In the research and conversations and 100s of photos that I've gone through as I've worked to build this business, this is the first time I asked myself: Where the heck did the stripper pole originate? I'd never thought about it before. So, I busted out my encyclopedia...kidding. Obviously, this was a job for Google.
As it turns out, there are several cultural origins for what we now view as the most iconic tool of the trade, though not all of the connections are clear. For example, I cannot find much definitive proof of this, but there are claims that betrothed women in early African tribes would dance provocatively around a big, phallic, wooden pole in order to show their future husbands how they wanted to be made love to. Not sure that isn't still going on at nightclubs around town.
There are strong elements of pole dancing in the 12th century May Pole fertility performances at pagan festivals in Europe. The pole here was most definitely a phallic symbol of fertility and festival-goers were encouraged to feast and make love in public! #RockON These are not to be confused with the much more chaste and much less interesting Victorian dances where ribbons were tied around the pole - the kind you can see at any Renaissance Festival today.
Fast forward several hundred years and - I'll admit I just learned about this - you come to Mallakhamb which is a traditional Indian sport, pole gymnastics on an iron pole called a stambha. Check it out:
I think that even the aerial superstars at @MagicCityAtl would have to give them props. But that still doesn't get us to the modern incarnation of pole dancing. For that, we have to look to the late twenties at the onset of the Great Depression. Circuses would travel the country and in the smaller tents surrounding 'The Big Top', there would be a variety of side shows. One of the tents would showcase women dancing around the center pole, doing suggestive moves and holding poses. Known as 'hoochie coochie girls', it's no stretch to see why they were popular!
In the 1950s, pole dancing gained even more popularity from burlesque performers who incorporated it into their stage shows as the art gained more and more acceptance in North America.
Then...it was the Eighties.
In one of my earlier posts, I talk about a book called Dancing Naked in the Material World. It is basically a yearbook for the women who worked in the most popular Atlanta clubs during the 80s and early 90s, most notably The Clermont. I've since ordered a second copy that I could leave at the club permanently and it's just amazing to see the staff look through and tell stories of all the dancers in there that they used to know. This was the heyday, the birth of the modern strip club as we know it! The trend stormed across the US and Canada and that brings us to where we are today, with toned bodies clad in scarcely an ounce of fabric, inverted impossibly on a shiny, chrome pole for our entertainment. It's one hell of a history. I wonder why that wasn't in my Truly American textbooks growing up?