Sky-high heels, flexy floorwork and sultry strength is what probably comes to mind when you think about pole dancing today. But did you know that pole dance actually has a long, and even ancient history? Pour yourself a cup of tea and a biscuit or two, and read on to learn this history of this seductive art.
Photography by Beccy Spice, H&MU by Dahlia Daye. Words by Eva Devore.
The use of a pole for athletics and entertainment can be seen in a number of cultures, but most notably in ancient Chinese and Indian cultures. The history of Chinese Pole dates back prior to the 12th century, where acrobats would display their skills in climbing, sliding, stretching and holding positions using acute strength and skill. Chinese pole performances were less fluid than those we are used to due to the grip and costumes used, however moves such as the "flag" (holding the body out from the pole at a 90 degree angle) can still be seen in acrobatic performance today.
India also has a pole tradition dating back over 800 years, known as Mallakhamb. It was used as a form of training for wrestlers, to develop speed, reflexes, concentration and co-ordination. Outfits exposed a lot of skin to allow the acrobat to grip the pole, however the sport was very much male dominated, and women did not participate.
The pole dance we know today has its roots in exotic dance, which has existed in many forms throughout history. Pole dance is said to have first emerged in the 1920s, from the travelling fairs that toured America, featuring groups of dancers that entertained the crowds with suggestive dancing and bawdy burlesque. These dancers, known as Hoochie Coochie girls, would dance with the central pole that held their tent up!
Pole dancing moved into clubs in the 1950s as burlesque and exotic dance began to be more widely accepted in society. One of the earliest pole dances recorded on film was in Oregon, USA in 1968, and following this the pole dance craze kicked off in clubs and bars during the 1980s. Pole dance was very much learned within clubs until a woman named Fawnia Dietrich created the first ever video series teaching pole dance to beginners in Canada in 1994, and pole dancing classes soon began to pop up all over the world!
These days, pole is considered not only a form of exotic dancing, but is an acrobatic art showcasing the performer's strength, flexibility and creativity.