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#YesAStripper: Pole Athletes and the Stripper Stigma

#YesAStripper: Pole Athletes and the Stripper Stigma: Hair and Makeup by Emma Parkes

Hair and Makeup by Emma Parkes

Welcome to The Tasteful Nude, in which stripper, comedian and writer Kasey Koop gives us a point-blank look at life onstage and backstage in L.A.’s strip club scene. Check back every Thursday afternoon for more.

When I got hired at the strip club, I immediately found my way to pole dance classes. With its neon pink signage ad sparkly floor, the place looked like a traditional dance studio having a midlife crisis. When the instructor asked how I had heard of the place, I was excited to tell her that it was through the strip club that had hired me. Her wide-eyed fake smile told me exactly what she thought about strippers. The course lasted only two weeks, but a larger rift between pole artists and strippers kept surfacing, particularly when a pole studio rented my club for their showcases. It also came to my attention via a hashtag that some pole athletes—girls who pole dance strictly in pole studios and competitions—are using to differentiate themselves from us sex objects. While many girls cross over between studio pole and stripping, the stigma of sex work divides the communities.

With stripper culture heavily influencing the zeitgeist (one word: twerk), it’s time for pole athletes and society at large to respect the strippers who revolutionized pole dancing in the 1960s, as well as other sex workers who pioneered so many of today’s trends.

I’ve gotten a direct look into both pole worlds through a development at my club.


REAL WOMEN
There’s a notorious figure in the pole dance community; let’s call her Sam. Sam rents out my strip club so her studio can host amateur pole showcases there, which are essentially adult dance recitals. It’s a night off for us strippers so we don’t actually cross paths with the pole athletes, but her showcase’s advertisements rubbed us the wrong way, touting the participation of “everyday women” like nurses and lawyers. Learned women! Valuable women! The ads went so far as to say it’s the way the strip club “should be.” I’m no expert, but the only thing strip clubs should be is full of bona fide strippers who write off panties on our taxes. Who else can charm a man fresh out of prison or fresh out of a marriage (the other kind of prison)? And what does “real women” mean, anyway? Does that make strippers boner machines? Aliens sent to Earth to collect dollar bills?

The passive-aggressive posts suggested that Sam wanted to do the very thing she was putting down. (It reminded me of the years I spent judging strippers out of a desire I didn’t know I was repressing.) This played out one night when she walked into the club as a customer with one of our regulars. They met when he accidentally came in during an amateur showcase and hit it off—at least, that’s what it seemed like when I looked across the private room to see Sam giving this dude a clumsy lap dance with her dress over her head. I’m not saying my first lap dance was the hottest, but at least I was getting paid for it.

#NOTASTRIPPER
While my own pole abilities are elementary, I work with girls who literally walk on the ceiling. It’s the sexiest exorcism I’ve ever seen! Some strippers are self-taught and others are active in the pole community, serving as go-betweens for the two worlds. When word got around that pole athletes were hashtagging #NotAStripper beneath Instagram videos showcasing their skills, it struck me as disrespectful. In no other dance form do pracitioners so heavily distance themselves from its origins. Pole dancing videos, of strippers and studio dancers alike, look similar, with upside-down girls wearing bikinis. The main difference is that pole dancers pay to play and strippers get paid for it. So being #NotAStripper just means you fork over your money to act like one.

#YESASTRIPPER
In reaction to the #NotAStripper hashtag, strippers fired back by tagging #YesAStripper beneath their own photos and videos flaunting their pole work. Many of us take pride in our job and the personal freedom it allows. Whenever guys tell me, slack-jawed after a lap dance, that I’m talented at what I do, I say it’s because I love it. It is hypocritical for pole athletes to contribute to stripping’s negative connotation as beneficiaries of the art form. Instead of bashing pole dancing’s strip club roots, respect them by promoting love and understanding for sex work.

Sam’s amateur pole show promoted body positivity in giving a stage to women of all sizes. But it seems counterintuitive to undermine sex positivity while promoting body positivity. Shouldn’t that sisterly love for curvy girls extend to sex workers as well? Pole artists are upset their dancing isn’t taken seriously as a sport but respecting strippers as humans is the first step toward respecting pole dancers as athletes.

SEXUAL URLUTION
Pole dancing is just one of various facets of sex work culture that have taken off into mainstream popularity. Thanks to the easy access to porn online, we Americans are slipping out of our puritanical straitjackets. More and more, I see sex work culture bleeding into the zeitgeist. From Jeffrey Campbell lucite heels to BDSM-style chokers being worn as everyday accessories, the Tumblr generation is having its own sexual revolution. Twentysomethings are shopping on stripper sites for their rave attire and exchanging nude selfies, while rap videos have taken twerking from a stripper move to something your mom tries while drunk at a barbeque. Hopefully the appropriating of stripper culture is a step toward the decimation of the sex work stigma. In order to do that we have to remember and acknowledge the roots of these trends, as seedy as they might be.


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