Quick Hit: Pole-dancing as an Olympic Sport?


Should pole-dancing be approved as an Olympic sport? According to the Collette Kakuk, founder of the Pole Dancing Association, yes. She believes pole-dancing should not be marginalized or shamed, but brought into the light as a difficult, healthy and competitive activity that makes you fit.
I guess my question would be, would making pole-dancing an Olympic sport bring to light some of the horrible treatment of exotic dancers and give them a standard wage with some worker rights? Most of the participants in the PDA appear to be white and as the article discusses as a sport, pole-dancing generally attracts middle to upper middle class housewives.
But this is interesting. Thoughts?
(Thanks to Daffodil for the link.)

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82 Comments

  1. Jen R
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    I don’t have any doubt that pole-dancing is difficult and can be quite a workout. That said, I’m uncomfortable with conflating the concepts of “women’s sport” and “something women do while scantily clad for the enjoyment of male onlookers” any more than they already are.

  2. Femgineer
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    They have pole dancing in the olympics. It is called gymnastics. (Albeit, the pole is horizontal in gymnastics and not vertical.) Gymnastics requires a great amount of athleticism, flexibility and coordination.
    Also, I believe one of the root words of gymnasitcs means “naked” because they used to exercise in the nude. Fitting for an analogous excercise to pole dancing, no?

  3. FrumiousB
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    Just so long as they keep the high heels inthe uniforms b/c otherwise we won’t be able to tell them apart from the beach volleyball players.

  4. BackOfBusEleven
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Take out baseball and introduce pole dancing? Looks like America’s got a new pastime!

  5. Boswell
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    What difference does it make that most of the pole dancers are white? I’m sure there’s a point to be made here, but I’m just a bit unsure what it is, according to the original post.

  6. Viveka
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 12:50 pm | Permalink
  7. Lisa
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Not that there is a chance in hell of this happening, but there are plenty of sports played in many countries with established rules, judging, and organized leagues that aren’t included in the Olympic games. And as far as removing stigma/improving wages, anyone who watched any summer Olympic coverage knows it would be an excuse to add to the T&A beach volleyball currently provides (This is not a criticism of beach volleyball or the athletes who play it, but of the television coverage and mandatory uniforms). There’s a whole myriad of reasons why this is a bad idea, but here’s another: Why add another sport that women in many countries will not be allowed to participate in?

  8. Femgineer
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Not so sure about the white thing, but as for the demographic that participates (middle to upperclass housewives), in my opinion it is too small to be recognized by the IOC.
    From wikipedia (i know, i know, great source of information and all):
    “A sport or discipline is included in the Olympic program if the IOC determines that it is widely practiced around the world, that is, the number of countries that compete in a given sport is the indicator of the sport’s prevalence.”
    I don’t think pole dancing qualifies.

  9. norbizness
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    As President of the ‘Greater Austin Sitting On Your Ass And Watching The Venture Brothers Season 3 DVD Association,’ I demand that that long thing I just typed also become an Olympic sport.

  10. oSuzanna
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    It’s pretty telling that stripping be considered (even if not officially) but that female ski jumpers STILL cannot compete. Maybe they should try jumping in lingerie?

  11. Samhita
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Well, I think “white middle class women” is a contrast to the demographic that is generally engaging in exotic dancing. It was a quick hit so I didn’t spell out every point.

  12. clairebouyant
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    I don’t see the skill in that. It took me about a week to learn to do the types of things they insist are so difficult. Once you learn a few leg locks and how to keep a spin, everything else is pretty easy.
    I finally gave in and did it because I figured if I was going to say it looked easy and women don’t really need to pay to learn to do it I might as well see if it really was, and it was.
    What makes it look complicated is the back and hip flexibility that some of these women have, but to compare it to artistic or rhythmic gymnastics is insulting.
    I also don’t believe ping pong should be an olympic sport, but it is.
    Trampoline is much more interesting and difficult.

  13. bandersnatch
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    I have no problem with it as long as men have to compete in the event as well.

  14. BROWN TRASH PUNK!
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Once again, people wonder why nobody takes women’s sports again.
    What a goddamned bloody joke.

  15. BROWN TRASH PUNK!
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    *why nobody takes women sports seriously.
    my bad for the typo.

