When I first tried pole dancing I felt like I was doing something scandalous, and ultimately shameful. 

Writing this feels taboo, and especially writing this for the student paper feels taboo — at least, that is how I’ve been taught to view it. 

As women, we are always told, and sold – what we should like, what we should wear, how we should look, and what ways we should exist. Ultimately, we’re being told the ways we should exist that will make us “lovable” enough. In reality, all this does is detach us from who we actually are. 

Pole dancing counteracts this exact sentiment. It focuses on how we connect with ourselves and what we want, becoming an avenue for women to reclaim their bodies, agency, and sexuality.

Ashley (above) free dancing. “[In S-factor] we give our bodies a chance to slow down and move outside of our typical linear movements. We stretch, breath and swirl our way through a warm up then explore pole moves and short combinations that weave all these elements together.” – Ellice Apostolos, the owner of Steel and Grace

In pole, we ask ourselves: What makes me feel good? What kind of clothes do I feel good in? What types of music does my body like? What makes me feel alive? 

Through my experience doing pole, I’ve witnessed some of the most vulnerable and powerful dances; I’ve watched other people’s bodies go from stiff and tense to relaxed and at ease.

Above is Ashley (left) and Laura(right) both dancing in an S Factor class, a specific type of pole class focused on feminine embodiment.“I’ve seen relationships start and end, jobs change, moves to new cities, pregnancies, graduations from college, taking a stand for onesselves at work, going after something they always wanted… all born out of a new relationship with self. When we awaken a relationship with the unique and individual voice that lives inside and build confidence in who we are and what we are capable of…” – Ellice Apostolos

Even the most unassuming and timid women have so much power and so much to say with their bodies when they have the space to do so. Those vulnerable and powerful moments can be life-changing for the people dancing.

Contrary to what it may look like on the surface, pole isn’t always about looking or even feeling “sexy.” Eroticism in pole can consist of a wide variety of states and emotions: anger, sadness, fear. It’s truly about being connected with our bodies, our inner selves, and finding agency through that.

Above is Megan (left) and Kalyn (right) both dancing in an S Factor class. “I enjoy the challenge of pole and the empowered feeling that comes from accomplishing difficult physical feats. Plus, there are incredible community connections that are built by sharing a love for this type of art. We share in the challenge while celebrating and encouraging each other along the way.” – Ellice Apostolos

For myself and many other women, pole dancing can be a space to escape the repression women have to face in the world. It has become a place where women can own and reclaim their bodies. 

Pole can be a place where women and non-binary folks can find and express their sexuality without the intrusiveness of the male gaze. A place where we don’t have to make ourselves small and where we feel safe taking up space.

Above is Laura (left) and Megan (right) both warming up and dancing in an S Factor class. “I have seen so much transformation in my students’ lives, it’s really quite amazing. When we have a space to be fully inhabited within ourselves something magical happens.” – Ellice Apostolos

The lessons learned from pole dancing can bleed into so many different aspects of our lives and apply to all people. Our culture often rejects and shames important parts of what makes us human, such as our need to express our emotions, sexuality, and our need to give and receive love. Emotions are deemed as weak. 

Men can’t express how they feel out of fear of not being “manly enough,” and women can’t express how they feel without the fear of being labeled hysterical. And, if we do somehow get the courage to share how we feel, we would rather spend that time intellectualizing and pathologizing our emotions than actually feel anything. 

“There was something very personal and authentic that my body was invited into and it prompted a kind of self discovery and play I hadn’t felt before.” – Ellice Apostolos

It poses the question: If we can’t connect with or care for ourselves and emotions, how are we supposed to fully live our lives? How are we supposed to connect with and care for others? 

If we gave ourselves a chance and really explored and embraced our true selves, maybe we wouldn’t cringe at ourselves as much as we thought we would. Maybe the parts of our bodies and who we are we once thought we could never accept become our favorite parts. 

Maybe if we gave ourselves a chance, we wouldn’t be as “unlovable” as we had once thought. 

The shame mentality that our culture teaches and encourages is what pole tries to challenge. It shows us that connecting with our emotions and ourselves is our power. 

Author’s Note: A very special thanks to all of the dancers who allowed me in their space, to Ellice Apostolos, the owner of Steel and Grace for supporting me on this project, sharing her wisdom with me, and allowing me to use her studio, and a special thanks to Mia Pabros for helping me with the set-up and lighting of the photos. 

*** It is extremely important to acknowledge that sex workers, specifically strippers, have paved the way for pole dancing and have faced significant risks doing so, especially transwomen and women of color who are sex workers. Sex workers should be taken seriously and protected; if they were, our culture would have to acknowledge that women are deserving of respect whilst embodying their sexuality.**