Like every other dance style, pole dance comes with its own history, roots, and influences that every pole dancer should know. But where do you start? With so many genres, styles, competitions and even talk of the Olympics it can be a lot to take in when you’re starting out. That’s why I’ve done the heavy lifting for you.
With lockdown we’re all dressed up with nowhere to go. But if you’re not in the mood to do some digging of your own, I’ve summarized the important parts so you can enjoy some extra quality reading time!
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where pole dance comes from, as it has been influenced by many sports and dance styles that come with pieces of their own history. There’s no exact date, time, or location where the precise origin of pole dance can be tracked to. During my research I came across a lot of information. It led me down a rabbit hole as I read up on many histories and adaptation of every sport.
I don’t have the time and space to hand all that info over to you – also, Haelee would kill me when I hand her my 10,000-word thesis and ask her to proofread it – So I’ll keep it short (ish).
Mallakhamb is a traditional sport in India that has been practiced for centuries. So naturally with these thing it’s hard to find its original creator. It’s an acrobatic sport where both men and women “wrestle” with a static or hanging wooden pole, or a rope. Does this sound familiar, my silks and pole dancing brothers and sisters?
The poles are made of Indian rosewood, called sheesham. Don’t worry about splinters on your butt – the pole is covered in castor oil. Compared to chrome poles, Mallakhamb poles are thicc af: they can have a circumference of 55cm and can be as high as 2.6 meters.
Originally used as additional training for wrestlers, Mallakhamb requires a lot of strength and flexibility. According to several searches, Mallakhamb either means “wrestling pole” or “pole fighter”.
Mallakhamb is still practiced in India from an early age. This tradition helps children build strength, stamina and discipline. Now, there are several forms of Mallakhamb to practice, such as in a group, on a hanging pole or on a rope. It appears to be more traditional for men to practice the pole version and women to practice Mallakhamb on the ropes.
You might be more familiar with this one! Chinese pole is a sport that’s been practiced in China for centuries. It’s where Chinese acrobats perform on a rubber or silicon laced pole.
As some of us know, pole dancing can cause some painful friction burns, but not with Chinese pole. Luckily these acrobats are fully dressed when practicing. It is very common for the performers to practice Chinese pole in groups, but it is also possible to do it individually. As for the pole, it can be as high as nine meters!
There is a lot more information to be found on Chinese pole, so if you are interested in it, I would recommend doing some more digging in your own spare time. You’ll soon recognize a lot of pole tricks and flips that we can thank Chinese pole and Mallakhamb for.
Public announcement – I’d like to thank Chinese pole, Mallakhamb and my poor thighs for getting me into tricks like Superman (or Superlady as I refer to her).
What? Maypole? The one where children dance with ribbons around a pole is an influence on mainstream pole dance? Why yes, it is, even if it’s just a tiny bit.
Maypole dancing is a European folk tradition where men and women dance around a static pole covered in ribbons. Each person holding a ribbon, dances a traditional choreographed dance weaving all the ribbons around one another until all the dancers meet at the base of the pole. The tradition is performed during Midsommer or Pentecost and its origins lays in Germanic pagan traditions.
Maypole dancing is still practiced in some European countries today, like Germany, Austria, Belgium, Scandinavia, and its respective communities abroad. We don’t exactly do the same moves in pole and the use of ribbons wouldn’t exactly be recommended, but the use of a pole in dance is still highly present.
Pole dance, coming through! In the 1800/1900’s, traveling circuses were huge in Europe and the US. Performers from all over the world would come together and share their culture through dances or even ‘freaky’ performances. These kinds of shows brought us – then known as – ‘exotic’ dance styles.
It’s not a nice term, but that’s how it was back in the day. The Kouta-Kouta, also known as the hoochie-coochie, which was a different type of skirt dance than the famous can-can. Kouta Kouta is a belly dance style from Egypt/Middle-East. Referred to as the “stomach dance”, “Mussel Dance” (‘mussel’ would be short for ‘muslim’), danse du ventre, and later as Coochie Coochie or Hoochie Coochie. Apart from the Kouta Kouta, traveling performers would also bring other – sometimes more erotic – dance styles to the masses, such as burlesque.
The rising popularity of these dances amongst the general public helped clubs and bars adapt them into their venues for entertainment purposes. From here we move on to lap dancing, striptease, and eventually pole dancing being brought to the masses.
As the industry started taking off, club owners and dancers both started seeing the value of striptease, lap dancing, and pole dancing. Dancers would often have to train new hires and soon started opening their own schools to teach aspiring dancers the art of striptease, lap dance, floor work, pole dance, chair dances, and other choreography that could boost a performance. These new dancers then each opened their studios, and so on and so forth.
After this, pole dance was finally recognised as a sport, as it should be! Can you imagine having to do a whole combo while seductively removing pieces of clothing, without injuring yourself or being able to cry out in pain when you pinch your skin on the pole?
Personally, photoshoots are hard enough as is, so I really do applaud these professionals. And yes I mean PROFESSIONALS. ALL the professionals: professional dancers, Mallakhamb champions, competitive polers, strippers, show girls, escorts and sex workers from any gender – Thank you for bringing pole to the masses!
If you want to feel fierce and sexy or simply boost your pole performances, join us every Monday night for Stripper Style Heels with Leela. It’s 45 minutes of exotic heels (minus the pole).
As I said, I did a lot of digging and filtering. Most websites will say the same, but some will be more detailed than others. Here are some of the websites I didn’t forget to paste that helped me put this info together: