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In the Spirit of Black History Month: Vanessa’s Experience as a Pole Dancer of Colour

Growing up and living in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area), I was exposed to a multitude of diverse communities and never once felt like an obvious minority, until I started pole dancing. I recently celebrated my 10 year pole -versary and reflecting back to when it all started, I realized that the first 5 years of my pole journey, across the dozens of pole studios I took classes at, amongst the hundreds of students and instructors I danced alongside, I was always the only person of color in the room. Although this bothered me, I assumed that maybe women of color just did not want to deal with yet another stereotype, they just did not want to bother with the stigma that comes with pole dancing… that we’re all strippers. I absolutely love and am inspired by exotic dancers and I think that they are definitely the reason why pole dance is as recognized and accepted as the amazing art form that it is today; but having to constantly justify one’s fitness choice is exhausting.

“Oh, you pole dance? I bet you can twerk in a split? Can you do a little dance for me?”
These were common responses I would receive from both men and women when I disclosed that I participated in pole dance for recreation. Nonetheless, I have always been proud to be a pole dancer. I find joy in watching a person’s arousal quickly turn into bewilderment when I explain that I participate in pole dance classes simply to reclaim my sexuality, develop my self esteem all whilst getting stronger and more defined muscles in the process. It is an empowering feeling to gently deconstruct their misogynistic perceptions of pole dance and to change the conversation to a more positive representation of the strength and discipline that is required for the sport. What would have been even more empowering though, is seeing my own race and body type represented in the classes I took.

Curvy, women of color were largely underrepresented at all of the studios I had attended and the popular women in the pole industry (those who won the competitions, ran the competitions, owned the pole studios) were, up until recently, predominantly young, slim, athletic/muscular white women. I used to think to myself, “I can’t possibly be the only minority in Mississauga who is obsessed with pole dance. Where are others like me hiding? How do I get them to take the risk and try something new despite the stereotypes and stigma?” Fast forward to the creation of Black Girls Pole, I had finally found an online community of minorities from all over the globe who shared my passion for pole dance and it ignited my desire to create a safe space for the marginalized and underrepresented men and women in my community who were just as passionate about all things aerial. I began to train more often, with hopes of becoming an instructor so that I could grow my following and eventually open up my own studio/ safe space. My hard work had eventually paid off when I was offered the opportunity to own and operate my local dance studio. With the help of my pole sister Natasha, Aerial Fifty Two was born – the first and only black-owned / minority-owned studio in the Greater Toronto Area. Natasha was one of the first other minorities I encountered in a pole dance class and I remember doing a little happy dance because that had been the first time in a long time that I was not the only person of color in the room.

Aerial Fifty Two continues to be an inclusive space for all people to participate and feel included. We do not discriminate by gender, sexuality, ethnicity, job, religion, politics etc. All are welcome as long as hate and violence do not come into the studio. We are powered by diversity, we are strengthened by our differences and we are eternally grateful for everyone who continues to support Aerial Fifty Two as we continue to exceed expectations.