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Stripper Nymph Captured In A Studio Pole Forest, An Approximation Of Her Natural Habitat.

EXOTIC POLE PERFORMANCES: VIEWERSHIP GUIDE FOR JUDGES AND AUDIENCE FROM A PRACTITIONER OF FILTHY

Are you competing in the Exotic category at a competition this year? Are you judging an Exotic category at a comp? Are you attending a sexy showcase or performing dirty nasty clack clack moves in one? If so, you’re in the right place.

Sexy is back, y’all. And its big. For some of us, it never left, and I am one of those people. If you know my writing or follow me on social media, you know how pro-stripper I am, and how I have a very loud and very proud history of adding clarity to (and often times defending) the voices and practitioners of strip club talent. I’ve advised you on how to answer the “are you a stripper?” question. We have mused about the appropriation of stripper culture in studio spaces. Today we will talk about exotic dance in competition and showcase circuits.

Stripper Nymph captured in a studio pole forest, an approximation of her natural habitat.

Before I delve in, I’d like to give some props to one organization first. Some competition’s and showcases have always welcomed exotic style dancers and to them, I tilt my hat (Im looking at you Colleen Jolly and Midwest Pole Comp). Recently, Pole Sport Organization, the worlds largest Pro-Am pole competition, finally added an Exotic category to their lineup. When I first started dancing in their competitions in 2012, there was no place for strippers or exotic style dance. Once I had one of my 2015 PSO panel judges walk directly up to me after I performed to tell me (and I quote) “You have got to know you are ruining this sport for everyone”. I have had some of my best pole girl friends exclaim to me they didn’t “need” sexy. Once, a studio owner at a competition was organizing a group shot casually refused to allow me in a picture with her students, who are my friends.

By refusing to budge on my history and style, I often felt left out as a result; cast aside, and eye rolled because of pole’s need to establish itself as “legitimate” and “more than what strippers do”.

I interpreted the lacking welcome of exotic practice by performers and judges as a threat to the performance of my authentic self—the authentic self being the capstone of poles own mission statement as an industry at large. It has always been said everyone was welcome, come as you are; but in past years, the actions of some showcases, comps, community members and studios via regulations, treatment, and body language toward sexy dancers, stripper flow, and sizeism has suggested otherwise. We noticed. And you know what? Ya’ll know that.

Certainly, the thought of just now being “allowed” to take part in something my stripper foremothers actually invented is worthy of discussion, but there’s no need for divide, so I won’t. Progress comes slow, its messy, and it is not linear. Thank you, Amy and PSO. Good move. Adding the Exotic category to your competition series was an honorable move and I appreciate you for it.

I can safely say, however, that in the last year, I have seen a shift in culture. The (recent) acceptance strippers and exotic style pole in our community is heart warming. It seems sudden; perhaps its a response the political climate, maybe its because we’ve finally realized that power trick arms race is doing nothing but injuring us, maybe its because you just simply cant argue with a woman who leaves class feelin’ herself when she was never “permitted to” before. Now that exotic pole is finally being welcomed by the community, I’d like to share with you the best ways you can love us.

Judges notes from a 2015 competition I participated in

Bare in mind, this is completely an opinion piece; I am NOT speaking for everybody. This writing is not intended to be an addendum to, or a scoring guide for any exotic category in any pole competition anywhere. I am using my stripper and show pony knowledge to create a guide for judges and audience, but also a voice for exotic style pole dancers based on how I interpret the ideas they share with me. I am speaking solely from a classic club exotic standpoint, but not for all stripper and exotic style dancers. When I say “exotic” or “stripper style” I am not talking about wearing a pink feather boa and doing a coy shoulder shimmy. Thats vintage showgirl; its hotttt like fire, its entertaining, but it is not club exotic dance. When I talk about exotic dance and stripper style, I am talking about drop splitty, heel clacking, hair flipping, hide your kids and your man, nasty.

How do you love us— these click clacking, ass popping, glitter bathing, body writhing, floor fucking, flexy stretching, hair flicking, body skimming, sequin adorning—exotic pole dancers? Well. There’s really only one rule here to help you understand where were coming from. If you want to understand us, understand this:

Our goals are different than yours.

