Pole dance fitness like many other dance forms has a complicated history. Let one segment of the community tell it, pole dance originated in India or China. Let another segment tell it, it came from strip clubs. I am going to break down all the theories so you have a better idea of how pole dance fitness came to be.
A few years ago every pole dancer in the world was probably tagged in a video of an Indian man scurrying around a wooden pole. This video floated around Facebook and other social media for years until finally it died down (thank goodness we were sick of it). The sport being showcased in this video is Mallakhamb or Malkhamb. The athletes perform acrobatic acts on a wooden pole and the sport is extremely popular in India. Some believe that this sport is where pole dance came from as watching the videos, you do see some of the same tricks and transitions that pole dancers do. Mallakhamb does require the same balance and strength that pole dance fitness requires however participants in the sport are primarily male which is quite different from modern pole dancing as we know it.
Next we move to China, where Chinese Pole features 10 – 30 ft poles and circus performers climbing and holding poses. The poles are typically covered in a rubber material which can leave the athletes covered in bruises and the performers typically wear layers of clothing to avoid a lot of burn marks. The strength and skill it takes to do Chinese pole is very similar to Mallakhamb and again the athletes are typically all male. Some Chinese pole moves are incorporated into pole dancing such as using the feet to climb and certain grips. But considering there are few women and no heels it is tough to validate pole dance fitness derives from Chinese pole.
So where did the heels and sexiness of pole dance fitness come from? Mallakhamb and Chinese pole have the strength, balance, and skill of pole dance but do not feature women, heels, or sequins. Modern day pole dancing has heavy influences from exotic dance and pole dancing from traveling fairs during the Great Depression. Exotic dance dates as far back to Sumerian times when the goddess of love, Inanna, danced her way to her lover and removed an article of clothing while passing her way through seven gates. Exotic dance also has Parisian, Middle Eastern, and Latin American influences. During the height of the Depression, traveling fairs featured dancers named “Hoochie Coochie” girls who would do suggestive hip movements around the pole that was holding the tent in place.
The pioneer of teaching pole dancing to everyday women is Fawnia Dietrich a former exotic dancer who lived in Canada. She taught her first class in 1994 and produced the first pole dance instructional video in 1998. Since then, pole dance as a fitness activity has taken off and is popular all over the world. Dietrich, who now lives in Las Vegas, has a popular convention named Pole Expo which is attended by hundreds of pole dancers every year. Pole dancing as we know it is a fusion of exotic dance, acrobatics, and gymnastics and to say its origins are only from Indian or China would be false and discredits the work of former and current exotic dancers such as Dietrich.
Today there are different segments of pole industry which include pole dance, pole fitness, or pole sport. Studios can cater to one of those groups or all. To me pole dance also includes the sexy classes such as chair dance, floorwork, or striptease. Pole fitness would be taking those classes and making sure they have a fitness factor to them such as more challenging routines, faster music, or more repetitions. Pole sport is for those who are more interested in the athletic or competition aspect of pole and would like to see it included in major sporting events like the Olympics. One of the many reasons women (and men) love the pole industry is because it is something that helps you stay/get in shape, increases your confidence, and you can choose which segment you like best.