Nowadays pole dancing has evolved into exercise form practiced by not only professionals and performers, but by everyone from casual students and gym-goers to national and internationally recognised pole athletes. The history of the pole dates with ancient times, so our team decided to share it with you.
The history of ‘Chinese Pole’ dates back prior to the 12th century, when circus professionals of the era would use a pole, approximately 3-9 meters in height, laced with a rubber material and wear full body costumes. Performances of the Chinese Pole were less fluid than performances we now see using a pole, due to the grip from the pole and the costume, but many tricks like ‘the flag’, hanging straight out at a 90 degree angle to the pole using nothing but arm strength, are still used and performed to this day.
Chinese acrobats would display climbing, sliding down, stretching and holding positions using acute strength and skill. Performers of this time would regularly have burn marks on their shoulders from performing and training which became a way for them to identify and have respect for one other within this art form.
The Indians also have a ‘pole’ tradition of some form dating back to over 800 years and originating in Maharashtra. This form was referred to as “Pole Mallakhamb” and was intended as way for wrestlers to train. The literal translation meaning ‘wrestler of pole’; “Malla” = ‘wrestler’ and ”Khamb” = ‘of pole’. The Indians would often play competitively, using a smooth wooden pole with a base diameter of 55cm and thinner diameter at the top of 35cm, which was sometimes laced with castor oil to avoid friction. Pole Mallakhamb was used to develop speed, reflexes, concentration and co-ordination.
People believed that this type of training was beneficial in practicing many other games and sports such as Wrestling, Judo, Athletics, Horse-riding. Additionally, it improved flexibility, grace, swiftness and rhythm especially for gymnasts. Nowadays there are national Mallakhamb championships involving 14 states in India. This is a very male dominated environment in which women do not participate.
The Western World
Pole has now evolved into a modern day exercise form, not just for professionals and performance and not just for one sex. The world of Western Pole dates back a lot longer than you would imagine. Striptease dates back to myths of ancient Sumerian times, where the goddess of love, Inanna, was said to have danced and removed one item of clothing or jewellery at each of the seven gates that she passed on her way to find her lover Damouz.
There have been linkages of this myth evolving from the Bible’s ‘Dance of Seven Veils’. Other influences of exotic dance over the years have derived from Parisian times, i.e. Moulin Rouge, the ancient Middle-Eastern art form of belly-dancing, and also from Latin inspired dances such as the Rumba and Tango.
One of the earliest recorded pole dances was in Oregon, US in 1968, and following this, the pole dance craze is believed to have kicked off in Canada in the 1980’s. A woman named Fawnia Dietrich initiated the first ever class in teaching pole to non-performers in 1994, and has gone on to create the world’s first pole dancing school and produced various instructional videos.
(c) Andy Bennett
Modern Day Pole Dancing
The US, Europe, Australia and Asia quickly followed, with pole dancing and pole fitness classes, studios, academies, competition and training spaces opening worldwide. So today, modern pole is a combination of these centuries old techniques, and has evolved into a modern day form that relies heavily on dance as well as fitness skills.
The fusion of the finely tuned circus performer skills of the Chinese, the energetic acrobatic skills of the Indians and the alluring and sensuous dance skills of the Western world, are what make up Pole dancing as we know it today.
An effort to include pole dancing in the Olympics was initiated by K.T. Coates. IPDFA founder, Ania Przeplasko strongly supports this idea and has in many interviews highlighted this cause. IPDFA seeks to gain the International Olympic Committee’s recognition of pole dance as a sport.