Empowering or Erotic?

An investigation to question the social stigma around pole fitness


Maxwell McCormick

After a day of travel and an hour of pole dancing, Reporter Maxwell McCormick poses in the studio that taught them the basics: Awakenings in Manayunk, Philadelphia.

As a journalist, I am always on the lookout for stories that push me out of my comfort zone. So when I heard about pole dancing about a year ago, my interest was piqued. Often associated with strip clubs and unwholesome behavior, I was curious to see what this art form was all about, and why people can’t help but giggle when it’s brought up. 

I began my investigation in York but quickly realized that there wasn’t much along the lines of a pole studio for a long way. So naturally I reached out to my family in Philadelphia–a big city was sure to have a studio, right? 

Well the answer was yes, but with a such wide variety of pole studios–each with its own target audience–it took a bit of trial and error to find a studio that accepted minors who weren’t women. Pole dancing is still a female-dominated sport, but with an up-and-coming movement of male pole dancers, boundaries are being broken every day. 

So when I finally found a studio that would work, I quickly contacted them via their website and talked to an administrator by the name of Jenna Price who happens to also be an instructor. That way, I could get more of an idea of what it means to pole dance from an actual dancer.

Price, who has also been a student at the studio since 2015, was extremely helpful and accommodating not only as I was scheduling the class, but also by informing me about her experiences with the pole.

In her words, “Pole fitness is a sport and an art all at once…We pull from exercise science, gymnastics, dance, and many other fields. And students come to class for all sorts of reasons. To get back into their bodies, to find their sensual side, to get stronger, to feel empowered, to get out of their comfort zones, and the list goes on and on.”

The entrance to Awakenings was certainly colorful. But what was intimidating at first quickly became welcoming and exciting the moment we started talking to the people there. (Maxwell M)

So hearing this, I decided to attend a beginner’s class to get first-hand pole dancing experience. The course was held in a colorfully lit studio with mirrors covering the walls. I was greeted by a friendly and welcoming instructor who gave me a tour of the space. There wasn’t a moment where I felt like I wasn’t welcome. 

It started with about 20 minutes of rigorous stretching. The more experienced dancers seemed to do it effortlessly, but I could feel every muscle burning before we even got to touch the pole. 

As the class progressed, I began to understand how pole dancing has stuck around all this time. The physical demands of the sport were evident the second our hands touched the pole. It required strength, flexibility, and coordination–and that was just for the basics, the most extreme motion we took was a simple spin around the pole. 

Besides struggling to repeat the moves of our instructor, I started to truly take in the empowerment that pole dance offers. I watched the other dancers embrace their bodies and celebrate their individuality. It was clear that pole dancing was more than just a form of exercise; it was a means of self-expression and reclaiming control over their bodies. 

Even so, the physical benefits of pole dance aren’t to be overlooked. According to Price, “Students are able to build a relationship with their bodies while building body awareness in space, flexibility, and strength” She emphasized just as I did:  “You’ll get sore in muscles you didn’t even know you had!” It’s an incredible full body workout.

But of course, there will always be the more erotic side of pole dancing. Its association with strip clubs and the adult entertainment industry is a big part of the stigma surrounding it. Society’s tendency to sexualize women’s bodies also plays a role in that stigma. 

Nevertheless, I didn’t feel a shred of that sexualization during this class. What I experienced was dance, which was both athletic and artistic. 

Just try it! Worst case scenario you’ve spent a little time and money to find out something isn’t for you, but best case scenario you’ve discovered an amazing new hobby that has the ability to awaken parts of yourself you didn’t even know you were missing!

— Jenna Price

Pole dancing has become a platform for body positivity and inclusivity. People of all shapes, sizes, genders, and skill levels have embraced this art form, challenging societal beauty standards and promoting self-acceptance. The community fosters a supportive environment where individuals encourage and inspire each other to push their limits and achieve their goals.

While the debate over whether pole dancing is empowering or erotic may continue, it is essential to recognize the choice of the individuals involved. Many pole dancers find empowerment and joy in the art form, using it as a way to express themselves and build confidence. It is crucial to respect their autonomy and acknowledge the diverse motivations behind their participation.

So in the spirit of encouraging those who might not have a fully fledged understanding of pole dance to make informed decisions, Price’s closing statement aligns with mine.

“Just try it! Worst case scenario you’ve spent a little time and money to find out something isn’t for you, but best case scenario you’ve discovered an amazing new hobby that has the ability to awaken parts of yourself you didn’t even know you were missing!”

Taking a real pole dance class was the most fun I’ve had in ages, and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone interested in building muscle, dancing, or even just having a good time with friends.