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. AwakenedDesires
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    “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 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.”
    I just want to add that I too am looking at this from a feminist perspective, and the difference between you and I does not come down to feminist credentials. You see pole dancing as inherently sexist; I do not. I see men’s clubs and the treatment of sex workers by their patrons and society as sexist. I also see that sex workers are often dismissed as less deserving of dignity and equality by some who identify as feminist. The stigma associated with sex work is forced upon those workers by a sexist society, and there are times when feminists reinforce such stigmas. I see this as self-defeating, and I aim to not be a part of it.

  2. Lucy XZ
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

    Bring back softball as an olympic sport and we will talk.

  3. DanaNZ
    Posted April 1, 2009 at 12:17 am | Permalink

    I find it frankly laughable that anyone would say pole dancing is easy. Holding your entire bodyweight by your arms? I don’t think so sweetheart.
    Should it be an Olympic sport? I don’t think so, no. Do I find the sexist reactions to the suggestion from both sides revolting? Yes, yes I do.
    As for pole dancing not being about performing to titillate… it makes me sad there’s any need to protest it’s not designed for that. So what if it is? Contrary to popular belief women also gain pleasure from watching erotic performance.
    I love watching pole dancing, and women dancing in general. I love watching them perform, including acting sexy and everything else. I like watching some Boylesque performers but find most male stripping repugnant because male model lookalikes do nothing for me. That doesn’t mean I have a problem with anyone else liking it.
    Not that I’m surprised some people on here have such an issue with open sexuality.

  4. LukeCanJuggle
    Posted April 1, 2009 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    No one can have a monopoly on a form of movement … if extricated from the men’s club scenario from which it is associated, people will have to broaden their definition of it …
    I absolutely love this sentiment. It sparks imagery of a massive outbreak of performance art … groups of quixotic pole-dancers scattered throughout a city. Self-expression through motion has an inherent power, and I love the idea of desexualizing–de-appropriating, you might say–pole dancing just through the intrinsic value of the activity itself.
    I’d learn to pole dance for that.

  5. Eggo000
    Posted April 1, 2009 at 2:13 am | Permalink

    Just as long as men do it too.

  6. ruthieoo
    Posted April 1, 2009 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    I actually agree with most of your points. Pole dancing requires strength, flexibility, and practice. I also see positive contributions to erotic displays of movement. My biggest concern is that labeling pole-dancing as an Olympic sport in this article ignores the complexities of sex work. While I don’t think pole dancing should be either condemned or condoned wholeheartedly, I do believe an honest discussion about power dynamics and agency in sex work needs to be occur in a conversation about pole-dancing as sport. The woman featured in the article does not come from a sex work background, but a business consulting career. What role would actual sex workers play in this move towards international recognition of a sport? I am not well-versed in the pole-fitness world. I would be curious to know how many practicing sex workers are leaders in the movement…

  7. Boswell
    Posted April 1, 2009 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    I completely see where you’re coming from, and I respect your position. Just to be clear, I don’t think sex workers are less deserving of dignity and equality — not at all. I do, however, think that the sex-work industry perpetuates and reinforces the degradation of women in society (as an industry that operates on the objectification of women and an inherently unequal power dynamic between a male patron and a female worker). As such, I have real doubts about the efficacy of reappropriation or redefinition of sex-work or similar activities (e.g. pole dancing). But, to be honest, I have real doubts about the efficacy of reappropriation in general, and that seems to be the point on which we disagree.

  8. Tiara
    Posted April 1, 2009 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    (geez, logging in takes forever)
    I wouldn’t see pole dancing as being in place in the Olympics mainly because it seems more artsy than sporty – more in league with ballroom dancing or cheerleading.
    I don’t think its sexual connontations should really be that much of a factor though. The Olympics used to be nude and nowadays too many people think “OMG NUDITY = INDECENT SEX”. There’s a reason why pole dancer outfits are skimpy – you need skin to hang on to the pole!
    The people I do burlesque with also do pole, have been for AGES, some of them have histories in the sex industry. Doesn’t stop them from being respected as *people*. Our classes tend to attract 20-somethings with the occasional older person. as well as the usual hens/ladies’ night/birthday party folk. This is of course in Brisbane, Australia, where a lot of sex work is legal, strip clubs have become trendy hipster hangouts with plush decor, and people don’t tend to get so hung up over sex workers or sexuality.

