Been a casual reader of your blog for a while, and I’ve left a comment way back about your dentist or something or other =)
Anyway, this post about a pole-dancing event left me with some questions, and I’d be grateful for your opinion. I was wondering what you, as a well-educated and articulate young woman of the modern world (judging from your blog, as I have nothing else to go on =) thought of pole-dancing, as its currently generally practiced (ie, mainly by females who sometimes wear physically revealing outfits).
How does pole-dancing square with your identity as a woman in a, let’s face it, still-largely male-dominated world? Is it possible to be a “feminist” pole-dancer, or are the identities mutually exclusive?
Does culture matter? Do you think your Malaysian upbringing has shaped your ideas on gender and sexuality?Or does it even matter? Is feminism more linked to political and economic acts, like equal pay for equal work, and less about the individual choices an individual woman makes?
I guess for some context, I’m a late 20s, Malaysian-raised male adult of Chinese descent living in the West, and I’m interested in the recent increase in interest in pole-dancing globally, and in Malaysia in particular.
Of course, I have no right to expect an answer from you, least of all in such a public setting. Also, I hope I haven’t offended you with any of my questions, but I’m genuinely curious what our thoughts are. We share some similarities, Chinese family and living in an English speaking country, but we have different genders, so I’m really interested to hear what you, or others, have to say.
Thanks much in advance, if nothing else than for reading this long post!
Thank you for your feedback. I always appreciate such constructive feedback and questions which make me ponder on for a bit and this sparked my interest to actually convey it back to my other readers in such a public setting, as a new blog entry.
Back in Malaysia, I never thought much about pole-dancing because it was only starting to pick up, and being in such a conservative background, it would have been rather awkward for me to learn back then, we’re talking about 2006 when pole-dancing already did exist in Malaysia and has only recently started to make its presence in Malaysia with companies like the former Hanging Garden, now Bobbi’s Pole Studio and also Viva Vertical, some of which I have also failed to mention, which exist.
I saw the first live pole-dance appearance in Malaysian Clive Magazine’s launch event. I saw two women hanging off two separate poles with such grace, and they exude so much confidence, it was sexual in some way, with some spreading of legs and their garments reduced to almost bra and panties. I just thought to myself, “Wow, they’re some super special dancers hired from overseas, must be trained in gymnastics, acrobatic or some sort like that.” I left the Passion nightclub with an impression of the great dancers, but didn’t think much about them afterwards. To me, it was yet another performance I would have come across, like as if I saw a fire-eater. I knew it was great, but never really bothered to research how it came about or how they did it.
My journey in Melbourne is a long one. I say this because I am still exploring Melbourne, and Melbourne is by far only one small fraction of a large Australia although the culture here speaks loudly of what it strives to represent the Aussie way as a whole . I feel that it is interesting to dwell into the Australian culture and eventually find what I like best, and I found pole-dancing online.
I may be from a small town in Ipoh, have lived in Kuala Lumpur for several years, and a year in Perth for my final year of degree but that does not make me a city girl, that does not make me a girl who has travelled far and beyond although I have travelled to a few countries. My thoughts are largely shaped from what lies beyond the internet, exactly your thoughts on how internet has opened up your world, that is exactly how culture has shaped me. Not many of my current female friends are into sports, so I can’t say that my friends have been a large influence although I grew up learning ballet from 10 years old and learnt that for 10 years. I can say that parental influence has brought on a large impact on my views on performing arts, exposing me to every single performance that came to town or those that appeared on television. I’m the type who is completely enthralled by a performance of painted men who stay stagnant for a long period of time in their positions but are actually moving when watched real closely. I call that art, few would understand. My parents to this day, understand what I’m trying to get at when it comes to pole-dancing. I’m not at all preparing to become a stripper. I’m just like one of you gym-freaks who get so worked up with you see that little mice on your right bicep, you just want to get more of it!
Back in the early days when TwelveSI clubs existed in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, I remember seeing scantily clad bar top dancers in Bliss nightclub. I was a teenager back then, but remember myself being exposed to these girls gyrating away was a real eye-opener. It was not as if I did not know that such thing existed in such a classy club, but because my friends would whisper into my ear and go “Wahh… you see, in the club, there are bartop dancers. This is a Muslim country, allowed meh?” And that was the exact same question I had in my mind, I just did not dare to ask anyone because I knew we could not be oblivious to our surroundings and I mean not just what’s in our country (Malaysia) but also what’s out of our country. Maybe I can blame it on the Hollywood TV I’m exposed to.
MY FIRST CLASS
How I came about pole-dancing? When I first stepped into Australia in 209, I was browsing through activities for myself – dance classes. I thought I might get back into dancing. I found “The Space” on Chapel Street, Prahran and entered a few of its ballet, hip-hop and broadway casual classes. It was also during this time that I stumbled upon pole-dancing when I searched for “dance” on Chapel Street. I clicked onto www.poledivas.com.au and started learning more about it, found a casual class (trial) and went for it. It cost me something like AUD35. I paid to see what the studio looked like and learnt tricks and tips from pole-dancing.
