The Highs and Lows of Pole Dance: Our Experiences of the Sport

Pole Dancing has had its fair share of negative comments and stigma over the years. The Essex University Pole Dance club committee of 2020-2021 explain a little more about what the sport means to them and why its very different to public perception.

For many of us, joining the University of Essex Pole Dance Club has been a highlight of our time at university. As a club, we have shared so many incredible experiences. Our members have been able to compete at Derby Day and nationally in the IUPDC competition, take part in workshops and go on tour together. But most importantly we have made amazing friendships.

Many of us had never tried pole dance before university but through our classes and socials, we have all grown in confidence and are all really supportive of each other. We practice in a safe environment and we even successfully campaigned to install blinds in the pole studio so we could have complete privacy when we train. This is important as starting pole dance can be daunting as there are misconceptions about it, such as it being quite sexualised. I was nervous about trying the sport, but I am so glad I did as I immediately fell in love with it. Like many of our members, I discovered how fun it is and how many different styles there are, from sensual to contemporary, there really is something for everyone.

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Some of our members performing a group routine at a competition. 

It is not just our club that has experienced the amazing thrills of pole dance. We chatted to the incredible Melissa Lee (Miss Pole Dance Scotland 2018/19) about her own experiences of the sport. She is such an inspiration to us as a club and to many women. Not only is she an extremely talented pole dancer but she is also making huge strides in the male-dominated STEM field as an aerospace project manager.

Like us, Melissa started pole dance at university and loved it! She didn’t feel under any pressure to be sexy and found it was all about having fun. She advised us that some of the best ways of stopping negative feedback about the sport is to just be open and not to feel like you must justify it. If people don’t understand, they can do their own research. She also emphasised that many people are impressed with the amount of fitness associated with pole dance. It is not just great for you physically, Melissa also highlighted that it is great for your mental wellbeing. This positive effect on our mental health is something that we have also experienced, not just through enjoying the sport itself but also being part of a super supportive pole dance community, both in person and online.

Melissa Lee: Incredible pole dancer and aerospace project manager. 

While pole dance as a community is incredibly supportive, sometimes we all find ourselves at the receiving end of negative comments and unnecessary remarks. Whether it’s an uncomfortable joke or viewing pole as something less-than, it devalues the amazing work we all put into our sport. This affects pole dancers across the board, from professionals just like Melissa and beginners trying to start their journey. It can be so demoralising, but once you find your flow you begin to realise that no one else’s opinion matters – you have found something you are genuinely happy with.

While this is true, unfortunately there is still a lot of stigma and misconceptions around pole dance. Last year our pole Instagram page was shadow banned which reduced our visibility. This came at a time where society was supposedly becoming more informed and accepting of pole dance, with films such as Hustlers becoming hugely successful. We decided enough was enough and held a protest against this and the misconceptions and negative experiences experienced by so many in the pole industry, with a slut walk, making posters and wearing our pole gear to show our pride in our sport. This has possibly been one of my proudest moments at university, standing alongside my fellow pole members at the protest.

Being part of the university club and wider pole dance community has been more than we could have hoped for. It has improved our confidence, strength and given us some of our closest friends. It is something many of us will carry on with after we have graduated, knowing we will always be part of the Essex Pole family. It really is for everyone.

So, when are you joining?

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