Pole dance is often labelled as a sexualized art form. Well, sometimes it’s not even classed as an art form but that is a subject for another post. I think I have demonstrated in 70% of my choreography that pole dance can be something completely different if the choreographer asks questions and allows a shift in direction. The other 30% of my work has come from an active decision to provoke an audience and to create an atmosphere of intensity which is easily done if you sexualize the movement. Actually, maybe it is not even the movement. The focus of the performer can really dictate the way the movement is received by the audience. The connection from the eyes of the performer to the audience could potentially be what makes it so appealing. Choreographically, I find this very interesting. What is it about the movement that allows the audience to see it as sexy? What happens if we perform innocent movement and it is seen as something else? I want to compare three videos and talk about the choreography so you can see what might be stimulating the sexual element. The pole doesn’t necessarily do that on its own, even though people think it does.
Through experience I have recognized that when there is a pole in the space, an audience automatically sit on the edge of their seat and expect something a bit raunchy. I could do a very similar routine with and without the pole and it would be seen in a totally different light. So what is it about the pole? As performers I think it’s how we look at the pole and or at the audience. Even when I dance in a none pole setting, if I am performing contemporary dance I like to engage with the audience, even if it is only once I want to connect with them through a quick look or a short stare. I find that if you take the same approach with a pole, it is taken in a completely separate way. Here is a clip from Rosas Danst Rosas, choreographed by Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker, it’s a contemporary dance piece that demonstrates what I mean about focus and intention of movement.
This clip shows a very small quantity of abstract movement and it is the personality of the dancers that creates a sexual feel that is naughty and mischievous. “There’s always been an exhibitionistic edge to De Keersmaeker’s work. In fact, she’s just messing with your head, challenging you to ascribe emotional meaning to purely mechanical gestures.”- Luke Jennings. It would be interesting to see a version of this is manipulated for a pole instead of chair.
A complete opposite, is a pole dance performed by Anna Shestova that is deliberately sexualized and created for an erotic pole dance category. The movement is again, very subtle and not much going on but you can obviously see that they girl has stage presence and is strong on the pole. She touches herself fairly often and looks at the audience much more than the dancer does in the next clip.
On the other end of the scale, here is a pole dance, performed by Karo Swen, that doesn’t really show any sexuality at all. Throughout the whole of this piece it is constantly busy aside from a couple of random rest breaks where she does some robotic movement. The dancer make no eye contact with the audience (the camera) and there are no slowed down moments where she touches the pole or herself other than to enter or dismount a trick.
So many pole dancers don’t engage with the audience, they just mount the pole like it is a piece of gymnastics apparatus and it is frustrating. Especially considering it is supposed to be a pole dance. Although the athletic pole dance category is entertaining and impressive at the time, is doesn’t leave me with anything that provokes thought nor does it speak to me. It just makes me feel like I am watching. However, when I watch a pole dance that contains less tricks, a little more intricacy within the choreography and clear direction from the performer I feel as though I am in it with them and that is when it sticks with me. It stimulates thought and it makes me question. As pole dance choreographers I think we should be trying to reach a point in our work where we can combine athleticism, intention and actual dance that can give the audience a chance to make something of the work. What do you think?