, it’s easy to get sucked into the stripper/poler discussion and inadvertently slut shame strippers in an effort to claim legitimacy for what you are doing in your competition, your studio, and your own practice. This article addresses how not to do that while informing and educating the media and the public about our diverse, unique, fierce but still tiny community.

Before we go any further let’s start with some facts:

  1. I have never been a stripper so I can’t talk from that history and perspective (please check out Lux ATL, Jacq the Stripper, Nia of Butter+Filth to name a few vocal members who straddle both stripper and poler communities). I have talked to, learned from, and admired many strippers. I speak from the perspective of someone who has interacted with a lot of media about our diverse community without forgetting our stripper and other sex worker sisters and brothers.
  2. Pole (pole dancing, pole fitness, poling – to me, all the same) has salacious connotations particularly in the American, Puritanical-based culture that are not present to the same degree in other forms of dance, fitness, competitive sports, hobbies, or careers. While that may be changing and certainly has regional eccentricities, pole is not as neutral nor as ubiquitous in the public mind an activity as, say, golf.
  3. Our history is constantly debated – without and within – so feel free to disagree with me on this fact. For the purposes of how to talk to the media, I believe that the form of pole most commonly taught in studios in the US came from strip clubs and that is a fact most media outlets also hold as a foundational belief. Are there other amazing styles of dance, acrobatics, fitness, etc. that have absolutely influenced the style of modern pole and also have become specific niches that some polers exclusively practice? Yes, of course. What is the first thing someone uninitiated into our community thinks of when they hear the term “pole dancing”? Strippers.
  4. Lastly, I see the strippers and polers as two unique communities with a tremendous amount of overlap as well as unique challenges. We are not the same but neither are we so different and we should not presume to speak for one another. (Many thanks to Nia for providing me feedback before this article was published).

Stripper with a PhD Lux ATL

 

Sound bites are king in our world – more so now then ever before. If a single tweet can bring us one step closer to nuclear war, explaining the intricacies of your love pole in a way that stays true to your unique understanding of the sport/passion/hobby/career is gonna take more than 144 characters. The media likes to distill facts into headlines. Complicated stories get mere seconds of airtime. Pole dancers to the media will in some way always be associated with sex.

I remember when I was first opening my studio. A friend of mine who is a physical therapist and group exercise instructor and I were talking about it over dinner when her husband had left to go to the restroom. When he came back and caught up on what we were discussing, he turned beet red, looked around behind both shoulders to see whom in the restaurant could hear us and in that special kind of whisper that is both loud and soft said “WHAT?!?! You’re becoming a stripper?!??!” Mind you, this particular husband had never even been to a strip club and his entire education on what one does to a metal pole was from pop culture references casually entering his paradigm.

When I talk to the media about the International Pole Convention (PoleCon), the very first question I get is, “you mean it’s a convention for strippers?”

After patiently explaining and showing pictures of my progress, my classes, and some badass pole stars, one of my day-job clients looks at me and says “so, you’re a stripper now?”

We all have these stories in some capacity or another.

If you are not a stripper, there is a tendency not just to clarify you aren’t a stripper much in the same way I would clarify I am not any other sort of career like a plumber or a lawyer when asked. That tendency often goes beyond simple clarification into vehement denial because strippers and sex workers are often vilified in American culture. There is a double standard in the US and many other places that basically (very basically – for more on this topic please see Lux ATL, Jacq, Nia, and others) creates invisible lines of control around how a cis-gendered woman can experience and express her sexuality versus a cis-gendered man. Men and women may participate in the policing of this control using a methodology known as “slut-shaming,” “a form of social stigma applied to people, especially women and girls, who are perceived to violate traditional expectations for sexual behaviors. Some examples of circumstances wherein women are slut-shamed include violating dress code policies by dressing in perceived sexually provocative ways, requesting access to birth control,[1][2][3] having premarital, casual, or promiscuous sex, engaging in prostitution,[4][5] or when being victim blamed for being raped or otherwise sexually assaulted.[6][7]

via GIPHY

If you are a poler, a stripper is your sister. Like you, strippers enjoy the same metal apparatus. They may use it in different ways, with different motivations, and possibly with different outcomes but they pole just like you. Would you put your sister down to a stranger? Hopefully not! You might use that as an opportunity to educate or explain how you and your sister are different and both valued for your uniqueness or simply ignore the question if it’s clear it was meant in malice and move on.

