Can pole dancing be stripped of its history?

The adult industry has existed since the beginning of time in various manifestations around the world. As Sky Sirens founder and renowned performer Katia Schwartz told me, there has never been a time when naked women weren’t used for entertainment.

Pole dancing has gained widespread popularity as a fitness workout in recent years: it burns calories fast, it’s great for your blood flow, joints and balance. Perhaps most significantly, said Katia, it promotes confidence and self-expression.

Yet concurrently to the acceptance of pole dancing into mainstream culture, the adult and sex work industries continue to fight for recognition and rights. The most recent attack on these rights was the 2018 FOSTA-SESTA ruling in America, which effectively banned adult industry workers from promoting their services online, a much safer alternative than brothels or street work. The repercussions of this ruling have extended to Australia via harsh restrictions on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook.

Given this climate, do hobbyist pole dancers have an obligation to recognise the history of the pole, and the plight of the industry from which pole dancing originated?

Absolutely, according to Katia. However as its popularity increases, many pole dancing studios with owners from non-adult industry backgrounds deliberately ignore the historical roots of pole dancing, and work to separate pole from stripping in their marketing campaigns.

The use of the hashtag #notastripper on Instagram is another tool used by hobbyist pole dancers to disassociate their dancing from stripping.

“Our society now says pole dancing is acceptable, but stripping, the adult industry and sex work will never be okay,” Katia said.

While Katia is no longer an adult industry worker, she runs events and sessions that promote dialogue between sex workers and the wider community, and owns Sky Sirens, a burlesque, aerial artistry and pole-dancing studio on Crown Street dedicated to inclusivity and diversity.

Partaking in pole dancing classes without an understanding and appreciation for the history and continued hardships of those in the sex work industry is, according to Katia and many other sex worker advocates, a regressive act of appropriation.

“As long as there is a prejudice against women expressing their sexuality and sensuality, this will always be a problem,” said Katia.

“It’s really not even about stripping or pole dancing; it’s about peoples’ attitudes towards women expressing sex. The shame that people still have towards sex is actually the problem. I don’t even know if that will change – definitely not anytime soon.”

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