Pole fitness has become increasingly popular in the past year, with university pole societies popping up all over the country. But is it degrading to women and should it be banned?
A young female student barely dressed and in high heels, slowly spins her body down a metal pole, arching her back and spreading her legs as she reaches the bottom. Is this happening in a seedy strip club in town? No, she’s in the local gym, the community centre; the sports hall.
This is pole fitness. Taken away from the strip clubs, women of all ages throughout the country are jumping on a pole in the name of exercise.
Is pole fitness harmless fun, or is there something else going on here? Does pole dancing have a place at a University?
Swansea University recently hit the headlines by banning its Pole Fitness Society on the grounds that it is ‘inextricably linked to the multi million pound sex industry’. This has caused outrage in the pole fitness community, who strongly disagree with the link between pole fitness and the sex industry.
Swansea University argue that ‘pole fitness’ is directly linked to pole dancing and the porn industry, and the acceptance of pole fitness societies in universities normalises the act of stripping and the debasement of women.
In a letter to Swansea University’s Pole Fitness Society, the Student Union board of trustees claimed that ‘pole dancing is a dance form specifically designed to sexually excite the watcher. Pole dancers are almost always women, and watchers almost always men.’
Georgina, President of the Sheffield Hallam Pole Society disagrees, arguing ‘I think most women are interested in pole fitness because it’s an alternative way to get fit. I think there’s also something deep down in [many] of us that enjoys the empowerment and strength that pole gives us, along with the sexiness and confidence you can gain from it.’
Pole fitness students learn tricks such as the corkscrew and the floater, which require upper body strength, flexibility and strong legs.
The Sheffield Hallam Pole Society markets itself as a ‘fantastic way to get fit, toned and flexible.’ Classes are somewhere members can increase their body confidence in a friendly and enjoyable environment.
‘We have a society full of diverse girls,’ Georgina continues, ‘Skinny, curvy, tall, short, [and] all from different degrees, backgrounds and upbringings. My society girls are confident and very talented and I’m proud of them. They are all proud to be part of this society’.
Why, then, is there so much controversy surrounding pole fitness societies? Banning women from participating in pole fitness is banning them from owning their bodies.
Swansea University claim ‘women have been deceived into thinking [pole fitness] is a way of taking charge of their sexuality and their own decisions,’ which is ‘a further debasement of our culture and another sign of a creeping backlash against women’s true empowerment and a show of misogyny.’
The controlling of these societies in fact hinders any empowerment of women. Though there is undoubtedly a link between pole fitness and pole dancing, women are capable of making their own decisions.
Bridie Gallagher once worked as a dancer in strip clubs but now owns a successful pole fitness business. Bridie says, ‘After working on and off for several years I decided the stripping part wasn’t for me and I began to feel degraded and even the dressing up lost its buzz.’
On her decision to quit pole dancing she explains, ‘I didn’t want to lose the feeling of escapism being on a pole gave me…so I decided to look at opening a pole studio where women could get that feel good confidence buzz and do it for themselves and no one else.’
Sharing many similarities with gymnastics and acrobatics, pole fitness has become insanely popular. With numerous competitions popping up all over the world, there is even talk of pole dancing becoming the next Olympic sport.
If women are doing it for themselves and enjoying it, then where is the harm?
‘Why can’t women choose to wear heels and enjoy the feeling of feeling sexy for an hour?’ Bridie expresses confidently. ‘We aren’t doing it for men. We are doing it for ourselves and in my opinion anything that makes you feel better is worth doing.’
This article was originally written for my journalism course.