The Art of Pole Dancing

Stripper Edie Lamort
Photo of Edie Lamort courtesy Millie Robson Photography http://www.millierobson.com/

I’d like to welcome guest blogger Edie Lamort, our occasional striptease correspondent. Edie is a stripper and trade unionist who is defending her right to work, against a coalition of conservatives ranging from “feminists” to religious fundamentalists. You can also hear my interview with Edie in my podcast Strippers Are People Too.

As Tango developed in the brothels of Buenos Aires so Pole dancing developed in the strip clubs of the western world and is now an art form. A style of dance requiring a high level of fitness and flexibility, along with hours of practice and experience, just like any other form of dance. It has developed organically over the past 20 years in the strip pubs and clubs of the UK and else where in the world, to become a gravity defying, acrobatic and very impressive dance. Today, it is not only performed in Strip Pubs and Clubs but is now being incorporated into theatrical dance routines.

As a dancer, I remember Browns getting its first poles in 2000 and girls experimenting on the quiet shifts. Someone would figure something out and then show the others how it was done. You would then work it into your routine until you got comfortable with the move and it became second nature. As you got stronger and more confident you would start learning more and more moves, developed naturally, mimicked and modified. As people around the country and around the world began to develop this art form, it reached a natural critical mass, and girls started to name and categorise the moves. Instructional videos appeared all over youtube and strippers began to get work in gyms, at hen parties and dance schools. Some of the dancers set up their own businesses teaching the art to many others. The White Horse would open at 11am, before the lunch shift started at 1pm, so the dancers could work on routines and moves. Dancers began to get very serious about their shows and this resulted in the better performers getting booked by gay clubs and fetish clubs, and then mainstream clubs and summer festivals.

Pole dancing is a serious work out. Any dancer that has had a while off the pole will be aching and bruised the next day. Just like you would after a heavy gym session. Full time pole dancers are solid muscle, with fantastic upper body strength; in fact a lot of men make very good pole dancers due to the fact that they quickly build that upper body strength.

The group leading the anti-striptease campaign are called Object, here is a direct quote from Anna Van Heeswijk CEO of Object, in relation to the recent Hackney consultation;

“OBJECT’s petition etc. was to urge Hackney to set a nil-limit on Sexual Entertainment Venues (SEVs). SEVs are defined by the Home Office Guidance as:

“any live performance or live display of nudity which is of such a nature that, ignoring financial gain, it must reasonably be assumed to be provided solely or principally for the purpose of sexually stimulating any member of an audience (whether by verbal or other means).” An audience can consist of just one person (e.g. where the entertainment takes place in private booths).

It is further stated in the Home Office guidance that while local authorities should judge each case on its merits, SEVs would apply to the following forms of entertainment as they are commonly understood: Lap dancing; Pole dancing; Table dancing; Strip shows; Peep shows; Live sex shows.”

Now lets take a look at this statement and think about the implications of it.

Pole dancing – a form of dance/aerial performance art, using a pole.

Table dancing – a personal dance for an individual where there is no contact.

Strip shows – traditional striptease on stage after a jug collection

Peep shows – dancing in a room where the audience can only view your striptease after paying money in the slot.

Lap dancing – full contact dance where the dancer physically stimulates the customer by rubbing his ‘lap’ with her buttocks, breasts or legs.

Live sex shows – these obviously involve full contact and penetration and do not happen in licensed venues. They take place at ‘private parties’ and are unregulated.

From these definitions I would say that, apart from being sexy, there is a huge amount of difference between each performance and that they should not be lumped together in the same category. Pole dancing is a not the same as a ‘live sex show’ and should be classed as a performance not a sexual encounter. However this is the fundamental problem with the Policing and Crime Bill of 2009, everything is classed as a sexual encounter.

