The Problem with Sanitization in the Pole Industry

“I want you to put more sex in it.”

I was watching an episode of So You  Think You Can Dance when Nigel told an 18 year old performer, “I want you to put more sex in it,” after her performance. He gave her other notes and feedback but I’ll remember that specific sentence for a long time. I don’t recall the genre of dance. Maybe it was tango. Maybe it was salsa. It could have even been contemporary. All I know is something was slightly off with the passion and intensity in her dance. Apparently she didn’t have enough “sex” in it.

Pole Genres and Intentions

I get that pole has different iterations these days. Pole Art which appears to be highly subjective and has started to look like slightly more graceful Pole Fitness & Tricks. Then there is Pole Fitness. There is Pole Dance. And there seems to be perhaps Contemporary Pole where more expressive, lyrical and freestyle dances go. These categories seem to bleed together sometimes. In each category you have people who do it for fun and fitness. You have the pros who do it for competition. You have the people who do it for fun and to share. (These types don’t necessarily compete but they may be in showcases or they may be involved in fun nights like High Heeled Hottie Night or Moving Meditation Nights.) Then what you have are the people who do it for personal transformation. They do it to tap into their spiritual eroticism. It becomes part of their meditation. They do it to emotionally connect to their core. They do it to express and live in the beauty and god given sexuality that they possess. I say this because I’ve seen women dance beautiful and perhaps it’s sensual but you can still tell they are afraid of  the “sexual” part of their movement. Or they feel awkward but they like to dance. I don’t think they have reached utopia where spiritual eroticism is practice and lived everyday and maybe one day they will get there.

So  there you have it. You have different sub genres of pole. You have different personal intentions towards the reasons for poling. It’s all good! Each has its place.

That is until people divide and conquer. That is until women belittle each other by saying one genre is going to “clean up” the other. I don’t need saving, purification or redemption. When you argue against one type versus the other, what you have are “religious zealots”. I didn’t leave my childhood cult that continually sought out ways to repress my expression, sensuality and sexuality to go pole dance and have some other dancer/athlete try to repress me.

We can all exist together and support one another and it would serve us well when one genre or pole intention speaks in good will towards the other versus against the other. You do not need to negate me to uplift yourself.

Marketing and PR for Pole

Business has only two functions – marketing and innovation. ~ Milan Kunder

I personally do not even believe pole needs to be sanitized or cleaned up. When Nigel can say, “put more sex in it”, with Dita Von Teese being a household name, with Marilyn Monroe being a “sex symbol”, with doing articles on escorts, vibrators and more….. I don’t think what the world needs is a bleach sponge of purity to pole dancing.

What the pole genre needs is a major public relations and marketing overhaul. We need a fixer, an advertising company to come in and teach us all how to talk about ourselves. That’s the problem. Not the sex. Not the heels. Not the pole. It’s how we’re talking about it. I cringe at 99% of the public interviews and articles polers are featured or quoted in. I’m not talking about the celebrity quotes about how they took up pole dancing for their latest movie. I’m talking about pole dancers themselves. Studio owners and the “leaders” in our field. When I see the interviews I cringe. We may be great artists and athletes but we have yet to master the art of public speaking. Some of you should hire a communications manager or a marketing company to help you develop your brand and represent your values. And while you’re at it, update your website too. They are dated, cluttered, archaic and kitschy. Your website remind people of strip clubs. They don’t remind people of athletes or dancers or artist. So maybe update your website and that might help. And learn how to TALK about what we do without negating others, without horrible metaphors and with a positive, uplifting clear message.

Marketing and Public Relations…..That’s one of the major problems.

"Glen Graham Photography"


I’ve been thinking about pole and what it will not only look like 20 years from now but also what effects it will have on our cultural and social landscape.

I see athletes doing new tricks like jumping from one pole to the next. (Watch the video.)  Ken, you’re a beast. Awesome! Or there’s Marlo and her Birds of Paradise. She’s magical. Can I bottle her up? Then you have pole evolving into deeper story telling, it’s becoming not only lyrical but socio-political like Crystel Belcher’s “Strange Fruit” dance.

