Pole dancing is a sport, it’s a form of art, a fitness activity, a form of dance and eroticism. Hundreds of thousands of people take up pole dancing as a hobby every single day, pole dancing fitness classes are available in all major cities, and it’s more popular now than it’s ever been before. But, you can trace the history of pole dancing back for hundreds of years.

This article will explore the fascinating history of pole dancing, where it originated, where it is now and where it could go in the future.

As an enthusiast in any activity, you should get to know the history and origins of your favorite sport. It’s not that you need this information to improve, but it’s interesting and useful to know!

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Where did Pole Dancing Originate? – The Complete History of Pole Dancing
(12th Century – Present Day)




What’s that?! The 12th Century, you say?  The information we have shows that pole dancing’s origins can be dated back 800-900 years ago – isn’t that fascinating?

Pole dancing has a unique and interesting story, as a sport is has travelled around the world, been performed by men and women of all ages and been used within the sex industry.

Currently, as popular as its ever been, pole dancing has a colorful past that’s interesting to learn about. So, let’s explore the history of this wonderful sport that we love so much, starting at the very beginning.

The Complete History of Pole Dancing - where it all began

The Origins of Pole Dancing (Approx 1200BC)

The use of poles in acrobatic entertainment can be traced back to over 800 years ago in India. Both Mallakhamb and Chinese Pole originated in India.

Mallakhamb

Mallakhamb is a traditional Indian sport that uses a wooden pole. Typically performed by men, they would perform acrobatic and yoga-inspired tricks on the pole.

The poles used in Mallakhamb were made from wood and much wider than a modern dance pole.

Mallakhamb is the oldest form of recorded performance that used vertical poles as apparatus. Like modern pole dancing, it requires a serious amount of strength, agility and stamina to perform.

This video, recorded in recent years is a demonstration of Mallakhamb:

Chinese Pole

Chinese Pole performances often had 2 poles, up to 20 feet high and the performers would perform climbs, inversions and would also leap between the two poles.

The poles used for Chinese Pole are silicone or powder-coated, allowing the performer to complete their routines fully-clothed. (Learn about the different materials used for dance poles here)

This other recent video demonstrates a traditional Chinese pole performance:

As you can see, both Mallakhamb and Chinese Pole use similar techniques to what you do in your own pole fitness training. In these videos, they’ve performed tricks such as outside leg hang, shoulder mount, inverted crucifix, Superman and flag.

Pole Dancing as a Traveling Sideshow Act (Approx 1870-1930)

In the USA, pole dancing became synonymous with travelling sideshows. People would visit these events to experience exotic dancing from around the world, including belly dancing from the Middle East and pole dancing from Asia.

At the time, dancers in these shows were often Ghawazi dancers from Egypt.

By the 1920s, dancers would entice paying customers into shows by dancing sexually or gyrating their bodies against the pole. Due to the sexual nature of the dancer’s movements, pole dancing and burlesque shows were often combined, before making the natural move from circus tents into bars.

Strip Clubs and the Rise of Pole Fitness (1980s – 1990s)

Pole dancing performed by women became widely associated with strip clubs and the adult industry. Strippers and dancers in strip clubs all over the world use a pole to show off their skills, tricks performed in strip clubs were often erotic in nature.

However, during this time more athletic and acrobatic tricks were combined into pole dance and striptease routines.

Pole dancing became associated with attractive women dancing in their underwear, with high-heeled shoes and men putting dollar bills into her bikini bottoms. There was certainly a lot of curiosity around pole dancing as a fitness activity, inspired by the dancers who used more acrobatic tricks in their performance routines.

Pole dancer performing in an erotic club

Pole Fitness Classes

During the 1990s, pole dancing was specifically taught as an art and a form of fitness for the first time. It remained an alternative form of fitness before gaining mainstream popularity.

Pole dancing for fitness classes started to gain popularity in America, Europe and Australia. It continued to be performed in sexualized settings, such as strip clubs and bars, but more credibility was given to the athletic ability of performers.

Pole Dancing in the Mainstream (2003 – Present Day)

From the mid-2000s onwards, pole dancing for fitness began reaching peak popularity. Pole fitness classes are offered in most major cities. These classes are held in gyms and dance studios, as well as continuing to be performed in strip clubs.

More and more people start to learn pole dancing every day, it’s a wonderful community to be part of. It’s a very inclusive community, where students from different backgrounds are always welcome.

Pole dancer performing

A pole dancer performs an Iguana Mount

International Pole Dancing Championship Events

There are several commercial pole dancing competitions and championships, including local, regional, national and international events. Winners receive awards and titles which are internationally acclaimed by the pole fitness community.

By the mid-2010s, pole dancers continue to raise their game and push the limits. An ‘advanced’ trick in 2009 is now probably considered to be ‘intermediate’, for example. Choreography has also become more sophisticated and innovative, leaving the pole dancing world stunned and in awe of what’s physically possible.

Pole Dancing Celebrities

The rise of social media influencers and celebrity culture has helped pole dancing for fitness gain popularity. Examples of celebrities who have publically declared their love of pole dancing including Jennifer Lawrence, Madonna, Shakira, Emma Watson, Jennifer Anniston, Kim Kardashian, Demi Moore and Britney Spears – just to name a few!! Carmen Electra even has her own Aerobic Striptease Workout DVD, and she used to have her name to a budget at-home dance pole as well

Pole Dancing as an Olympic Sport

In 2003, a Pole Dance Instructor called KT Coates launched a campaign, alongside the International Pole Sports Federation (IPSF) to make Pole Dancing an Olympic sport.

In 2017, the Olympic Committee awarded pole dancing “special observer” status, which means they officially recognise pole dancing as a sport. There’s still a long way to go, and pole dancing won’t feature in the 2020 Olympic Games, unfortunately.

Pole Dancing needs to fulfil the following criteria, which is currently in progress:

  • It must be a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency (Done)
  • It must be a full member of the GAISF (Partially Done)
  • And it must have 50 national federations (Currently around 20)

Hopefully, we’ll be seeing pole dancing as an Olympic Sport in the next 8-12 years!

Pole dancer performing an extended butterfly

Surely this a trick worthy of the Olympics?! Do you agree? (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

And now on to something almost entirely different…

May Pole Dancing

Another form of performance or dancing that involves a pole is May Pole Dancing. This had a very different background; it originated in Europe and involves dancers dancing around a pole in a circular motion, wrapping colorful ribbons around the pole as they go.

May Pole Dancing forms part of a historic ritual. It is traditionally performed in the Spring Time, around the beginning of May to coincide with ‘May Day’.

Although this is very different to pole dancing for fitness, a few performers have started to incorporated ribbons or silks into their pole dance performances.

Further Reading

If you enjoyed this article on the history of pole dancing, then you may also enjoy these other articles on our site:

Happy poling!


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The History of Pole Dancing - Where it all began




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