I find the line in the quote “…sexually stimulating any member of an audience (whether by verbal or other means)” very odd. It’s a kind of vague thought police statement. Physically stimulating an audience is a definition that is a lot clearer. Obviously this involves contact and therefore only happens with Lap Dancing and possibly, but not always, with Live Sex Shows. However verbally stimulating an audience could this be erotic poetry or stories? Byron or Sappo? It does after all say ‘any live performance or live display of nudity’ so could you have your clothes on and read an erotic novel out loud or is that to be banned? Or are they referring to the imagination and the verbal narrative that may be going on in someone’s head when they watch a striptease? As we can see this is a grey area and is also threatening Burlesque, Gay and Trannie clubs along with various dance troupes and theatre.

So In terms of interpreting these guidelines, what are we supposed to make of them? They are vague and could be used in a very arbitrary manner to shut down whatever you please for whatever reasons. There seems to be a lack of understanding by those who wrote the bill as to what it was they were actually legislating against. Although there was a basic consultation when this bill was being passed it amounted to ‘anti’ groups such as Object putting their case across and Peter Stringfellow, plus a handful of dancers going to Parliament. There was never any wide ranging consultation with the dancers. No desire to understand those who chose to dance and whether they were unhappy or happy with the situation and what could be done to improve things.

Likewise there was no attempt to understand the industry, how it has changed and to realize there is a difference between traditional East End strip pubs that have just a jug collection and a stage show and the newer lap-dancing venues. I personally prefer the former as they have that vaudeville/burlesque feel and I come from a performance background. They are fun and creative and have inspired many recent art forms. Some dancers prefer the lap dancing and are not comfortable on stage but we have been left without the choice after this legislation has grouped everything together as one. It appears to be legislation based on moral panic as opposed to facts.

The Coalition is unlikely to repeal ‘Harriet’s Law’ right now but it would be a good start if all pole dancers joined Equity. Pole Dancing should fall under a music and entertainment License, only true Lap Dancing and Live Sex Shows should be covered under the Sexual Encounters License.

7 thoughts on “The Art of Pole Dancing”

  1. At the heart of this is the politically determined criteria of what is “sexual” in relation to services / products whose primary consumers are heterosexual males, and other “deviants”. (Heterosexual males are deviant insofar as their biological impulses (active & reactive) are counter to the proclaimed interests of society) The driver for this is a fundamental fear that should any viable alternative be available to heterosexual men than the correct Victorian / Edwardian model then it will disempower women.
    The campaigns against pornography (& other sexual services) claim that it objectivises women, but it poses a far more serious threat. If a man who uses pornography and thus masturbates to obtain sexual relief / satisfaction to the exclusion of seeking physical engagement with women, he then has limited use for women. A man who does not rely on a woman to obtain this gratification, is not vulnerable to manipulation by women seeking to obtain wealth in return for sexual intimacy. But in a society where women consume far more of both public & private wealth than they create, this poses a very serious issue for women and their advocates.

    Thus any activity that has any appearance of providing for some alleged aspect of male sexuality, outside of those conform to the “correct” model, must be condemned.

    If we take the issue of prostitution, we can readily see from the media that it is portrayed in terms of sex slavery and teenage prostitution. However the majority of prostitutes are neither slaves nor are they minors. They may not have significant economic choice in becoming prostitutes, but then unskilled uneducated men do not have significant life choices either. The continuing legal status of prostitutes serves primarily to disempower them and render them vulnerable to the very criminal activities that are condemned by all.

    The real fear relating to prostitution is not about the damage to the prostitutes or the social impact, rather the fear that it may provide a viable alternative to marriage for men and the consequences for women. Were the use of prostitutes by men to become socially acceptable, bordering upon the norm, then men who experiences of relationships with women are not positive may opt out of seeking out women as partners and being willing to commit their wealth creation capacities to supporting that relationship. Marriage is a very high risk venture for men today insofar as the sex for money relationship is not guaranteed, and that men can readily find they can be stripped of their assets in divorce – regardless of fault. If men fail to conform to the correct model then our society cannot sustain itself in the form we currently know. Thus there is active resistance to any progression to making any sexual alternative acceptable.

