Entering the dance studio for the first time, I was introduced to an art form that required a full-body workout, which I do wearing 6+ inch heels. I eventually learned ways to use my muscles to perform gravity-defying tricks and put my jiggly thighs to good use with twerking techniques my instructor showed me.

Of course, when I tell people I pole dance, they typically think I’m working late nights in clubs with titles like ‘King of Diamonds’ or ‘Cheetahs.’ I have to explain that I’m just an amateur who dances for fun, while at the same time thinking to myself, “I wish I was on that level.”

Like other types of dance that include a level of sensuality, people have several misconceptions about pole dancing. There a a few things some folks just don’t understand.

1. Pole dancing is a sport

Pole dancers don’t just dance, we build muscle, stretch until we can achieve contortion-like shapes with our bodies and compete to be the best. We are athletes.

Pole dancers compete for titles at local, state, national and international levels. Some of the best fly around the world to compete.

Like other athletes, competitive dancers train for several hours a day to learn new combos and routines. It takes flexibility and muscular strength to pole, and the best dancers have the toughest skin  literally. Pole requires the dancer to embrace the uncomfortable feeling of metal rubbing up against soft skin. The pole leaves scars, burns, bruises and, if we’re lucky, calluses. Those who’ve been dancing for a while get used to the pain, while others learn to smile through it.

We also have a uniform. Bra and panty-like outfits are the norm. For safety reasons, the more skin, the better. Dancers need flesh to grip the pole. Cloth doesn’t stick to metal, but skin can. The more clothes we wear, the more likely we are to slide off the pole when doing even some of the most basic tricks. Some tricks can’t even be performed without bare skin, so many of us will dance nearly naked.

Because of all of the athleticism pole requires and its international interest, many have been fighting to get pole qualified as an Olympic Sport. I don’t see why not. There are several not-as-rigorous sports already in the Olympic line-up, ahem… table tennis.

2. There’s #BlackGirMagic in pole dancing

Black pole dancers are doing exactly what Beyoncé told us to do — slay. Though many think that only thin white women pole dance, black dancers excel in the pole world. Black pole divas take home medals in competitions, own pole fitness studios across the U.S., and show off their skills in music videos, on-stage performances and showcases.

The organization Black Girls Pole celebrates these achievements. It encourages black dancers to thrive in their pole-related businesses, competitions and artistry through celebrating black women with sickening skills.

3. Many of us aren’t here for your slut shaming

Despite the tremendous amount of athleticism required for a dancer to hold her own on the pole, the dance carries a stigma.

People see the high heels and barely-there wardrobe and immediately judge. They sometimes relate all forms of pole dancing to the sex industry, which doesn’t quite match up with society’s expectations for women to be ‘pure.’

Unfortunately, all dancers aren’t treated equally in the pole world either. Some pole dancers engage in a form of slut-shaming by shunning strippers. Some dancers attempt to completely distance themselves from strippers. Certain competitions ban strippers from competing. These attempts to dissociate from strippers neglects to give credit where credit is due. Slut-shaming pole dancers appropriate strippers’ moves and styles, but slap the label ‘pole fitness’ on their brand and swear it’s completely different. It’s sort of reminiscent of what occurs in the movie Bring it On.

Other members of the pole dance community embrace a more intersectional view. Many of us recognize that the titles ‘pole fitness’ and ‘pole dancer’ can include a combination of pole instructors, dance students, exotic dancers, strippers, go-go dancers, studio owners, music video dancers, and/or more. We support pole dancers of all kinds.

Besides, demonizing stripping and/or pole dancing for its sexual nature clouds people’s ability to see that pole dancers of all types are magical. Who else can hold their entire body weight upside down while twerking on the ceiling with no hands, all while make it look completely effortless?

So next time you judge, think about how much training it would take you to get on their level.

4. #PoleIsLife

Pole dancing is addictive.

I have friends who’ve traded in their living room furniture for a pole, dance mirror and practice space. Some dancers train for hours to master new tricks and combos. I know dancers who take a pause from their adventures abroad to hit up the nearest pole studio in whatever cities they’re traveling through.

Pole dancers enjoy creating stunning routines that include morphing our bodies into beautiful shapes. For many of us, this art form is a lot more inviting than a typical gym routine. We like dancing at studios that embrace our various body types and encourage us to move our bodies in new, sometimes sensual ways. Nothing feels better than mastering a new trick or combo you’ve worked so hard to achieve.

So strap on those 7-inch heels, grab a pair of leather booty shorts (the shorter the better) and hit up your local pole dance studio.

Have you tried pole dancing? Let us know your experience in the comments below!

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