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By on May 24, 2013
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By Karen Possessky, LCSW    Photography by David D’Angelo

Assumptions are avoidable if we make concerted efforts to understand people as they exist in their environment. The stigma of pole dancing has led the general public to draw certain assumptions about pole dancers that cause many of us to be in the closet about our involvement with pole. Yet, hiding our interests and passions can make us feel shame about who we are and what we do, even if it’s something that generates happiness and pleasure overall. Healing applies as much to whole communities as it does to individuals. Communities gain strength through togetherness and shared experiences. Today, many pole dancers use website forums to connect. Pole dancers gather online to bond, unite and find commonality that can be difficult to find elsewhere given societal views on pole dancing.

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During Spring 2012, an unassuming 20 year old female pole dancer stepped on scene of the virtual community space at Studio Veena and Texas Peace and Pole. She solicited feedback for a school project, which sparked a wave of community camaraderie. The community members did not realize that they were embarking on a creative process that would result in a moving social statement and a healing connection.

Phi majors in Criminology and Last semester, took an Art History” class and was given an assignment to create a ‘social protest’ artwork. She visited the group forums to gather single words and short phrases to collectively describe the common everyday experience in the day of the life of a pole dancer. The community members (self included) chomped at the bit to participate in what seemed like catharsis.

Phi didn’t realize the fire of enthusiasm that she ignited – she had to complete an assignment and simply needed a universal representation of common experiences among pole dancers. The community of pole dancers posted responses in real time at a rate that was like watching basketball score updates. The first solicitation was one word to describe what pole dancing does for you. Pole dancers engaged in the fun and thrill of identifying that perfect word and rapidly fired away a wide variety of answers. Many commented on each other’s responses and clicked the “like” icon to show agreement and support for one another’s thoughts and contributions. Screen shot 2013-05-24 at 12.26.27 PM

A few hours later, Phi sequestered responses from pole dancers to describe how people responded whenever they were told that they pole danced. The replies were comical leading many to write “LOL” or “LMFAO”. The community of pole dancers shared laughter with one another over tales of absurd statements made to them that reflected societal assumptions about pole dancers. One posted that she was met with sarcasm, “Where’s your pole? … In your bedroom?” Another echoed, “Seriously … all of my boyfriend’s friends think we have crazy wild monkey sex just because I pole.” The “like” icon was hit multiple times indicating that many others heard similar such comments whenever disclosing the fact that they pole danced. The posting process within the community group forum helped to validate and normalize the experiences shared by many pole dancers as it expressed the challenges faced when being open about their pole dancing activity. It further brought dancers together and reassured them that they are not alone fighting the stigma attached to pole dancing.

A few days later, Phi posted the photograph that had been taken for her school project and the online community responded with awe, amazed at how a picture can truly be worth 1000 words. The image keenly captured the experience that every pole dancer shared. Dancers sounded off with many “wow’s” and “like’s”. Many agreed that this was a picture that needed to be shared with the greater community by exposing it to as many other pole dancers as possible for its healing components of normalization and validation. Since the sharing process bonded a community that can, at times be segregated, healing could be felt not only at an individual level, but at a community level as well. When photographer, D’Angelo, agreed to recapture the photo, support was offered by some of the same Texas Peace and Pole community members whom contributed to the list of words and phrases that Phi used for her class assignment. Screen shot 2013-05-24 at 12.26.09 PMThe goal was to raise enough money to defray some to all of the cost of airfare to fly to Los Angeles for a professional photo shoot. Studio Owner, Karyn Pentecost, of The Girls Room, in Dallas, Texas, agreed to host a workshop, where Phi and her closest friend and doubles partner, Sequoia Steadman, taught pole tricks for doubles. Enough money was raised to cover a significant portion of Phi’s airfare. Not surprisingly, Phi earned an “A” on her assignment and raised a sizable portion of funds for airfare to travel to Los Angeles for the photo shoot. But the best outcome of this social protest artwork was the rebirth of a community and the individuals within. The artistic image ignited camaraderie among community members to a level that hadn’t yet been seen. Individuals from the community forum realized more distinctly, that they weren’t alone fighting pole stigma and fending off ludicrous statements made by ignoramuses. Phi’s social protest artwork on pole dancing not only prompted rebirth among a community and several individuals but also on a small sector of the general public. Phi admitted that during her presentation, the classroom audience was skeptical at first. However, as she explained the unified pole dance experience, her classmates and professor soon realized that the subject at the center of her photograph could be anybody representing any population that has received public scrutiny and judgment. In the end, Phi’s artistic idea was a brilliant and creative medium to reexamine what pole dancing offers and explain what the experience is really like to cynics.