    A recent study of the use of pornography by men condemned it, and sought to have it limited. Masturbation to pornography by men is seen as a danger if it becomes the primary source of satisfaction. The same does not apply to women. If women masturbate to pornography or other forms of erotic material it does not impact upon their interest in relationships with men.

    In fact if we look at literature that women consume from childhood onward, men are largely objectivised in much the same manner as women are in men’s pornography. The difference is that the objectivised men in female literature focuses on wealth, status & power. (i.e. in the story of Cinderella, the narcissistic Cinderella perceives only women having personality & agency and all the male figures are subordinate to their desires for wealth, status & power. In the pantomime version Buttons, Cinderalla’s age peer, while being empathetic to Cinder’s situation is an impotent subordinate frequently played by a gay / camp actor & thus not an object of desire or interest. Cinderella shows no interest in his feelings of affection for her. The focus of the story is how youth & beauty secure those resources from men, who are effectively powerless in response to it.)

    By extension women cavorting around a pole or on a stage in anything other than a formal “artistic” environment is part of the same range of sexual services, (it’s OK to dance nude if we call it ballet, charge exorbitant prices, accept Arts Council funding etc.) and indeed may be the thin end of the wedge in terms of social acceptability. If one accepts the claim that objectivisation of women leads to rape, then pole dancers are complicit in those rapes by fostering an environment where men regard women in that manner and commit crimes against them. Complete rubbish, I know, but it is the natural extension of the claims.

    It is also interesting that from police reports, women attending shows featuring male strippers are more likely to participate in obscene acts with the performers and conduct themselves in unacceptable ways than men attending any form of alleged sexually orientated performance. Yet there is no popular demand for such events to closed down with the same vehemence directed against pole-dancing.

    While it is of no comfort whatsoever to Pole Dancers or any other person who happens to be engaged in what is deemed to be a “sexual activity”, this is merely part of a wider gender battle where a powerful neo-Maoist feminist faction is seeking to continue its revolution and impose a profoundly anti-liberal and unequal body of values upon society. It is currently winning by utilising the same hysterical language and style that other proto-fascists have used in the past.

  2. Thank you for such a thought provoking response.

    I wonder if this is a symptom of general relationship insecurity on the part of radical feminists. Not in the usual playground rivalry sense but in the sense of ‘what do I have to offer if it’s not my sexuality?’. How do I trade off and get a good marriage if my offering is undermind by strippers, prostitues, sluts etc. If this is the case then the so called ‘feminists’ are deeply concerned about their sexual attractiveness and feel threatened by those who are at ease with it.

    I have heard lots of women complain about how it is hard to find a good man and then comment that it is because they can get what they want without the commitment. I can relate to this as relationships are hard work but I don’t see how this is any different from the times gone by. When a women would guard sex until securing a marriage, because men were always free to stray anyway. It may not have been favourably looked upon but it was still accepted. Not so the other way around.

    The fear that a woman will become ‘redundant’ if men are allowed casual sexual gratification (whether it is striptease or porn) surely only applies to men with emotional problems. As men also need friendship, companionship and to know someone cares. Unless of course they are somewhere on the autistic scale or have other issues. Every stripper/sex worker knows that he or she is also part social worker and therapist. I had a customer say to me a few months ago, ‘I hope you don’t mind me coming to talk to you? I just have no one else’.

    In terms of art, allowing freedoms and subcultures to exisit is where the next ‘thing’ will come from. Sexual or not. The whole industry is being very externally controlled now (some of this is necessary) but it is done by people who don’t understand and this is killing the atmosphere of creativity. It is also an undemanding audience in terms of ‘they just want to see you naked’ so you are free to experiment. If it goes wrong, well you can just make them laugh, and try again next time. Of course not everyone will be good and only the cream of the crop will rise to the top. But without the space to create, things don’t develop.