What we are forgetting when we talk about the Olympics and the dollar signs associated with what you think will result in lucrative sponsor deals is the potential of a spiritually erotic revolution that can elevate our level of consciousness.

Evolution and innovation isn’t in the sport of pole except that some will continue making death defying tricks that are riskier and full of more spectacle. Innovation could be in using pole as a constructive way to tap into a taboo since the beginning of time… Sexuality.

That’s the problem. Not pole dancers. Not our shitty websites and interviews. The problem isn’t strip clubs, escorts or even sex trafficking. The underlining and overall issue is our historical and global issue with sexuality.

I hear you already. “Well, be that as it may, SHEENA, but I’m a sensual dancer. I don’t even focus on the sexual.” I’d wager to say this. Any dancer or athlete who is present and intentional in their performance is sensual.

This is where I have to break down sensuality and sexuality.

Sensuality and Dance

To be sensual, I think, is to respect and rejoice in the force of life, of life itself, and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the making of bread ~ James Arthur Baldwin

I define sensuality as the embodied experience of our physical, spiritual and emotional senses. Thus sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. The way I see a sensual dancer performing versus an artist literally going through the motions is that a sensual dancer is present. You as an audience can feel her as she feels the pole. You are so captivated by every step she takes because you can see the embodied affect that the stage floor has on her feet. You can feel the air of her breathe because she’s gracefully aware of it too.

In your next freestyle when you’re caught up in your head or creatively stunted, get sensual. This applies to men and women. When you’re going through the motions, get sensual. By this I mean, be engaged with everything your hand touches. Be engaged with everything your foot touches. What can you smell? How does that influence your movement? What can you see? How does that influence you? Or if you want to play with sensuality, deprive yourself of a sense and then dance?

Sensual dancers are engaging and captivating because they are present and mindful. You feel them as they dance. When I hear people afraid of being sensual, what I hear is someone afraid to be present in their life, polers included. I don’t think athletes and sensuality are mutually exclusive but I think some people find safety in doing trick after trick because they can be less present.

Why is sensuality frightening? Because when truly engaged it forces you to see yourself and to see yourself in relation to the world and others. It forces you to be aware of the affect things and people have on you and you on them. Some people aren’t ready for that. It’s a cousin of sexuality but it also little to do with it.

More examples of sensuality? Think about a sensual eater versus someone who simply wolfs their food down. A sensual eater taste their food. They notice the texture of it and the color of it. The more sensual they are, the more important their passion for food becomes. Or a sensual woman versus one that’s not. A sensual woman knows her body. She knows every strand of hair. She knows the details of her hands. She takes pleasure in certain fabrics and smells and colors. Some people couldn’t bare that.

Therefore sensual dancers can live in any category of pole. Pole art. Pole fitness. Pole dance. Contemporary pole. Some dancers in those categories are sensual and some are not. You can be a powerhouse poler and not be sensual. That means something BIG is missing from your performance. You can be a sensual dancer and be a pole trickster or not. Either way, I’m probably going to LOVE every step you take. And you can be a Pole Trickster and/or Sensual Dancer….and it stops there. But it doesn’t have to!

So when you want to sanitize sensuality from pole, you are asking for artists to simply go through the motions. I find that boring, limiting in a non constructive way and I wonder what you’re afraid of or threatened by.

"Glen Graham Photography"

Sexuality and Dance

Sexuality is the soul of the creative process and that erotic expression of any kind is a personal revolution. – Susie Bright

Now on to sexuality. While I am no scholar, I did break down what sexuality encompasses into 15 general categories. It is ignorant to think that sexuality means sex. Therefore sexuality includes but isn’t limited to sexual identity, gender, anatomy & physiology, sexual acts, thoughts & fantasies, desires & longings, reproduction & birthing, contraceptives & birth control, disorders, deviances & crime, diseases, menstrual and erection stages, fetishes & sensuality, history and self identity, social relationships & culture.

