Dancing as "Jungle Cat," Tavon Hargett has developed a bit of a YouTube following for his interpretive and dramatic pole dancing. His performances are kind of beautiful. And yet, as a phenomenon, male pole-dancing feels...weird.
This is one of those tricky moments when theoretical open-mindedness meets reality: "Like women, guys are discovering that pole dancing can be an athletic and artistic pursuit that feels more Cirque du Soleil than strip club." On the face of it, why not? As the Washington Post points out, pole-dancing is an increasingly, um, acceptable athletic discipline that requires upper-body strength, provides a good workout, and is even vying for Olympic recognition. It's become popular enough with men that the Pole Dance Fitness Championship now contains a men's category. There are more classes across the country admitting men. YouTube is filled with the antics of gyrating men showcasing their superior upper-body strength. And, even taking a hundred double-entendres into account, a pole knows no gender.
On an equality basis, it may seem unjust that the bulk of pole-dancing classes should stil be restricted to women-only. Or not: says one instructor, "My clients are average women itching for a fitness outlet. I really wanted to home in on this demographic that's been overlooked." Her point: men have plenty. This is an empowering opportunity for women to, on a basic level, gain confidence and - while I can't speak for her - maybe do a little light reclamation while they're at it.
Pole-dancing-as-empowerment is a controversial notion at the best of times. When the Cambridge Union Society started offering pole-dancing to female students as a mode of stress-relief, the debate (the same that's been waged over the pop-cultural co-option of stripping or burlesque generally) burst into flame again. As one official defended the practice, "We are of the opinion that classes like these are a way of empowering women… if an intelligent, independent woman wishes to learn a particular form of dance in respectable surroundings, we see nothing degrading in that." Rebutted the Guardian's David Mitchell, "Pole dancing is grim and I don't see anything empowering about learning it. Even if you say that it's just dancing and good exercise, surely it would be more empowering to learn a dance that can be employed in contexts other than strip clubs?" The argument for reclaiming such practices has always been, on the one hand, that doing these things on our own terms strikes a blow for agency and furthermore allows them to exist outside that context. On the other hand, in this society, is it ever really outside that context? And does glamorizing stripping serve to render the pros more empowered and respectable - or merely blind us to the uglier realities? And then there's the question of intent: when young women aren't as interested in the subtleties of reclamation as a little sanitized objectification - well, does that change things? Should it?
Mitchell, however, ends his argument thusly: "If... it's "not intended to be sexual", why is it only for women? Shouldn't men get the chance to be empowered too?" He's being flippant, but I guess the argument could, indeed, be turned around for the defense. For my part, all philosophical trappings aside, if I were a recreational pole-dancer, I think a co-ed class would cramp my style. And I'll just put it out there: on a basic level, like the HuffPo's Diane Passage, II would find my boyfriend pulling a Nomi Malone to be deeply, deeply unsexy.
It's Not Just Women Who Benefit From A Pole-Dancing Workout [Washington Post]
Pole Dancing Could Be Recognized As A Sport And Headed To The Olympics [NYDN]
Actually, You Won't Find Female Empowerment Halfway Up A Pole [Guardian]
Cambridge University Society Offers Pole Dancing Tuition [NewsHourly]
Male Pole Dancers Are On The Rise [Huffington Post]