The Art of Pole Dancing

Stripper Edie Lamort
Photo of Edie Lamort courtesy Millie Robson Photography

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.