  16. clairebouyant
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    I think the difference lies in the amount of difficulty. If there were some sort of release moves to do on the pole or maybe if there were two poles next to each other and they flipped back and forth (chinese pole) but what you’re talking about is essentially locking, spinning and posing.
    Breakdance should be an Olympic sport before pole dance.

  17. BROWN TRASH PUNK!
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    how can I take that seriously when she’s dressed like a porn star? If she was wearing tennis shoes and sporty clothes, then I’ll be able to watch that without feeling dirty.

  18. BackOfBusEleven
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps the former Olympic baseball teams?

  19. Femgineer
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    When I said pole dancing already exists in the Olympics, I meant that the elements that make up pole dancing (strength, flexibility, grace, style) are already in gymnasitcs. To me, pole dancing is the male gaze version of a respected, real sport (gymnastics).

  20. Posted March 31, 2009 at 1:20 pm | Permalink
  21. Lilith Luffles
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Women’s sports are already seen as only worth watching if the women are hot and barely clothed (Lingerie Football, anyone?) Let’s not make it worse by adding an activity that most men and women only see as something they observe to be titillated. If there were a way to get people to appreciate the athletic ability needed to pole dance, sure. But most people already undermine the athletic ability of women who play sports that we see as athletically challenging when men play them, so I don’t see that happening.

  22. Femgineer
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    I responded to your comment below. But I’ll say it again here. When I said pole dancing already exists in the Olympics, I meant that the elements that make up pole dancing (strength, flexibility, grace, style) are already in gymnasitcs. To me, pole dancing is the male gaze version of a respected, difficult, real sport (gymnastics).
    Which is why it should not be included (or even recognized) in the Olympics.

  23. clairebouyant
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    I understood what you meant.
    I just don’t think the comparison is quite right.

  24. aftercancer
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    No it shouldn’t be an olympic sport. If you need a pole in the olympics there is javelin and gymnastics. Please give me a break!

  25. Lea
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    dressed like a porn star? um… not really. the shoes are completely the opposite of athletic, of course, but the rest of her outfit? yeah, it’s black, and black is sexy, but that aside… it looks like a sports bra and “runderwear” to me… which is about what I used to wear for cross-country races and track meets. Many female Olympic marathoners dress about the same way. It’s about functionality, not sexuality.
    but yeah, i agree that pole dancing is probably not Olympic material, although I’m sure it takes a lot of athleticism.

  26. BROWN TRASH PUNK!
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    yes, she’s dressed like a porn star.

  27. Nicole
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Seeing as how ballet, salsa, bellydancing, tap, hip-hop, jazz, and countless other incredibly endurance-based types of dancing aren’t in the Olympics, I really don’t see how pole dancing deserves a place.

  28. Lisa
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    If you want a sport that involves moving and supporting bodyweight in various positions, but don’t want the speed of gymnastics or rhythmic gymnastics, why not something like acrobalance?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LveFsLrYHhk (the first half)
    You still get the women in skimpy clothes, but the men get all skimpy too (But oh noez, the menz will never watch that because they’ll catch the gay!). Like a lot of acrobatics/gymnastics/bodyweight sports, this is MUCH more advanced than the techniques used in pole-dancing. Plus they skip the ridiculous shoes. On a side note, it’s now become my life goal to use my thighs to pick a man up by the head.

  29. LukeCanJuggle
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    I’m just going to flat out say, there is no way this will ever make it onto the lineup of the Olympics. Ever.
    Aside from the similarity to Rhythmic Gymnastics, Gymnastics and a few other events, there just isn’t the international support structure in place. For anything to even be considered for the Olympic Games you have to have well-established international associations operating under standardized rules in many, many countries. It takes a TON of work to make this stuff happen. The IJA (International Jugglers Association) and WJF (World Juggling Federation) have been trying to get juggling in the Olympics for a long time, and the standards are just way too rigorous for fringe stuff like this to make it.
    I wish the effort to get softball and baseball back in the Games garnered as much attention as this.

  30. Lisa
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    You are right that her top and bottom are similar to what many female athletes wear in competition. But saying “It’s about functionality, not sexuality.” just seems hard to take seriously in a video with a woman wearing ginormo, absolutely ridiculous heels to perform an athletic activity.