A person may have the intent to take booty popping out of pole because they lack a historical view on its origins, but what they really are doing is starting a dangerous slope towards taking what makes us human out of pole!

Every human has a sexuality. Every human is sexual. What that does not read is every human is having sex and loving it. Please note the difference. Sexuality itself, isn’t taboo. It’s god given. It’s divine. It’s innate. It is tied to creativity. It is a part of our life force. It is essential to our survival. This is why sexuality is important. It is part of what it means to be human.

Many scholars have created what they consider life pies or there’s even Lissa Rankin’s Whole Health Cairn. What you have is a collective of what the human life encompasses. Such as financial abundance, environment, creativity, spirituality, work/life purpose and even SEXUALITY. Follow Lissa’s link above to see others. The point is, all of these categories live in balance with one another and make up the totality of your wellness. You could be in the best physical shape and have an amazing marriage but if you hate your job and you’re not connected to spirit, the balance of your life is off and some part of you is suffering. You could go to church every Sunday, have the best sex of your life and love your job, but if you’ve stifled your creativity, the balance of your life is off. The point is that each of those categories are important and we want to grow them all. To deny any of them, leads to an unbalanced life and you feel the lack.

Most women…hugely deny the category of sexuality in their lives. It’s what we’ve been taught to do. If you’re a good girl and you want to find a great man to marry you and you want to be accepted by society, you will be pure, wholesome and compliant. And if you’re a good pole girl and you want to find a good sponsor to partner with and be accepted by society, you will be pure, wholesome and compliant.

But that’s a lie. It’s a big fucking, horrible lie!

Rather than denying sexuality, sexy or what it is to be sexual…..what would be more interesting is to find positive ways for sexual expression. I.E., pole dance! Pole dance and movement are one of the HUGEST ways a woman and/or man can express their sexual side as a conduit for spiritual eroticism.

Some forms of sexual expression are taboo. Streaking naked on a playground. Not the best choice. In general, what the world has failed to create are resources, education and communities for the safe exploration of age appropriate sexuality for all humans. Pole dancing offers this.

Spiritual Eroticism

“We tend to think of the erotic as an easy, tantalizing sexual arousal. I speak of the erotic as the deepest life force, a force which moves us toward living in a fundamental way.” ― Audre Lorde
This is now why I dance. I use this movement…both sensual and sexual…to tap into my spiritual and creative eroticism. Women and Men have been doing this since the beginning of time. They have used their bodies to connect with spirit and the earth and each other. They have used movement to align their chakras and uncoil their kundalini. They have used their bodies as a vessel for a higher knowing. Centuries ago, women weren’t doing a gyrating fertility dance, to get a sponsor or show off a new trick. They were doing it because they were in communion with the earth and with spirit.  That is why I dance. I love learning new tricks. I love performing before crowds. I love being sensual. I love trying new music. But now, I dance because I’m tapping into my soul.
So rather than evolving pole by sanitizing “sexy”, why not use it to bring on a transformation that helps women express a part of themselves that the world has forced them to repress out of ignorance and fear?

Some of you may say, “Ok. That’s fine Sheena. Go to your class and find your spirit. We still want to compete and go to the Olympics.” My two response are this. One, do that but stop speaking with ill intent towards the other purposes of pole dance.  (Check out this conversation I had with my sister about pole dancing and strippers. In no way did I negate strippers. Can you please grow up and find a way to talk about fitness without negating sensual and/or sexy?) And two, the problem I’ve already started to see is the pole community catering to the more competitive side of pole. I heard of one studio changing their schedule to match full time competitor schedules and not the every day “pole for fun” person. I heard they put their higher level classes during a time when most every day polers wouldn’t be able to attend it. Elitism is happening and not in a positive way. In an exclusive way. I call bullshit.