Its simple. I’ve outlined a few bullet points that elaborate on what I mean when I say “our goals are different”. I’ve also created a guide to suggest some positive actions that could be taken to support the mission of filthy women everywhere.

1. Form

Competition pole got popular off of amazing artists like Sergia and Shaina. Their classical training and flawless lines launched contemporary style pole into the spotlight in the 2012-2015 era, and rightfully so. The hard work they have done their entire lives shows in every single toe point. Their bodies are fully activated at every moment, and they dance as if they have beams of light shooting out of their fingers and toes. This pole style is very present in pro-am competitions because, lets be honest here, who DOESN’T want to be prima ballerina, even for just 4 minutes?

The Exotic Poler wants that too, only, she’s the one that got thrown out of ballet school for smoking in the bathroom. The Exotic Poler’s form is sometimes vastly different from the expectations that “traditional” competition pole sets forth. Form can mean a few things for performers like us.

Exotic pole dance come in a variety of flavors; some are slow and sensual, while others are fast and dirty. Some keep consistent rhythm with a song, and some only highlight accents in the music. Some are aggressive and some are passive. Some look right at you, and others keep an downcast gaze to lure you in. These exotic styles are varied because exotic dance is rooted in sex and sex is varied. Her form should follow the mood of her piece. Executing her conceptual goal, the function of her performance, is first and foremost (more on that later). Form follows function. Example:

Line

If her goal is to be slow love making exotic, then her lines should reflect that. Long, in constant motion, organic. You should look at her body and be reminded of liquid, and perhaps think of that one time with your lover when their hands fell on you softly, as if their body was made to fit your curves perfectly. If she aims to create a piece more raw, you might think of that one time you had a quickie in your grandma’s house over Thanksgiving. Her lines should reflect that too. Her hair is in her face, her toes aren’t pointed pointed because she is embodying raw desire, and who points their toes when they’re trying to get their “goals met” in 3 minutes flat? Those micro bends in the knee that you hate so much? Not the point of her performance. Applying the classic and more mainstream rules of dance to the form of an exotic performance is like comparing apples to oranges. The line of her form should reflect the kind of sex she is portraying. Simple as that.

Pole Passes

Her pole passes might not be as long, as frequent or as complicated as yours. Exotic pole work is derived from strip clubs. Anyone who has ever worked at a strip club knows that your money maker is not the pole. Its made from floor work, engagement, lap dances, and the emotional labor that is tied to your gaze and stage presence. If you are judging a competition and the girl doing a sexy routine does a ONE SINGLE pass on each pole, that is a “correct” form of exotic dance. Exotic dance is not solely about tricks; its about a mood, a full package. Exotic pole dance does not concern itself with bringing complicated pole trends, or the unspoken compulsories of her level division (ie: “well its, level 4, so I need at least two ayshas!”). No. Her dance is dictated by her concept, and her aerial work should reflect that. This leads me to my next point in the form of exotic dance.

Musicality

When she dances exotic style, she does not hear the music, she IS the music. It is not a cadence by which she executes tricks, but rather, it is the spell snake charmer puts on their snake. Her music encapsulates her, hypnotizes her so that she may hypnotize you. Every layer of sound is given attention and this attention varies in its form. Sometimes she needs to do a fast cartwheel aysha, while other times that musicality comes in the form of a booty pop, and sometimes its a simple wink at her audience on the perfect beat of the song. Her tricks don’t matter as much as the way she moves through them, with them, connecting movements together to create a simulation of sex.