    I consider myself very lucky to have been a part of this.

  3. It’s a power thing, one faction using shame and the law to exert control over another. But more importantly it reflects a profound failure to be able to engage with men as people, and not simply objectivised beings conditioned / controlled to fulfil a certain role. While feminists like to present themselves as left-wing liberals / radicals, radical feminism has more in common with 1930’s fascism and relies on 19th C concepts about the nature of women.

    I forget who it was, but a writer sometime ago proposed to substitute the man with Jew in every so-called feminist text as a mechanism to determine whether the statements were indeed fascist. It was a fascinating and troubling exercise. (i.e. All men are rapists / All Jews are rapists.)

    The fear that men will replace the average woman with sexual services (prostitutes ~ porn) reflects women’s insecurity on one hand and their reluctance to acknowledge men as people with feelings / agency etc. So entrenched is this in our society that we barely notice it at all. In the 1980’s in response to women’s demands there emerged the “New Man” emotionally articulate and sensitive, personified by Alan Alda. But almost without exception this “New Man” was rejected, and latterly justified in a range of pejorative comments. While men heard women state that they desired men who were in touch with their feelings, they misunderstood. The women meant women’s feelings. It was frankly a tragic lost opportunity to build a better collective relationship between men & women.

    The problem is that while feminists assert that women want equality with men, and freedom from the social conventions that created dependency upon men and led to alleged oppression, women still rely on men to create wealth for the national commonwealth and to enable women in the home to make choices relating to parenthood etc. In the 70’s & 80’s there was the radical feminist proposal for separatist society where men & women would exist in isolation from each other, in the interests of women. While hypothetically it might be appealing, women as net consumers of collective wealth could not sustain their life styles without men. It is this economic dependency that shapes everything.

    You need also to consider that some men’s encounters with women, especially young women, are so emotionally damaging that they decline to repeat the experiences. Consider the 15yr old boy who ventures alone across some dance hall floor to ask a girl, sitting in a group of other girls, to dance. As soon as he has stood up, she & her friends are aware that he is about to make that approach. In response to his nervous request for a dance, the girl makes some hurtful comment, rejecting him, and all the girls laugh at him. He walks away alone. Next time he repeats the same steps, but prepares himself for the rejection and the emotional hurt. If he experiences the same and is especially sensitive, he may never take the risk again, and seeks solace elsewhere. Alternatively, he simply hardens himself and begins to regard girls / women are objects who he wont invest emotion in.

    Women think they are being clever when they make hurtful comments to men to impress their friends, but it has long term negative consequences. If a woman is prepared to hurt my feelings very deeply by using gratuitous verbal violence to gain some satisfaction, why shouldn’t I as a man use physical violence against her to obtain what I want?
    You are completely right in saying that men do want intimacy, companionship love etc, but the reality is that many simply do not find it ever. Sit & listen to middle-aged men talking among themselves away from women about their relationships, and most of what you hear is disappointment. It’s men’s fault in not challenging the social conventions about self-sacrifice etc, and allowing themselves to be marginalised in their homes & key relationships.

    Of course men want to see women naked as men are hardwired to respond to visual stimulii. If men weren’t then women would need to devise alternative mechanisms to attract men and the make-up / fashion industries would cease to exist. And heaven forfend, girls might actually have to get up, walk alone across the dance-hall floor and ask the boys to dance. Scary indeed!

  4. The piece is a bash at Radical Feminism but it’s mainly about allowing spaces for creativity to flourish. It’s about allowing subcultures to exist, whether they are your thing or not, in order to let skills and art forms develop. Equity (the performers union) support us because they know that at one time actresses were condemned as prostitues. The same thing happened to ballet dancers. So in the future will people watch pole as a respected form of dance?