  9. Tiara
    Posted April 1, 2009 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    It could be a comment about racial & class issues – it’s only OK if white people do it, or something.
    I am possibly the only South Asian in town doing burlesque (there’s possibly a few strippers but I don’t really know). It’s more a cultural thing – many of the non-White people (or CALD) here in Brisbane are migrants or migrant-offspring (I moved from Malaysia 3 years ago) and they wouldn’t even know it *existed*. It’s already hard enough to get taken seriously to do arts!
    Also pole-dance is seen as sex work, which is something a lot of traditional Asian cultures frown on. My parents seem to think I’m going to be a high-class escort because I do burlesque! The notion that it could be anything other than prostitution is not even considered, or ever available to them to see. You’ll have to look outside your usual viewpoint to even see the possibility.

  10. Tiara
    Posted April 1, 2009 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    So? What difference does it make how she’s dressed like? Why degrade into “she dressed for it so she asked for it” territory?
    Also, what if she *is* a porn star, or was? What if she wasn’t? Does that make a difference into whether she should be taken seriously or not?

  11. Tiara
    Posted April 1, 2009 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Thank you. Yes, so much WORD.

  12. Tiara
    Posted April 1, 2009 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    I do both acrobalance and the occasional pole (just a couple of lessons) – they complement each other. Different skills, but they help each other. And pole can get VERY advanced – it takes serious strength to hang onto a pole with your belly while you’re meters high!

  13. Tiara
    Posted April 1, 2009 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Have you done advanced pole? The stuff that involves using everything but your hands and legs to hang onto the pole? It’s hard, it takes dedication. No need to denigrate it just because it’s too populist and not elite enough. (I’m seeing a major high-class/low-class thing happening here.)

  14. Tiara
    Posted April 1, 2009 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    Comments like these do absolutely nothing to help women be taken seriously. There’s no need to join in the slut-shaming and denigration of women who choose to incorporate their sexuality in physically artistic ways.

  15. Tiara
    Posted April 1, 2009 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    As a burlesque dancer in training from people that have done burlesque, pole, and/or stripping for half my lifetime…I applaud and salute you! :D

  16. Tiara
    Posted April 1, 2009 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Wow. The misogyny, privilege, classism, racism, and slut-shaming in the comments are overwhelming.

  17. Tiara
    Posted April 1, 2009 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Ssh! Don’t give my burlesque teacher ideas! She already ninjas random street signs and lampposts to dance on…

  18. Tiara
    Posted April 1, 2009 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    University team?? Dude, if I didn’t just graduate last week I’d transfer to your uni.
    (also I’ve got a male friend who does burlesque and pole that would be interested in talking to you!)

  19. Lady V
    Posted April 1, 2009 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Before pole dancing, how about making ROLLER DERBY an olympic sport?!

  20. AwakenedDesires
    Posted April 1, 2009 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Thank you, and I should clarify that I was not trying to imply that you thought sex workers were less deserving of dignity and equality. What I meant was that there are some feminists who do treat women associated with sex work in that way, and that reinforces patriarchal notions of devaluing women based on (perceived) sexual experience. So while I agree with you that we should be wary not to reaffirm sexist caricatures of women as sex objects, we also need to beware to not let our feminist ideas corroborate patriarchal ideas of women and sexuality. In my opinion, trying to draw a line between things that are a function of male desire and things that are not can reinforce patriarchal notions of sex.
    Rather, I think it useful to promote the idea that sexual expression should be viewed as such when it is based on the context and intention. There is a problem in our society of conflating the audience’s (i.e. man’s) arousal with the idea that the woman intends to arouse. That conflation is what leads to people suggesting women asked for it. For that reason, I think it is a very positive thing to take something perceived as sexual and show that in different circumstances it is not sexual at all. I think it is helpful to illustrate that just because men get aroused by something it is not reduced to being defined by male desire, and I do believe that if people saw that pole dancing can be done outside of men’s clubs without stripping, it would be desexualized. It is my view that the artificial, yet rigid boundary between some things being seen as sexual and objects of male desire and some things being seen as not sexual is problematic.

  21. AwakenedDesires
    Posted April 1, 2009 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Oops. This did not get posted as a reply before:
    Thank you, and I should clarify that I was not trying to imply that you thought sex workers were less deserving of dignity and equality. What I meant was that there are some feminists who do treat women associated with sex work in that way, and that reinforces patriarchal notions of devaluing women based on (perceived) sexual experience. So while I agree with you that we should be wary not to reaffirm sexist caricatures of women as sex objects, we also need to beware to not let our feminist ideas corroborate patriarchal ideas of women and sexuality. In my opinion, trying to draw a line between things that are a function of male desire and things that are not can reinforce patriarchal notions of sex.
    Rather, I think it useful to promote the idea that sexual expression should be viewed as such when it is based on the context and intention. There is a problem in our society of conflating the audience’s (i.e. man’s) arousal with the idea that the woman intends to arouse. That conflation is what leads to people suggesting women asked for it. For that reason, I think it is a very positive thing to take something perceived as sexual and show that in different circumstances it is not sexual at all. I think it is helpful to illustrate that just because men get aroused by something it is not reduced to being defined by male desire, and I do believe that if people saw that pole dancing can be done outside of men’s clubs without stripping, it would be desexualized. It is my view that the artificial, yet rigid boundary between some things being seen as sexual and objects of male desire and some things being seen as not sexual is problematic.