Exotic pole and stripper styles is about a feeling. A mood. Its about the milieu. The theatre; connecting to an audience in a sexual manner without touching them at all. The function and concept of the piece is the primary motive and the display of athleticism is secondary to the display of vulnerable and honest feminine sexuality. Before I move on to the function of exotic dance in comps and showcases, here are some ways you can support the differing form of exotic dance:

  • Having a background in classical dance, group fitness, gymnastics, and yoga does not apply to us (though all of those things are amazing and we LOVE YOU for them). One of the ways you can support us in competitions is by bowing out on judging to allow for career strippers, show girls, and long time exotic style practitioners to take that place at the judges table. If that isn’t an option, then set aside your classical training judgement and think about that time you the best sex of your life and judge the performance based off that feeling. If you can’t access that feeling, then give up your seat at the judges table.
  • When judging form, put her tricks difficulty on the back burner. Take into consideration her finger drums, winks, head rolls and how her movement compliments the sound and type of desire she sets forth. The interpretation of detail and how HOW she uses her tricks, not the volume of them that she does.
  • Do not comment on how little or how “easy” her pole work is or how “you could do it better”. This might not be what she is about displaying on a stage.

Lets move on to function, shall we?

2. Function

Function is the primary way in which exotic pole differs from traditional studio pole dancing. Athleticism and sport take a back seat to concept, mood, and emotion. Situating the sport aspects of pole at the forefront of its value is androcentric; it takes conventionally masculine qualities and characteristics of pole and centers them as the determining factor of value in a performance. Competition, victory, strength, and power are all masculine characteristics, and therefore more valuable in the eyes of society. Vulnerability, sensuality, creativity—all of the emotion and creative based characteristics are traditionally characterized as feminine, and thus often perceived as less valuable in the eyes of popular culture. This vulnerability and sensuality is the function of exotic pole dance. We embrace this. We take our femininity and place it on stage; this is a powerful political act of defiance. Her function is to reject the idea that strength resides in the muscles, but instead asserts that it resides in the heart. Her concept, simply put, is to perform femininity. To be unapologetically woman. She does not take into consideration how uncomfortable your husband or boyfriend is, or how you define woman. She cares not about what her boss will think, and dismisses all of your judgements about how “easy” her moves are. Her most difficult “move” is moving you into bodily awareness of your own desire.

I was once at a weekend yoga retreat in the mountains of Virginia. I went to a 90 minute savasana class. My teacher opened the class with a small lecture. She talked about strength and why savasana was the most difficult of all of the asana’s. Anyone could be trained to execute the hardest and most strenuous of yoga poses, she said. With time, everyone can stand on their heads and have every muscle in their body engaged to hold a pose. Savasana, however, requires stillness, presence, vulnerability. Only the strongest people successfully complete savasana, because the strength it takes to simply BE is more difficult to procure than muscles. I view the function of exotic dance performed before an audience to be similar. When she does exotic pole, her goal is to BE. Confidently, unapologetically. Every nod, every spready, every stretch mark, every jelly roll, every untimely hair that falls in her face and sticks to her lip gloss: This is her. Right here. Right now. Nothing more, nothing less. Vulnerable, beautiful. Take it or leave it. I view this “being” is the primary function of exotic pole dance in studio’s and competitions. Can a comedic poler, an athletic poler, a modern contemporary poler do this too? YES! And I love to watch it. There is, however, one key factor missing, and this is what separates the conceptual nature of exotic pole from those other genres: That “beingness” and that vulnerability is founded upon the dangerous yet essential ownership of feminine sexuality. Women are “allowed” to be all of those aforementioned things, but what she is not allowed to be is sexual and feminine. So what does this function of exotic dance look like?

Audience Engagement

She knows you’re looking at her, and she doesn’t care. In fact, its a good thing that you are because the rawness being bestowed upon you right now is special, because its her. Sometimes she engages her audience with an angry scowl as if to dare you to even think about coming closer. Sometimes her engagement is not engaged at all. She looks downward, at her own body, surprised and encapsulated by her own temple, unable to care that you’re even present. Her gaze might be constant and she winks at you to let you know that she knows that you just saw what you just saw. No matter how passive or aggressive her engagement with you is, one thing is certain: she’s aware of it and she plays to it. She knows you’re watching. She isn’t performing for a customer for money, she isn’t doing a pin up girl routine aimed at presenting a doll like inert kind of woman for a presumably male eye, she isn’t giving you a surprised coy look when she takes her top off.