    I consider myself a feminist. Why would I not? I want freedom as much as the next person. But I’m aiming for the equality dream rather than the Dworkinesque nightmare. Radical Feminism strikes me as rooted in anger and hatred so absolutely not the way forward.

    In terms of boys/men being mocked by girls; yeah it happens but it happens the other way around too. Whether it’s being yelled at in the street by ‘white van man’ or the first week of summer when the boys shout ‘get your tits out love!’ on the street. It happens to us too but don’t let wankers bring you down. Fortunately most people are decent and you don’t need to worry.

    When ‘doing the jug’ before your strip show most people are witty and respectful but sometimes you’re going to get a dick head. However I don’t judge all men on a few idiots because I’ve met plenty of decent ones! And in these situations – humour is always your friend!

    (BTW – I have walked across the room and told a man he has ‘the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen’. We dated then broke up, but we are still friends to this day.)

  5. As a man, I applaud you for having the courage to risk possible rejection and approaching the man with beautiful eyes. If more women understood just how beguiling it is to have a woman who will take that risk, then many more would find the men they desire. Rather than the indifferent individuals who are hardened by rejection or just plain dysfunctional! & in my experience, the risks that women face in taking the 1st step are minimal because men rarely will respond hurtfully, and mostly they will be bowled over by the approach – even if it doesn’t progress much further.

    I don’t completely agree with you regarding the equivalency of the offensive / harassing comments by “white van man”, as objectionable & intimidating as they are. In the public fora while there is debate about the offensive / intimidating behaviour by gross men, and its impact on girls & women, there isn’t the same debate involving boys experiences. That I think is a problem for girls & women, because they don’t hear boys & mens actual perspectives.

    There is a fascinating account written by a woman who sat in as a hidden observer of a mens relationship group, that Steve Biddulph refers to in his book Manhood. The woman describes how very slowly one by one these men began to relate their experiences. Not only was she struck by the depth of hurt they expressed, but that they described behaviours that paralleled her own and of which she had previously no understanding of the impact upon her partner and how her partner perceived her behaviours. She leaves the session in shock. There is a strong echo of this in Norah Vincent’s book “Self-Made Man”, which I commend to every woman.

    I would state as a man, that men are almost completely FUBAR’ed as a group in todays society and we’re not making time / space to sort the mess out. It’s to no one’s benefit that men continue like this. As men we need to learn to explore our predicament, express our real feelings and hope that women will listen. The few men that do express their views are generally unrepresentative of the average man.

    I have to admit that I am at a loss regarding the technical reference “doing the jug”. I have only ever been at 2 strip shows and in one of those I was unaware that it was occurring (I was staring out of the pub window looking at the North Sea). In the one I wittingly attended, I found it profoundly alien and pointless, and almost clinical.
    I used to be a docker in Hamburg, and regularly walked the length of the Reeper Bahn to get the underground and never once went to any of the shows. I did however meet the women, and men, working in the sex industry if I went for a drink after the night shift (dockers & sex workers used the same pubs) and they were workers just like myself. In part knowing them as people made their shows even less attractive and also walking through that area at 5 in the morning completely removes all & any glamour it might have at midnight.

    I hear women say they are feminists, but I frankly don’t know what they really mean other than they wish to be regarded first & foremost as people with ideas etc. & that’s cool with me. It’s been fascinating thanks and well done for the article!

  6. The way this article focuses on artistry and skills makes me think about men in comparable roles. Take motor sports, for example.

    Formula 1 drivers project an image of masculinity the rest of us can’t live up to. They expose themselves to the scrutiny of millions who watch every move they make. They take serious risks to do what they love. The lion’s share of the reward for that risk goes not to them, but to agents and promoters.

    No one says, “Those poor boys. They’re too simple to know they’re being exploited. We must protect them from themselves”. Instead we applaud their courage and skill and respect their right to take risks if that’s what they want to do. Women who expose themselves and take the risks that go with that deserve to have their courage and skill praised too, and are entitled to the same respect.

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