Here are a few key points.

1. Hire a marketing, design and communications team to help your pole company, studio, competition or etc. Please.

2. Understand that there are different genres of pole and different intentions of pole and one is not more noble than the other. If you want to be a pole gymnast so that the world can accept you, do that. If you want to be a sensual dancer, do that. But understand that the subtle yet glaring implications of “sanitizing” pole is further encouraging the world to repress sexuality and spiritual eroticism. Thus you discourage transformation, empowerment and personal expression.

3. Get to the core of what people’s issues are with pole dancing. Is it the sexy movement? Is it the little costumes? Is it the pole? Is it our marketing strategy? I really don’t think its the “sexy” because every day sex sells. Every day there are companies that thrive on a global scale because they are in the market for sexy. Its not the sexy that needs to be sanitized. I really find that to be a premature assumption. Didn’t a poler win So You Think You Can Dance? She didn’t win by being sexless, FYI. Take a class on human sexuality, human psychology, business, marketing and a couple others. Then and only then…tell me what the real issue is. Booty popping in sequin and seven inch heels isn’t the problem. There’s something else. What do you think it really is?

These are other things you should read of mine.
This post was written as my October entry in the Pole Dancing Blogger’s Association monthly blog hop. The Pole Dancing Bloggers Association (PDBA) is a community of dancers and artists who create, report and share engaging content about dance, fitness, health, wellness and self empowerment. The group shares cultural & artistic resources, prompts dialogue & debate, and builds relationships through their independent lifestyle blogs and the conglomerate that is the PDBA. The PDBA is on facebook

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Showing 11 comments
  • Kim

    Wow- detailed post. It reminds me that pole dance does not have the sexy market cornered- sexuality is a part of a lot of dance forms, and other types of art. Your points about public relations and marketing were also fantastic- I know that this is something I see in a lot of studios where I feel they are misrepresenting themselves to the world. Thanks for sharing.

    • Sheena LaShay

      @Kim, thanks for reading. And its so true. There are so many other forms of dance where sexuality is actually KEY to its success. Hopefully, we can let pole be sexy too…if that’s what a performer wants!

  • Lori Myers

    We need a PR team…I completely agree!!!! Oh I also cringe sometimes at the things that come out of my own mouth, as well as others’!!

    I was at the event where Ken jumped those poles. Not only was the jump off the charts…the anticipation of it, as he looked to the pole and we all thought, holy shit that man is going to jump to that pole…and as he looked again, NO SERIOUSLY, HE IS GOING TO JUMP TO THAT POLE, was as awe-inspiring as the jump. I love the showmanship. Some of my favorite performances came in last in the competition. But they were memorable and fun. That’s all I need in my shows. Not a bunch of perfectly executed jade splits.

    As always, love your writing. You inspire me to be a better writer and poler!

    • Sheena LaShay

      @Lori, I WISH I had seen Ken’s performance. That was utterly ridiculous and I’m glad he did it. Also, you inspire me too!

  • Michelle

    I love this! Especially about the part on sensuality and dance. I also find that at most times I’m the “pure, wholesome and compliant” pole dancer, occasionally going to the “sexy, dirrrrty and adventurous”. But I love playing along the spectrum, which is why I love pole, it’s so versatile! :)

    • Sheena LaShay

      @Michelle, I have been exploring the more pure and wholesome dancer in me in some of my latest freestyles. I find incredible beauty and sensuality in it. I love the versatility too!

  • Claire

    “I didn’t leave my childhood cult that continually sought out ways to repress my expression, sensuality and sexuality to go pole dance and have some other dancer/athlete try to repress me.”


    And amen to the PR overhaul. I love how goddamn honest you are Sheena!

    • Sheena LaShay

      @Claire, I love you for the very same reasons and MORE!

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  • […] in October of 2013, in “The Problem with Santization in the Pole Industry,” I wrote, “I do not believe [the] pole [dance industry] needs to be sanitized or […]

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