She is purposeful, engaging you with a knowledge that it is YOU that is the visitor in her world, not the other way around. She performs her sexuality for you because she can. She isn’t trying on her momma’s heels while looking in the mirror like a little girl does when she’s small. She isn’t experimenting with or discovering her own gender. She is a grown ass woman who knows what she wants and is showing you just that.

Entertainment

Entertainment is a powerful conceptual tool. It isn’t boring nor is it aggressive, two things that tend to loose audience engagement really fast. Nobody likes a snooze fest and no one likes being yelled at. Using entertainment as a vehicle for presenting the unapologetic self engages everyone, gives them an entry point, and makes for an amazing time for all. Exotic pole wants to get you fired up, and you performer wants you on the edge of your seat. She wants you to cheer, clap, look at your girlfriend and go “did she just do that?!”. She wants you to leave feeling like you’re magic because you are. When she gives you an engaging flow and revelry straight from the heart (or vagina), you feel energized, present, and visceral.

Energized, present, and visceral. Our goals are different than yours.

Here’s how you can support the function of exotic dance:

  • Do not Goldilocks Effect our practice. There is no such thing as “too much sexy” or “not sexy enough”. The exotic practice of each woman is just as unique as she is. If you’re clutching your pearls, or wishing for more, perhaps you should consider a different venue for viewing or judging pole. Exotic style pole is about the portrayal of each woman UNIQUE sexuality, not your personal definition of it.
  • Please, come hang out with us. We would love to have you. We’re really good at putting on fake lashes, and we can teach you. But do not use us as an opportunity to be a tourist or to “try out” sexy. Our practice might look fun or simple to the layperson, but the realness at which we give ourselves to you is profound. Were not your play toy.

Are you an Exotic Pole competitor or showcase performer?

Stay tuned. My next article is for you….

 

Nia Burks

I am a professor of Digital Art and Media Theory at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va, where my research includes (but is not limited to) gender politics and identity, body positivity, and mediated images of women. I am a sex work activist, a pole dance instructor with specific focus given to theatrical performance as well as plus size performers, and a video/sound artist. I am interested in the "art" side of pole, though I do love the trick/athletic side as well. My interest in academia and art theory has led me to consider pole in the same manner as I do any other fine art medium. I hope to be able to perform and write about pole in a manner that is both informed and humble.
Nia Burks

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. There were a lot of fantastic points in this article, and I’ve been very excited to see support for exotic pole begin to make headway in the sport industry. However, the readability of this article due to an obvious lack of editing was distracting and made some sentences murky. As a dancer who long felt uncomfortable in studios and insufficiently classically trained for competition, I appreciate bringing to light what might be inspiring an exotic competitor on stage, but I think that pointing out that we are not, at that moment, dancing for a customer is not helpful, because we are dancing for judges and they are just customers of another form. The movements of most exotic dancers come from acknowledging what will be pleasing to customers. If you are performing your sexuality in a showcase it is obviously another case entirely, but most people enter competitions with the goal of being judged well, and to exclude that dichotomy does no favors to judge or competitor. Excluding others from “trying sexy on” is also not helpful-we should be hoping to inspire other women to feel comfortable with their own sexuality-so rather asserting respectful ways for people to interact and enjoy the movement would be more proactive.

  2. Thank you so much for this article. It feels so lonely to be a stripper in pole world and while it’s becoming easier in some ways with stripper acceptance, but we do need a stronger presence in pole. I hope instructors and studio owners can read this and reach out, offer stripper discounts, hire a stripper to teach lap dances or audience engagement, take students to a club and tip for a show. We have so much we can learn from each other.

  3. First thank you for the acknowledgement of our event! We are so happy that sexy/sensual style dancing is embraced in the pole community and especially within the Midwest.

    This article provided very interesting reading. I’m happy to say we’ve always had judges with exotic dance backgrounds and I think this helps. While we look at lines and form we’ve also include a sensuality factor that I believe offsets traditional judging. (it’s explained on our website under the valuation tab) I’d love for dancers with exotic backgrounds to take a look at it and tell me what you think. Feel free to email me.

  4. This article brought me such joy and a sense of self and connectedness at the same time that I cannot thank you enough for…I needed to see this so much right this very second xoxo

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