Specific tips and examples for how to answer these questions:

    1. “Yes, our community contains strippers and sex workers.” When asked by the media directly questions like “Is that a convention for strippers?” what should you say? You should say: YES! — “Yes, in fact, we do have plenty of folks who make their living or supplement their living in the club who come to our event.” Once you have specifically addressed this issue head on, you take the power away from the person asking and the potential secret becomes less powerful because it is no longer a secret. Remember Bill Clinton? When it came out that he had smoked pot in college there was an absurd media campaign on how he had smoked but “didn’t inhale.” The media spent an inordinate amount of time on this silly issue not because of the issue itself but because of how he handled it. When Barack Obama was running for President he had already published a book that clearly said he had smoked pot in college. In this way he controlled his own narrative and it wasn’t some secret issue that had to be ferreted out and then either denied or “managed.” Do we have strippers in our community? Yes, of course we do! Perhaps your studio caters to a specific clientele and it’s important in your sales and marketing to identify that, try this answer to the same question: “Oh sure, we have strippers in class. We’ve found that the majority of our customers are actually stay-at-home moms looking for a sassy fitness routine and some ‘me time’ away from their families.” Or to challenge the relevance of the question and reframe the discussion without slut shaming: “I typically don’t actually ask our students what their jobs are, our studio is a sanctuary away from the pressures of their work where they can have fun and make friends – something that can be really hard as an adult!”
    2. “Are you a stripper?!?!” When asked by the media or others if you are a stripper and if you are in fact, not a stripper, calmly tell them you are not and move on to the next question. Don’t get flustered, don’t get exasperated, don’t scream that you are not. Make this a non-issue and take the power away from the asker while not inadvertently by your denial infer there is anything “wrong” with being a stripper. When pressed what the difference is between you and a stripper I must use a phrase from a dancer named Peru. What is the difference was between a stripper and a poler? “You pay to pole dance, I get paid to pole dance.” Simplistic and not always true with those now making their living teaching solely in studios but you get the point. The devil is in the details in terms of intent, audience, end goal, and situation with regards to pole – it’s not the apparatus. Make the media and anyone else you’re talking to think behind the sound bite to real people and real experiences. Perhaps ask them back why that is a relevant question? The answer will speak volumes about them and not about you.

via GIPHY

3. Inclusion is your friend. Do not in anyway set up a dichotomy of “us vs. them” – through a media interview, a cute tshirt, or a catchy hashtag. I teach women and men to be ninjas some days, sex kittens the next, contemporary dancers on Sundays, acrobats on Thursdays, goofballs on Saturday afternoons. I teach self-care and self-love and expression and finding joy in small successes or random acts of glitter inside and outside of the studio. I have met so many amazing people from all walks of life because of a slim, metal rod. And when I talk to the media I want them to know that. I want them to know the confidence that comes from allowing your body to move and express things that are too hard to put into words. I want them to appreciate that everyone is not only welcome in our community but also celebrated — not in spite of our differences but because of them. And I really want them to know that I will not participate in any slut-shaming because it suits the sound bite.

In our rush to share our love with not-yet-polers, we can sometimes misstep. Review your marketing and public relations materials, look at how you have spoken about pole in the past and consider how you might make small changes to educate and inform while also being clear that everyone – yes, everyone – is welcome into our sport/passion/hobby/career. I sincerely hope that pole will continue never being just one thing for one specific group and that other communities will also come to share and appreciate our apparatus. We can only get there together. #loveyoursister #loveyourbrother

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Colleen Jolly
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Colleen Jolly

is AFAA and elevatED certified pole dance enthusiast and entrepreneur. She has been poling for six years, runs and owns the International Pole Convention (PoleCon), teaches pole and lyra in the DC metro area at FIT4Polers and MyBodyShop, and is a partner and instructor with 123Poling.com. She loves performing, regularly competes, and lives in Washington, DC with her husband and two kitties.
Colleen Jolly
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