That day at my very first trial class, I entered the studio with not much expectations, I had no clue at all, I had no friends. The pole dance instructor first taught us how to gyrate in an S-position with one hand on the pole in a very sensual manner, she made us do aerobics at the start of the session before teaching us simple tricks which looked complicated when joined up together before ending with a yoga-like session. The middle session of the class was a set routine, at the end of it, we mastered the routine and there was a sense of achievement. Every single muscle was stretched. Legs and arms were elongated. We flicked our hair as we looked up to our make-belief audience. We were not only trying to perfect our moves, we did not forget to dance. Soon after, I found out there was this whole new world about pole-dancing and it has indeed churned out quite a few top pole-dancers at an international level already, with championships running on an annual basis.
We felt sexy, we did not care who was watching, and we tried to imagine our partners there. That was the main point. It was a women-empowering class for us ladies. If men liked to visit the strippers’ joint, or have even thought about it before, we might as well bring the strip club back home, baby. “Honey, you buy me an X-pole and I’ll be your stripper.” I don’t think any guy would refuse that. This reminds you of Teri Hatcher in one of the latest episodes of Desperate Housewives.
THEN I UNDERSTOOD
It was my first time at that pole-dance studio and I just automatically enrolled myself into a Beginner’s class on my own. I did not go with anyone else. For some people, they found it more comforting to go with someone familiar but for me, if it is an experience I were to enjoy, it must be from within myself, nobody pushed me, I went with my own freewill. So, I did. I went to join the Beginner’s class and soon after advanced into the next two levels, currently still stuck in a particular level, Intermediate 3, but still enjoying it and it only gets more challenging. Why the scantily clad outfit, I thought to myself. I realised then that the less I wore, the better it was for me to stick onto the pole.
I think not many people would have thought of that, but it did make a difference. The very short shorts were to enable our thighs to grip the pole using our bare skin and the mid-drift top (reduced to bra?) were for our waist skin to stick on to the pole for extra grip for various poses (see girl in the entry below doing the upside down split on the pole). I realised that it was a whole different mechanism, it wasn’t only a sport to entice, but one that would really strengthen my upper body while enjoying it, enhancing the creative side of me at the same time defying gravity.
In summary, it was for me to understand the law of physics. We think very much of it in a sexual context because of the general perception of pole-dancing in clubs, but we fail to regard other sports in that sexual manner too. Women in lycra, pole vault or high jump, swimmers in swimwear, gymnasts in flexible movements and skimpy outfits, salsa dancers, and so many more. Pole-dancing to me, is a summary of all the above sports I just mentioned put together. In fact, it’s artistic gymnastics on air, using pole as a tool! How about that?
It’s hard to justify how sexual pole-dancing can be or isn’t. It really is how one would like to perceive it to be. Pole-dancing while it being a perfect sport, can be as discreet as one entering the pole dance studio and coming out of the studio without anyone realising, and that I believe is quite the beauty of being in a Western country, or English-speaking country as you mentioned. Pole-dancing to many is a form of therapy.
POLE DANCING AND SOCIALIST FEMINISM
Pole-dancing in its general connotation (think Marxist theory of women in prostitution – exploitation, oppression and labour) defines women in clubs, scantily-clad whoring themselves out.
Those were your thoughts back in the day which still exist to a large extent in alot of strip clubs and X-rated adult shows, but good morning, we see pole-dancing today as a new art form, in fact one to be petitioned to be part of the Olympics in 2012 if successful and if not, maybe in 2016. I will not deny the fact that in fact, some women who open up these dance schools, if they have not been in the professional dance industry before, have been in the “professional dance industry”, please mark my open and close inverted commas.
A general misconception can be turned into something so positive today and while pole-dancing encourages female participation, it also encourages men to take it as a form of sport. Largely still, pole-dancing today is about female empowerment, about body and mind control.
To answer your question specifically, ”Is feminism more linked to political and economic acts, like equal pay for equal work, and less about the individual choices an individual woman makes?” I think it’s inter-connected and stems from a particular mindset of perhaps, “double standard-ness” that affects women to make individual choices that would largely affect a wider population, turned into a political and economic act – like for example “IF” Michelle Obama were to take up pole-dancing.
At the end of the day, pole-dancing in its effort to change general opinion, will maintain its seductive, sensual nature and I don’t think it is about to change anytime soon. If it does, I think it takes the fun out of it. What do you think? If you cannot picture what I’m saying, go to youtube.com and type the following keywords:
– pole dancing
– pole dancing championships
– pole divas Australia
Maybe hours into all that might just leave you gaping. Pole dancing is an acrobatic act. Every time I think I cannot perform a particular trick, I spend another few hours looking at spectacular pole-dancing performances, at international level. I strive to do it artistically and to maintain my physical fitness. It’s a whole lot of fun and you should try it!