To come “out” as a pole dancer in your place of employment, or to keep it a secret? This is the question that seems to plague many of today’s pole dancers that also work in a “professional” environment (aka, an office).
When pole dancers explain what they do to non-polers, they often brace for responses such as “how do you navigate being a pole dancer and a [doctor/lawyer/engineer/social worker/scientist/nurse/journalist/fill in chosen profession here]?” Almost every person who works in an office also has a hobby of some kind, and people whose hobbies are other than pole are rarely faced with the same question. What makes pole different is that people still perceive it as sexual or risque … and the subtext of the question is, how do you navigate doing something that seems overtly sexual and expect people to take you seriously in your work? Society says you can’t do both.
But to most pole dancers, it is very odd that pole is somehow construed as antithetical to professionalism. We know that the two actually complement one another very nicely. The mental discipline and physical stamina required to achieve new pole tricks directly trains our brains to push through challenges in the office. When we spend time in the studio working on choreography and dance flow, we are training how to think creatively and problem solve (“how the heck do I get out of this new move I just invented safely and gracefully?”). If you’re an exotic pole dancer, the focus on your uniquely feminine power might help with affirming your value in a workplace dominated by male energy. Connecting with other dancers in class, who often come from very different backgrounds, helps to build community and social aptitude which can translate to increased collaboration and teamwork competencies. Teaching a pole class or leading an open studio practice session demonstrates leadership abilities. And simply getting yourself in the studio in the first place demonstrates an awareness of the importance of self-care; these are employees much less likely to burnout in the workplace.
The difficulty with explaining to co-workers and employers how and why pole is a valid and supportive practice for professionals starts with the stigma against female sexual expression, because that is where the real heart of the question lies. And beyond sexuality, women are still frequently confronted with the fact that their behaviour, appearance, way of speaking, and taking up space is controlled and policed – both in the workplace and their personal lives. It is not universally understood or accepted that women are simultaneously sensual, intellectual, emotional, logical, passionate, caring, sexual, intelligent, complex beings, and can very competently occupy multiple spaces such as pole dancer and professional simultaneously. (And indeed, women with all of these dynamic qualities arguably make better “professionals”). But until we can start having honest conversations about how and why female-identified persons are not able to express sensuality without compromising their professionalism, we are dancing around the real problem. Responding to the question by saying “pole dance is actually not sexual” is avoiding the real question and trying to fit pole within the patriarchal mold (ie, it’s safe, it’s not threatening, it’s not actually sexual) without challenging the underlying stigma.
Whether you pole or not, anything that fuels you, excites you, and drives you to move in the world, should not be divorced from your public-facing life out of fear of judgment from others. Staying silent in the workplace about pole as a hobby won’t help to de-stigmatize it. However, it also comes from a place of privilege to say that professionals who pole dance should “out” themselves. There is a fine balance to be struck between having open and honest conversations with employers to try and increase awareness, and keeping oneself safe from negative consequences. The decision is so context-specific for each individual. But we suggest staying alert for opportunities to converse with potentially “woke” co-workers or employers, and in those moments, start having the conversations about how pole dance makes us better professionals. Solidarity, babes!