The History and
Sensuality of Modern Dance -
Defining Pole Dancing
By Mary Ellyn Weissman
various forms of dance emerged from sensual roots and have
experienced controversy. The art of dance has been a means of
telling stories, honoring royalty, soothing the gods, a means of
courting, and expressing celebration and emotions. Many forms of
dance faced criticism and censorship throughout history but
eventually evolved into acceptable art forms despite their
beginnings. Alternatively, some forms of dance had non-sensual
beginnings but changed their form and later became socially
While pole dancing admittedly embraces
sensuality and modern pole dancing certainly has it's roots in the
sex industry, there isn't a single form of dance that is not about
celebrating the body. All forms of dance are to draw attention to
the body and most often in a sensual way. Salsa styles, ballroom
dance, even figure skating about about the beauty of the human form.
Various Sensual Dance Styles:
The tango originated
in the brothels of ancient Argentina when the “gauchos” would arrive
after a day at work in the fields and the barmaids would entice them
into going upstairs by dancing close in their arms. The style of
this dance is said to have developed when these cowboys arrived
unwashed after working in the fields and on sweating horses, so that
their pants were stiff with sweat and dirt and their bodies
malodorous – thus the ladies would dance holding themselves slightly
away from them in the crooks of their arms, with their heads averted
to avoid the smell.
The ancient forms of
Middle Eastern belly dance are thought to have been based in women’s
rituals and celebrations. It was at one time apparently a dance to
induce fertility so women performed it at the pre-wedding
celebrations held with female friends and family. It was also taught
to young women in order to also strengthen their bodies in
preparation for childbirth by toning their muscles.
However, in 1893 when Little Egypt performed the belly dance at the
Chicago World’s Fair (later dubbed as the "Hoochee Coochee" dance) there was outrage over her sexual dance style
and costume when she wore trousers and a sleeveless blouse. The
belly dance continued to be used in the burlesque shows, which were
beginning to become popular around this time.
The Rumba is a dance
of enticement and teasing. Through teasing and withdrawal it is a
courting dance where the woman uses all of her charms to conquer the
man she is dancing with.
Ancient striptease is recorded
in the Sumerian tablets as performed by goddesses and in the Old
Testament as performed by Salome for King Herod. In the early 1900s
as movies and theaters became more popular, the strip tease dance
was added to burlesques shows to entice at least the men into
continuing to visit.
In 1957 when Elvis
Presley appeared on the Ed Sullivan show, the cameramen were
directed to only shoot him from above the waist because of his
outrageous hip movements. Around this time, minors under the age of
18 were banned from dancing to
Rock N’ Roll in public in Cleveland
Ohio and in the early 60’s, Catholic schools students were forbidden
by the Bishop to dance
to “The Twist”.
The History Of The Pole In Dance:
Hoochee-Choochee Dancers: During
this early 20th century
traveling tent shows had strip tease acts and as the larger tents
drew more crowds when they could see several dancers in one tent,
the smaller tent dancers began to use the tent’s center pole for
dancing and acting out lewd performances on the pole in order to
compete with the draw of the larger tents.
Mallakhamb is a traditional
Indian yoga sport in which poses and feats are performed while
hanging from a vertical wooden pole or rope. The origin of this
ancient Indian sport can be traced to the earlier part of the 12th
century. It was revived late in the 19th century and is now a
popular competitive sport in India. The word "Mallakhamb" is
composed of malla, which denotes a gymnast or a man of
strength, and khamb, which is a pole. Mallakhamb, therefore,
can be translated in English as pole gymnastics.
Maypole Dancing is thought to
have ties to 12th century Germanic pagan fertility symbolism in
which the pole, as a phallic symbol, was danced around celebrating
sexuality and life by adorning it with flowers and wild vines.
Today's Maypole dancing was revived in Europe in the 18th century
and closely resembles the original style using ribbons.
Chinese pole dancing is performed on rubber coated vertical
steel poles approximately 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Performers are
fully clothed as the rubber can create severe friction burns as they
climb, slide down, jump and hold poses. Often the routines are
choreographed to music. A few Chinese poles tricks have been
incorporated with pole dancing techniques.
Pole dancing as the form in which most
people think of it today, first entered the strip clubs in the late
1960s when Belle Jangles
performed a pole dance routine at Mugwump Strip Joint in
Oregon. From there the trail is
sketchy but appears to have emerged fully in the clubs in Canada in
the 1980s. In 1998 Fawnia Mondey-Dietrich, who originally danced in
Canda, produced the first instructional video on how to pole dance.
More recently, the
art of pole dancing has taken on a respected role and is
offered in numerous fitness centers and health clubs. Pole dancing
as an art form is slowly becoming recognized, though its popularity
strongest in the UK. There are also pole dance schools in South
Africa, Australia, Belgium, Singapore, Russia, The Netherlands, Croatia, and
Canada with more opening all the time.
Today's pole dancing has been compared
by many in it's beauty and grace to Cirque de Soleil and now it
appears that Cirque de Soleil agrees: in 2009 we will see the art of
pole dancing performed in the Vegas Cirque show Zumanity.
Here in the USA, more pole dancing schools are established
on the west coast than anywhere else, but there are now over 500
locations providing instructions in the art of pole dance across the
US. Schools teach pole dancing with emphasis on fitness, sensuality,
empowerment or any combination of these. International competitions
range from sensual to fitness based performances, some being judged
updated: December 2008