05 September, 2014

The Non-History of Pole.

Anyone who has ever sat down to research the history of pole dancing knows that it is fucking murky; made up of non-existent referencing, rumour and guess work. I spent the last few months as a University student using our online system and library to access thousands of academic resources in an attempt to find a credible history of pole dancing. My two main questions were, 'at what point did pole dancing enter the strip clubs and where did that come from?', and 'at what point did pole dancing leave the strip clubs and enter the dance studio?' I searched through hundreds of journals, books and newspaper articles over a two week period and what did I find? Absolutely nothing. That doesn't mean this information doesn't exist - maybe I am looking in the wrong place or maybe it's just hard to find.

The first question is the hardest to answer. A lot of websites make the same claim, that adult performers in traveling fairs made use of the tent poles available to them. This seems highly likely but again I cannot find credible resources outside of vague websites that provide no references. Hoochi Coochi dancers are most often cited but when doing a search not a lot comes up and definitly no references to poles. Even the wikipedia page for Hoochi Coochi dancers makes zero reference to poles. There seems to be no definite answer as to at what point the pole entered the strip clubs either other than "the 1960's" and sometimes "the 1980's" and definitely no explanation of how that happened or where the first pole in a strip club appeared. I want the specific details. I want dates,  names, I want an old newspaper article that actually explicitly says these things. It must exist somewhere for all of these websites to be sharing the same information.

The second question is a little easier to answer, but again is mostly based on rumors or self histories. It seems pointless to say that Fawnia Dietrich apparently opened the first ever pole studio in 1994 and that Sheila Kelley followed in the early 2000s. That is easily found information, but what I wanted to know is whether strip clubs were offering pole classes for hen parties, as many still do today, before this? So essentially doing the same thing inside of the strip club. And was Fawnia just the first we know to have opened a pole studio rather than the actual first? Was she the first to teach pole dancing? What was happening outside of America and the UK at this time in relation to pole and stripping, in and outside of the strip clubs and studios?

To me, vaguely saying that it came from strippers, and that before that some Hoochi Coochi dancers used tent poles, and that there were forms of dancing such as Mallakhamb or Chinese pole or May pole dancing historically, and in modern times, without the proof to back it up is just NOT enough. We need a legitimate well researched and referenced history. It's absolute madness in a world where humans have recorded everything since they were able to that there are so many gaps and unanswered questions. Pole is a relatively new sport, an infant as I like to call it. The information has to be out there somewhere. Or is it that it was/is such a taboo, such a stigmatized world, that no one even bothered to record it at all?

One thing I really would like people to stop doing in relation to the history of pole is saying, "oh hey like pole dancing has nothing to do with stripping, they're two very different things, pole dancing is just about fitness, actually pole dancing comes from mallakhamb and chinese pole" because that is hella insulting to strippers, our pioneers, and just factually incorrect.

So, I extend a request to you academics and pole lovers. Do you know of academic resources (newspapers from the time, academic journals, books), anything that proves legitimately some of the above claims or more? Does anyone have any more personal stories which fill some gaps or shed some light on some of these questions? Share in the comments!