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From the strip club to the studio: the history, politics and passion of pole dancing

 An illustration of a Black woman with shoulder-length locs and a matching set of sparkly purple bra and short shorts strikes a pose on a steel pole that runs from the top of the frame to the bottom. She also wears purple makeup, purple nail polish and purple “pleaser” heels. The background is pastel purple with fluffy clouds.
Charnel Hunter

Art, sport, workout, therapy: modern pole dancing has taken on many forms. A veteran stripper, a pole studio owner, and a young dancer discuss politics and identity in pole dancing and how practicing pole can be the ultimate form of embodiment. 

Pole dancing is an art form, sport, and fitness trend that centers around a beam of steel, running floor to ceiling. Pole’s popularity has grown exponentially in recent years, but the humble pole has a storied history.

Many of the pole tricks, dips and flips seen in pop culture today were first developed by strippers. Veteran stripper NatsHoney tells host Anita Rao about pole dancing’s roots in the strip club and shares her own journey as a dancer and teacher.

Pole sport athlete and studio owner Paige Gabert also joins the conversation to discuss how she is creating a more inclusive and queer friendly space in the pole fitness community. Paige is the co-founder of Midwest Movement Collective in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Anita also meets genderqueer dancer and college student Celeste Ziehl. Celeste discusses how pole helped them explore new dimensions of their gender identity and how it has led to gender euphoria.

Additional thanks to pole dancers Cris Rivers, Moni Chow, Penny Wang, Erin Miller, Celia Ford, Poundcake, Starr Wise, and Nicole Tay for contributing to this episode.

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Paige Miranda is a producer for "Embodied". Previously, she served as WUNC’s 2023 AAAS Mass Media Fellow.
Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist, host, creator, and executive editor of "Embodied," a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships & health.
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