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Pole Dancing Scientists Break Down Stereotypes

By on June 21, 2017

For non-poling human beings, it can be somewhat difficult to understand that pole can be a safe place in a person’s life. Moreover, society often demonizes female pole dancers as sex workers and attention seekers who self-exploit in pursuit the “male gaze,” or they perceive male pole dancers as gay or disgusting. Sadly, it seems as though the majority of the people tend to favor their pre-existing beliefs about pole dancing and are reluctant to accept any  information which contradicts those beliefs. For example, when presented with the idea that there are strength training and health benefits to doing pole, they scoff and laugh. This phenomenon is described as selective exposure theory in psychology. Simply put, people just don’t change their minds that easily.

So, this month, I decided to try to open a few more minds. I interviewed a couple of female scientists who actively participate in biological researches and are pole dancers. My goal was to help others understand that there are many different types of pole dancers. I also wanted to show that pole studios aren’t just another gym center for these two ladies. They are sanctuaries that help them to feel safe and free of judgement from patriarchal academic or social institutions. Pole will always be the safe space for women who dare to connect with themselves. So read on to learn about the first amazing woman.

Courtesy of Laura Shankman. Photographed by Trixie Sparkles Photography.

Laura Shankman is an aerialist with Moonlight-Circus and an instructor for the Phoenix Dance Studio. She has performed publicly for about 5 years.

BK: What is your primary job? What sparked your interest in this career?

LS: I am a research scientist at the University of Virginia who develops new techniques and model systems that help understand how cancer therapy may alter normal intestine function. Academic science gives you a tremendous amount of freedom to be inquisitive of your interests. I find joy in my job knowing that I am working toward a clinical goal and my work will eventually help patients.

BK: When did you start pole dancing? What do you like about it?

LS: I started pole dancing as a graduate student when a friend dragged me to a studio open house. I love the ability to express myself creatively while getting a great workout. No two classes are ever the same, so it’s hard to get bored. I am always amazed when I learn new moves and see how capable my body is of doing tricks that I never dreamed of doing before pole dance.

Courtesy of Laura Shankman. Photographed by Trixie Sparkles Photography.

BK: How do you think pole dancing is similar to your science career?

LS: There are a lot of parallels between pole dancing and my job. Both positions always have me studying the way other people perform/conduct research. I have a lot of freedom to explore new avenues in both, and both positions build upon the hard work I put into them.

BK: How do you people react to your choice of hobby and fitness exercise?

LS: Everyone in my professional career is shocked when I tell them what I do for exercise (and more impressed after they see me perform). I freely tell strangers that I practice/perform on silks/lyra/rope, but it takes me a while to admit that I also pole dance. My field is dominated by largely conservative (and mostly male) investigators therefore I tend to keep the fact that I pole dance to myself. Even though my city is socially liberal, many individuals immediately associate pole dancing with stripping. I wish they could appreciate that there are many different types of pole dancing.

Courtesy of Laura Shankman. Photographed by Kate Barrett.

BK: Anyone ever negatively reacted to the fact that you pole dance?

LS: In my personal life, someone stopped dating me when they found out I pole danced. They said they could never respect me knowing that I pole danced. It was hard to hear at that moment, but I realized that I would never want to be with someone who could not respect me for who I was and what I chose to do in my free time.

BK: What about pole gives you that you can’t find in your other job, and vice versa?

LS: I come from a very conservative family, and I work in a very conservative work environment, so it’s nice to be sexy if I want to be sexy, or lyrical or angry. I also find that the ladies I dance with are incredibly accepting of me. The studio is a very loving community, and it often feels like I’m with family when I’m dancing. That is something my work rarely gives me. However, my work gives me the feeling of a greater purpose which is something I sometimes lack when dancing.

Courtesy of Laura Shankman. Photographed by Kate Barrett.

BK: Why are they both important aspects of your life?

LS: Science keeps my wits sharp, and dancing keeps me in shape physically and emotionally. I believe the combination make me a strong, healthy, happy individual. It would be hard to live without either in my life.

Courtesy of Laura Shankman. Photographed by Trixie Sparkles Photography.

Stay tuned for our next interview with another fabulous pole dancing scientist! Do you know a pole dancing scientist who you think should be featured here? Email us at!

Rhyn Cheung

Rhyn Cheung

Rhyn fell in love with pole dancing in Los Angeles, California. He competed in PPC, NAPA, CPDC, PSO Nationals, and was crowned Men's Division Champion of Colorado Pole Championship 2016.

Rhyn now teaches workshops in Hong Kong and is pursing his PhD in marine biology at the University of Hong Kong.

Instagram: @rhyncheung
Rhyn Cheung

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