Pole Dancing: Exploitative or Empowering?

I was quoted in today’s New York Times commenting on the trend that is bringing pole dancing (complete with instructors and portable, ceiling-high poles) into the homes of middle aged, middle class women, as well as into fitness studios. Here’s an excerpt from the article by Tina Kelley:

Some say exercise that echoes the acrobatics done by women who take their clothes off for a living is exploitative rather than empowering. But Ms. Shteir and Joan Price, the author of “Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk About Sex After Sixty” (Seal Press, 2006), see a clear difference between middle-class, middle-aged women choosing to give parties in their homes and women pushed by poverty into potentially dangerous or demeaning work.

“If we were to limit what we do in the realm of affirming our sexuality because it has been used against us in the past,” said Ms. Price, who tried pole dancing in 2005, “we would then be buying into the idea that we don’t own it.”

The important point in the NYT article is that pole dancing, once solely the domain of strippers, has been reclaimed by women in all walks of life and of all ages. Why not? It’s a sensual activity that lets us see our bodies as sexy and alluring. We wrap around that pole as if it’s a lover. Pole dancing is also full of fun, healthy sexuality, fantasy, and good exercise –just try hanging onto that pole with your arms, your legs wrapped around the pole, your body suspended, and see if it’s a fitness challenge!

Besides pole dancing, women are flocking to fitness clubs for strip aerobics (we even saw this on Oprah), burlesque dance, and many other activities that “nice women” — especially of our age! — supposedly didn’t do.

Physical exercise itself is sexy, and we’re bringing the notion up a notch or two by indulging in a fitness activity that is decidedly and openly sexual.

I had the pleasure of experiencing a pole dancing class taught by Virginia Simpson-Magruder in 2005 as part of my research for an article for Marin County’s Pacific Sun about innovative exercise classes. Here’s what I said about it then:

“Push out your chest more,” Virginia Simpson-Magruder tells me in the Pole Dance class at Stage Dor Studio (10 Liberty Ship Way, Suite #340, Sausalito). Let’s see: butt out, chest out, look over shoulder, hip out, wrap leg around pole, swing–I never realized that pole dancing would require such strength and coordination. This sensual workout is much more than slithering around a pole–it strengthens the upper body (sometimes your arms are holding your whole body weight on the pole) and feels delightfully sensuous. Instructors Virginia Simpson-Magruder and Lane Driscoll got their training from a former exotic dancer. Yes, we used a real pole. (No, we didn’t strip.)

What do you think? Have you tried pole dancing, strip aerobics, or burlesque dance? What was your experience?


  1. Joan Price on March 23, 2007 at 12:00 am

    It’s great to see the comments on this post. I was amazed, in fact, to see the New York Times article on pole dancing reprinted on many blogs, often with “oooh, how icky!” types of reactions.

    I’m pleased to see that readers of this blog have a more open-minded attitude! Personally, I’m all for feeling sexy and showing off our attributes and sensuality — whether privately, for a lover, or with a group of gal pals.

    We — as a society, if not personally — fret so much about aging and broadening bodies, wrinkles, sagging parts, and so on. It’s empowering and sometimes exhilarating to revel in our sexiness. Youth does NOT have a monopoly on sexiness!

    Note to Lorena — please don’t be intimidated! Your body is splendid and deserves to be celebrated!

    — Joan

  2. Lorena on March 22, 2007 at 10:01 pm

    Sexy dancing and stripping for my husband many many moons ago was a turn on for us both. Pole dancing must be even better. I liked belly dancing too. When i get my hip replacement surgery under my belt, I just might take up this kind of exercise, except that at my age (61) and weight (very), it might be too intimidating to show up to a class of sexy young or old things. But I’m tempted . . .

  3. ellymae on March 20, 2007 at 3:50 am

    I have taken pole dancing classes and I turned 50 last year. Although my knees don’t bend as easily as they once did, you can modify some of the move to work with your body. The work out is fun and once you loosen up you get a great workout. It’s one exercise that works and tones both the abs, butt and upper arms in one workout. Who could ask for more? I think more older women are feeling comfortable with their bodies and wanting to try something new like pole dancing or lap dancing – not necessarily to turn on their husbands but for the fitness benefits also. We’re not so uptight about the size of our body parts and if there’s some that jiggles, so what – tone it up and it won’t. With all of the upper body work, it’s great as a weight bearing activity to help ward off diseases like osteoporosis too. Although our mothers would think this is taboo – I feel that every 50+ year old should have a pole in their home for working out.

  4. Anonymous on March 13, 2007 at 11:13 pm

    I’ve always enjoyed showing off on the dance floor, and looking hot while doing this, often to the consternation of my companions. Nothing lewd or vulgar, just showy. I’m finding that now that I’m older I’m not as worried about what people think and I’m more relaxed with expressing myself, sexually and otherwise, than when I was younger.

    I have this fantasy about becoming a novelty exotic dancer. From what I’m told, the exotics around here are not exactly the cream of the crop so this could work. I don’t take myself so seriously anymore and could add an element of comedy. I was never a beauty, but I’m still cute. I think it would be fun and I could use the extra money.

    I work diligently at staying in shape with walking our dogs, dancing, and strength training. No more skipping workouts and getting away with it now that I’m in my 50’s. My favorite way to keep my weight in check is dancing. I found these great Brazilian dance workout dvds. The instructor is very ladylike, supportive and encouraging. The moves were at first shocking to me however. This type of dance involves the whole body and I’ve learned a lot after thinking that I had all the great moves already. Samba!

    Other cultures, such as Afro-Brazilian culture, have integrated the sexuality of their dance so that it’s simply an accepted part of balanced life. People in the US are by comparison prudish. So I think pole dancing workshops are a great idea.

    Even if you don’t take it out in public, sexy dancing is a great way to get your husband or sweetie all hot and bothered.

  5. Sue Katz on March 6, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    Dancing and sex have so much in common – not the least that they are both fabulous exercise, that we get better at them the more that we practice and that they are greatly enhanced with a communicative and responsive partner. I love your open-minded approach to integrating movements of all sorts – from fitness to flirtatiousness. Thanks for this terrific blog, Joan!.

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