The Importance of Representation in the Pole Community

Posted on
January 11, 2019 by

Aradia: How long have you been Pole Dancing for?
Pally: I have been pole dancing for about a few months shy of three years

Aradia: What interested you in starting pole dancing?
Pally: I had gained some weight due to a new medication that I was prescribed. The rapid weight gain was frustrating, and diet alone was not helping me shed the extra weight. I needed to get into a more active routine. I went to Zumba regularly, but it was a bit too high impact for my chronic shin splints. I saw an ad for the “Intro To Pole Dancing” groupon one day, and figured that it would be a great way to stay active without aggravating my shin splints.

Aradia: What stigmas or challenges have you faced since joining the pole world?
Pally: To begin with, I was never a seasoned athlete or dancer. I had no relevant skills that translated to pole fitness. I had to start from zero in strength, flexibility, and coordination. Strength was fairly easy to build, while flexibility is an ongoing struggle for me. Outside of the physical limitations, I still face a few challenges relating to race and religion.

Coming from a conservative community, I cannot be as open about my passion for pole fitness as I would like. In particular, I have to yet to tell my parents about my hobby, competing, and now instructing pole fitness. Having had a fairly strict Islamic upbringing, I was kept from participating in any activities that would not fit in with my parent’s conservative values. My pole attire in particular would get some disapproving sighs from my parents. Though to me, high waisted and a sports bra may seem fairly normal by our standards, they are far too revealing for most practicing muslims. Additionally, when I first started pole, I was either the only visible minority in class, or one of a small fraction of students of colour. Going into a class and being visibly different than your peers can be very intimidating. You feel like you don’t quite fit in, and that little voice in the back of your head always tends to chime in to tell you this sport is not “for your kind”. This problem is not exclusive to pole fitness, however, the small class sizes draw attention to the glaring disparity in the demographics in sports/fitness classes.

Aradia: You mentioned that you feel this sport isn’t as ethically diverse as it could be. Why do you think that is? What do you think we need to do to change it?
Pally: In the past 3 years, the number of POC students has increased dramatically. It brings a smile to my face when I walk into class and see the student distribution approaching the demographics of the real world. Despite the influx of POC students, I have yet to see higher level students, instructors, competitors, or performers that look like me. I cannot emphasize the importance of representation enough. I am not sure if every POC has the same experience, but growing up, I was discouraged from a lot of physical activities by my family and community. The go to line was “this is not for us” or “do you see other people from our community doing that?” It is difficult to aspire to be a high level athlete or competitor if none of them look like you. The current lack of representation reinforces that exclusionary messaging.

I also think that conservative values and lack of emphasis on sporting activities in POC communities further contribute to the racial disparity in pole. Most immigrant communities hold fairly conservative or religious values that don’t particularly jive with the sensual side of pole fitness. All while growing up in the south Asian community, women are discouraged from participating in physical fitness and sporting activities. Either sport is not feminine enough, requires too much skin exposure, and may result in a masculine physique or disfiguring injuries.

Aradia: What are you competing in?
Pally: This year I decided to compete in Exotic Level 1 in the Canadian Pole Fitness Association Western Canada Regionals

Aradia: What made you decide you want to compete in pole fitness?
Pally: I had previously competed in amateur, and did fairly well for my first time. I have always been a very competitive person. I wanted to try my hand at competing to see how far I could go and to give my pole fitness journey a tangible purpose.

Aradia: What is your end goal with this routine? What do you hope comes out of your competition (a part from placing)
Pally: My decision to enter Exotic was a no brainer. I am not a trained dancer, so I felt very out of place in the amateur division amongst seasoned dancers. My routine in 2018 was very athletic and dark. It was not exactly something that appealed to the judges. As much as I enjoyed putting together the routine, I did not feel at home in that division.

I have always been drawn to the Russian exotic style and decided that was a much better fit for this years’ competition. My goal with this years’ piece is to create a unique and memorable routine that unapologetically showcases my south Asian heritage. I am not the most coordinated, nor the most flexible dancer, but I am confident that I can convey a unique story on stage. My hope is to leave a lasting impression and hopefully encourage other POC competitors to step out onto that stage.