  22. AwakenedDesires
    Posted April 1, 2009 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    As for pole dancing not being about performing to titillate… it makes me sad there’s any need to protest it’s not designed for that. So what if it is? Contrary to popular belief women also gain pleasure from watching erotic performance…
    Not that I’m surprised some people on here have such an issue with open sexuality.
    I don’t know if this was targeted at me or not, but I feel a need to respond. I do think it is important to distinguish that pole dancing, like any other dance, can be performed for the purposes of titillation or not. Why? Besides being true, too often women are treated as inviting sexual advances because they wear or do something that is associated with being sexual even if that was not their intention. I think we need to get to a point where we recognize that things are not inherently sexual; it’s the way they are used that give them sexual meaning. Rather than forcing sexual expression on them, I think each woman who chooses to pole dance or anything else should be able to choose if and to what extent she is expressing herself sexually. I don’t have a problem with sexual expression; I have a problem with forcing a sexual interpretation of women’s actions on women simply because titillation occurred.
    Additionally, our society has a conflicted take on sex and the attaching of the sexual label to things leads to absurd results– women given trouble about breast feeding in public because breasts are viewed as sexual and thus “inappropriate,” children being able to see women in bikinis at the beach but having their eyes covered when a burlesque performer strips down to a bra and panties because “stripping” is seen as sexual, women taping down their nipples so people won’t see them because erect nipples are seen as sexual, etc.
    And while you appreciate the skill and talent required, many people treat activities labeled sexual as requiring no talent. Having something associated only with sex tends to garner it denigrating treatment, especially for the women involved. You can talk all you want about sexual expression as a positive thing, but we live in a very sex-negative culture and in which the association of something or someone solely with sex does not gain respect.
    The fact that I make an attempt to distinguish between the sexual and non-sexual uses of an activity does not mean I eschew titillation or women’s ability to gain pleasure from erotic performance. It just means I want women to be able to choose to participate rather than have sex forced on them.

  23. amandahelen
    Posted April 1, 2009 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Clothing is developed for sports to optimize the performance of athletes . . . clearly that is not the case here, showing exactly what this “sport” entails.

  24. amandahelen
    Posted April 1, 2009 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Clothing is developed for sports to optimize the performance of athletes . . . clearly that is not the case here, showing exactly what this “sport” entails.

  25. AwakenedDesires
    Posted April 1, 2009 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    As has been said already in this thread, the clothing is meant to optimize performance. Pole dancers grip the pole with their arms and legs, and fabric does not facilitate gripping. It causes slipping and creates a potential for injury. Consequently, to engage in the activity safely you wear less clothes than you would wear in other sports.

  26. Tiara
    Posted April 1, 2009 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    No, there is a reason for pole dancers to wear what’s essentially a sports bra and shorts. The more skin you have, the better and easier it is for you to hang on to the pole. Cloth gets in the way.

  27. Tiara
    Posted April 1, 2009 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    Have I told you lately that I love you? :)

  28. LalaReina
    Posted April 1, 2009 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    Funny story. A few months back I was having a dish of platanos and this guy asked me if I ever thought about stripping. I was stunned …but if I can’t make tuition you best believe…

  29. Posted April 1, 2009 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    Ever danced in heels?
    Hell yes, it’s athletic.

  30. doubleb
    Posted April 2, 2009 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    I don’t like calling anything a sport that isn’t fundamentally competitive, as opposed to having some other objective.

  31. Karen Maguire
    Posted April 2, 2009 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    How about lap dancing as an olympic sport?

  32. Posted November 17, 2010 at 12:52 am | Permalink

    When I turned 18 (the arbitrary age at which Australian law determines one’s adulthood), I did a trip about town visiting various venues previously off-limits to me. Amongst these was a so-called “gentleman’s club”, in which young, and not so young, women in states of undress danced around a pole. After watching a few performers, a woman came onstage and performed the most extraordinarily athletic display of physical prowess, and my first though was “Wow, if she had more clothes on I would pay really good money to watch this.” Origins aside, I think pole-dancing can have a future as a very powerful performance art. The levels of physical strength, stamina and flexibility required certainly do not conform to any notions that women should be demure and weak, or even that they should be asthetically muscular, rather than functionally so. I’d like to see great dancers use their skills and creativity to challenge the relegation of pole-dancing to the domain of hyper-sexuality.

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