Pole dancing: Ageism, skilfulness and finding sexiness in sport
By: Elizabeth Fritz
Most people are surprised when I tell them I do pole. There is nothing edgy about me. I don’t dye my hair, don’t have fake lashes, tattoos or piercings. I don’t even wear makeup and I hate G-strings. You’ll never see me in skintight clothes, short skirts or see-through tops.
This is perhaps what people expect pole dancers to look like. But pole is unique; it challenges outdated thinking. Pole actually attracts all sorts of women and femmes for many reasons. I’m a straight, married, childless white woman. When I tell people I do pole, the response is often an uncomfortable laugh and a quick change of topic.
It frustrates me because pole is fucking hard and I don’t like it when it’s trivialised or passed off as some amateur dance form. When I think pole, I think respect.
It’s the hardest physical activity I’ve ever tried. I usually describe it as gymnastics on a pole and it’s evolved into a legitimate art form and a serious sport. Elite pole dancers showcase their skills, creativity and physical prowess at national and international competitions.
Because it’s a powerful and physically demanding sport, progress can be painful and slow. It takes guts and commitment and it tears you down. There’s pole burn, swelling and bruising, and that’s just the physical stuff. But it makes me feel alive and I wear these markings like a badge of honour.
I remember my first day clearly. I walked up the stairs and met Lou, who was going to be my teacher and later one of my biggest inspirations. I didn’t really understand what I had signed up for, and as for the stripper stigma, well I couldn’t give a shit about that. All I knew at the time was that I needed an adventure and I wanted to get fit doing something fun.
Pole dancing is still predominantly linked to stripping – it is after all the foundation for the modern-day practice, so naturally there are overlaps. You perform sexy moves and learn to be suggestive and alluring. It’s perhaps this element that underpins the attitudes people have toward pole. Many women aren’t comfortable with the notion of sexy, they don’t see themselves as sexy and they are completely disconnected from their sense of sex.
Pole challenges these social constructs that exist around the ‘good girl’ ideal. A dichotomy such as the good girl versus bad girl is antiquated and unhelpful – why do we have to be one or the other?
I was 37 when I first approached a pole. With my hair tied back and in shorts and a singlet, I looked more like I was going for a run. I wasn’t comfortable wearing hot pants and a crop top and this had nothing to do with my age. I just felt self-conscious about my cellulite-y thighs and those few extra kilos I was carrying.
It is unusual to see more mature women doing pole, but the truth is hundreds of us are taking up pole and loving it. It’s challenging, liberating and never boring. When you’re starting out it’s tough regardless of your age.
Sometimes I do wish I’d stumbled on pole sooner, simply because I could have started working towards a stronger body earlier. I love to dance and finally I had found somewhere I could indulge that desire and need.
The warm up started and that’s when I noticed Lou’s physique for the first time. Damn, I thought, what a strong and magnificent body! Becoming so strong, flexible and confident became my mission.
“Now don’t be scared to touch your boobies,” instructed Lou as we practiced a little combination of sexy walks, hip grinds and booty rolls. Our legs were spread, we were squatting down and doing slow and deliberate pelvic grinds; my thighs were burning but I loved it. We were moving our bodies in a primal and sexual way and I knew I was hooked.
Our movements were a bit stiff and slightly awkward – but this isn’t surprising coming from a culture where moving in a sexually empowering way is often reserved for strippers and pop stars.
But ordinary women want sexual empowerment and strength too and that’s what pole gives me. Plus, it’s experimentation, risk taking and an opportunity to get my sexy on.
My grinds and booty rolls are fluid and powerful now. My shoulders, back, abs and pecs are strong and I can climb the pole with ease, even though it took me three terms of beginners before I made it to the top of 4- meter pole.
Pole dancing is also a form of therapy for me. It’s an escape. The physical pain, the concentration, dancing, technique, trying not to fall on my head and staying upright in my stripper shoes are powerful reasons to keep me in the present.
I’m 45 now and I just bought a new pair of sexy red stripper shoes, the highest ones yet. I love my strong body and sometimes-calloused hands. I have an impressive grip and powerful inner thighs, which my husband gets to enjoy too.
Elizabeth Fritz is a freelance writer originally from South Africa with Hungarian roots. She loves to travel, read and dabble in art. She’s curious by nature, a deep thinker and she loves to pole.
Trans erasure, trans visibility: History, archives, and art
Transgender and gender diverse representation on the big screen
Intersex variations: Western medicine and the Hippocratic Oath
Archer Asks: Curly Fries of The Leftover Collective
Trans women in sports: End the discrimination now
Bisexual women and mental health: You must be this queer to enter
Shame, gender and ageing ‘gracefully’: Musings from a 66 yr old androgynous bodybuilder