An extremely multifaceted and talented woman I know wrote this piece. READ IT: http://kellymaglia.com/musicblog/
Even if you’re not a dancer be it pole, ballet, hip-hop, or otherwise, she brings up a number of interesting and issues pertinent to all people, but women especially, including (B,C):
A. Semiotics, or the study of symbols.
B. The male gaze
C. The taboo of Sexuality
Symbols are important. You can’t escape it. My simplified understanding from my undergraduate studies in neuroscience is that the human brain is structured to think of things in a schematic way. Simply put we get overwhelmed and speed of processing gets much slower if we constantly try to understand the nuances of every single situation and we as a species would probably not have survived had we tried to do so. If our brains had decided to take the time to determine if every thing that was four-legged and striped black and orange was really dangerous instead of automatically assuming it was a tiger that would eat us, the earth would look a lot different. Full of super cute and vicious animals but probably not terrorists and crazy extremists.
Ask any marketer or PR person, their job is to take something meaningless and imbue it with meaning that speaks to our limbic system, or Freud’s infamous id. They use our innate ability to schematize things and utilize symbols in the following way (more or less):
“Here is an aesthetically pleasing symbol. Let's bombard them with other images that associate it with other things our limbic systems enjoy- pleasure, sex, money, control, until they can’t distinguish the two.”
Not to belabor the point, but you see said symbol- an Apple logo, a Nike sign (to reference the brilliant Kelly Maglia’s piece above!) and instead of seeing a random schematized apple with a bite taken out of it or a weird looking checkmark, you see an innovative tech company that can help you go above and beyond your competitors in a “fight the man” kind of way or an all star athlete.
Now on to the sociologically complicated issue of the male gaze. Why do women wear makeup? Why do we spend money on tight clothes, breast implants, etc? To boost our self confidence? Sure! I know I feel awesome when I look great even when I’m going to place where I know no man will see me, e.g my pole studio, or even staying at home. Growing up I went to an all-girls school and we dressed up for each other on our non uniform days as much or more than some of our co-ed counterparts. BUT its much more complicated than that. When a girl tells another girl “oh my GAWD you look amazing!” is it a simple compliment? Usually yes. But it can also be confirmation to the recipient of the compliment that other people, hopefully men, will come to the same conclusion . [Side note- Rachel Bloom addressed this in a hilarious way in her amazing show on the CW Crazy Ex- Girlfriend in the musical number “Put yourself First” in which some of the lyrics read “ put yourself first in a sexy way” and Bloom’s character wonders what the point of getting a back tattoo “for herself” is if she can’t even see it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZqpSzNGqBBE.
So back to the original point. What is the difference between pointe shoes and “stripper heels”? Is it as simple as the difference between ballerinas and pole dancers? I argue that it is because of semiotics. The pointe shoe equals a ballerina. The platform shoe equals a pole dancer. Once we’ve settled that point, is there a difference between pole and ballet? Both require amazing amounts of strength, coordination, flexibility, and to get there, dedication. One had its origins in the courts of 15 and 16 century Italian and French royalty. The other had its origins in strip clubs where men pay women ostensibly for sexual excitement. Interestingly enough, even ballet dancers were viewed as “showgirls” i.e.”less than”- only for entertainment and nothing more when the art form first gained popularity! I do both. I grew up doing ballet from a very young age, never once imagining myself as a “sylph”, a “swan or dying innocent” but rather feeling more like an actress who could also dance (so kind of like a double threat?) playing these parts. To me the key word here is something most would skip over. The "ostensibly". Meaning "presumably". Like most things when it comes to discussions about feminisms and the male gaze, etc, it's about who has the power in any given situation.
Ultimately I transitioned to the pole world because I felt ballet was less female empowerment than I originally thought.I felt that ballet was like being a fashion model. A few powerful men tell you how to look and what to do, and you force yourself into that mold. I was tempted by the individuality of pole, and , being always the rebel, the taboo of pole. For the first year I told my parents I was continuing to go to “dance” class and when pressed I straight out lied and said it was the same ballet classes I had always attended. What does all of this mean? I believe it mean that sex is taboo. Anything that is even suggestive of sex, which a lot of things in pole can be (but don’t have to be) makes people UNCOMFORTABLE. It just does. And like the four legged orange and black stripped thing, our brains won’t necessarily take the time to disentangle platform shoes worn by women who are paying to pole for exercise, to explore their bodies, or for any other number of other reasons, from platform shoes worn by women who are paid to pole to make a living, or because they love it, or for any other number of reasons.
Let’s take this one step further. There really should not be any distinction between these two (see this amazing article http://harlot.media/articles/1572/strippers-need-to-take-back-pole-dancing)
That’s a topic for another discussion but it’s extremely relevant to this one. Are pole dancers who pole primarily without platform shoes “more athletic” and “respectable” ? There’s been a lot of back and forth in the pole community about “bringing sexy back”, # notastripper #yesastripper etc, etc. I say do what you want. That’s why I started poling in the first place. If you want to be sexy be sexy. If you want to be more like a gymnast do that. Don’t let any man or any woman tell you what’s right or wrong.