  31. Roscoe
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    Let’s be honest, you don’t even need to talk about sexism or feminism to see that pole dancing is just a stupid choice for the Olympics.
    I would beg to differ about ping pong. That shit is crazy, and they train really hard to get those leg muscles. I’m 100% serious.

  32. PamelaVee
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    I was just going to say that 5-inch stilettos don’t scream “athlete” to me.

  33. Véronique
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    You mean like beach volleyball? Oy.

  34. Cory
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    I’m still bitter about them tossing softball, so this kind of pours salt on the wound for me… lol.

  35. SAsmash
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Okay, as a stripper, I feel almost obligated to weigh in on this.
    Pole dancing, while highly athletic, will not become an Olympic sport. A couple of people pushing for legitimacy doesn’t make a the massive movement needed to attain that status.
    The clothes worn in pole dancing are designed to help the moves being done. In pole dancing competitions, held all over the country, there’s a dress code that bans “porn star” outfits. The poles are made of brass, which stick to the skin. For many advanced moves, the pole is gripped with other parts of the body than the legs.
    What you might have done in a class that was designed for bored housewives doesn’t come near what competitors in the sport, and even many exotic dancers do. Those classes are a weekend novelty for those who want to feel like they’re “slumming” and being “naughty”.
    The sport crossed over into strip clubs/cabarets from side shows and Chinese circuses sometime in the early twentieth century. The act faded in popularity outside of clubs, but is seeing a resurgence recently. The above mentioned two pole performances are still done in strip clubs, as well as in Circe de Soleil.
    And, yes, there are male pole dancers.
    To answer the question from the original post, I do not think the legitimization of pole dancing will do much to help the poor treatment of SOME exotic dancers. Rather, a paradigm shift in the feminist community can be key to this. I’m so tired of being demonized and derided by (usually second wave or young/developing) feminists. This attitude is something dancers have to put up with from misogynists and wingnuts all the time. It’s always scary to hear it from our “sisters”.

  36. ShifterCat
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, I was hoping that someone with first-hand experience would chime in. :)

  37. nattles_thing
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    Watch your slut shaming.

  38. cocolamala
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    the difference is that until upper middle class white women took up pole dancing as a hobby, pole dancing was widely reviled (i can think of plenty of epithets for ppl who earn money dancing next to a pole). Once this specific demographic took it up, that was somehow an oversight and NEWSFLASH now it needs to be well regarded and as respected as any other physically challenging discipline.

  39. AwakenedDesires
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    I am surprised that anyone on here would denigrate the activity based on the clothing of the women. Too often in our society women are belittled, taken less seriously, and/or have said to been asking for it when they wear clothes that are seen as revealing. I hate to see the same phenomenon of judging a woman negatively by her appearance and sexual expression occur on this site.
    As for the scant amount of clothing she is wearing, there is a practical reason for doing that. There is enough friction between your skin and the pole to hang on, but fabric does not offer enough friction which can cause you to slip and possibly injure yourself.
    As for the shoes, I am not a fan of them either, but I can recognize that my opinion on the shoes has nothing to do with the activity of pole dancing. There are plenty of videos on YouTube where the pole dancing women don’t wear any shoes at all.

  40. AwakenedDesires
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    I am not a stripper or pole dancer, but you have echoed the sentiments I was going to express. I am so disheartened to see so many people here trashing pole dancing, especially when the criticism is based on what the woman is wearing. Don’t we get that enough from our sexist society? I personally do not give credence to the idea that if a woman is revealing her body, it must be sexual. I do not see my or women’s bodies in general as sex objects.
    Pole dancing isn’t inherently sexual. Yes, it has been appropriated for male sexual pleasure, but it does not have to be like that (Breasts are also treated in the U.S. as though they are solely for male titillation. Does that mean we should wear turtlenecks all the time and avoid breastfeeding in public? Male pleasure does not provide a good basis for which to judge these things because that gives into the idea that whatever men find sexual, including the female body, is sexual. We need to create our own affirmative definition of sexual desire, but that’s an issue for another post.). To me, pole dancing as an activity is completely divorced from men’s club pole dancing, which is mixed with stripping. It can be done by women or men, for a single-sex or mixed audience or no audience at all, and used to express something sexual or not. The idea many of you have of pole dancing is not what it has to be or even is. Removed from the stigma of men’s clubs, pole dancing is just a physical activity like any other (See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nws265cJ7DY and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfwYrLuFUe4). I think seeing pole dancing in a more athletic setting would help remove the stigma and give it the respect it deserves.
    It’s sad because pole dancing requires tremendous strength as well as balance and flexibility. Very few activities geared toward women aim at building strength, but of course one that does has to be completely stigmatized. It seems like anything that could be viewed as a source of power for women has to be stigmatized as slutty. Why is that and why are we perpetuating that stigma?

  41. AwakenedDesires
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    There is a difference between pole dancing and stripping. They are not the same thing. One can use pole dancing as part of a stripping routine, but you don’t have to strip to pole dance.

  42. Seamster
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    Male pole-dancer (amateur, with my university’s team) here, confirming that we exist.
    Also, my preferred pole-dancing clothing is a pair of (black) underpants. I like the surface area.

  43. Boswell
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    I’m wondering if “appropriated for male sexual pleasure” is a correct characterization of pole dancing. It seems to me that pole dancing originated in and was designed for male sexual pleasure. And I wonder if something designed for male sexual pleasure, typically executed in a context that objectifies and degrades women, ought to be treated as a sport.
    Of course, my sense of what ought or ought not to happen comes from a purely feminist perspective: I don’t think it’s conducive to the reduction (or elimination) of sexism and discrimination against women to make pole dancing an Olympic sport.
    I recognize that this point is controversial. For me, it comes down to the fact that I don’t think we have reached a place in our society where we can successfully reappropriate words/activities/actions that have historically been used to degrade women. I think we still need to point out to a majority of society that those words/activities/actions are offensive, and I think it’s counterproductive to reappropriate for ourselves the very things we condemn as sexist.

  44. LalaReina
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    Doesn’t bother me, I know quite a few strippers.

  45. oSuzanna
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    Good point. My bad.

  46. timothy_nakayama
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    Why shouldn’t Ping Pong be an Olympic sport?

  47. jaja
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    is it not the choice of the women to wear those clothes. the sport started out on the beach and reflects that culture. when it became a formal sport it maintained the attire

  48. Lea
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    dude… i SAID that her shoes are completely the opposite of athletic. i was talking about the rest of her clothing.

  49. Kendieatsbabies
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    Wow. Watching that I have to say that…that’s not what I think when I think pole dancing. It was much more awesome.
    It was graceful, clearly required athleticism, and, I think, was not overtly sexual and titillating. All I was thinking was “Damn, that’s cool, but not very ‘hot’.” Clearly, if she was topless or in a G-string or whatever, perhaps it would seem more like my mental-image (admittedly stereotypical) of stripping, but since some still can’t see around the shoes to the obvious talent… maybe toned-down pole dancing garb is a good step towards more legitimate recognition, if not as a sport, at least as a cool thing that’s tough to do.

  50. AwakenedDesires
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    That is a valid point and one that did occur to me when I was writing. I stuck with the term “appropriation” because, as I said, pole dancing is not inherently sexual so I think the fact that what would otherwise be a regular athletic activity is considered something for men’s pleasure is an indication that it has been co-opted despite its origins. No one can have a monopoly on a form of movement, and so when it is suggested that that form of movement is only for a certain audience I do think of it as an appropriation of sorts.
    Normally I would be right with you on the context and historical points, but I feel differently about this because dance is a form of expression, so how one decides to pole dance will influence the way it is viewed. There is a difference between going into the men’s clubs and trying to appropriate the activity as a form of empowerment and giving a broader meaning to pole dancing as applied in a non-traditional way. If one decides to strip and/or otherwise be sexually suggestive, then of course the connotation will stick. But if pole dancing was used as more of an athletic or competitive activity it would quickly change people’s perception of. In other words if extricated from the men’s club scenario from which it is associated, people will have to broaden their definition of it. Up until recently pole dancing has largely remained in men’s clubs. Now it is spreading to the more general populace and it could continue to be seen as something sexual or it could be a chance for people to reconcile the activity with non-sexual uses of it. When you have women pole dancing at home alone as a form of exercise and men practicing pole tricks to show off their strength, I don’t see how one can continue to think of pole dancing as the same thing that you see in strip clubs. People would quickly come to distinguish that pole dancing (without stripping) for no audience or mixed-sex audiences for the purposes of fitness or competition is different from the pole dancing that comes as part of a strip routine for the purpose of titillating men in a private club.

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