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Pole Dance // Rituals

P  O  L  E  D  A  N  C  E  //

R  I  T  U  A  L  S 

Rituals are a apart of our everyday life, our shared culture, and also a part of performance art.  More than that ~ there is a ritual aspect of pole dance which dates back thousands of years.

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Do you have your cup of coffee before you check the news, or after?  At night do you brush your teeth and then wash your face, or vice versa?  During the holidays, do you always buy certain foods and listen to specific songs?  Whether you realize it or not, these are, in a sense, rituals you perform.

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Pole dance rituals are a part of a tradition of symbolism that has been around since Ancient Egypt.  This tradition is likely even older than that.  You may be asking yourself, “why does this even matter?”….well it’s because my central aim is to dismantle the “strip club” view of pole dancing.  I want to bring in something powerful, meaningful, and sacred.  I want people to know that when pole dancers dance, we are invoking the power of the earth.  We aim to ascend from the mundane and bring in something…..else.  Needless to say this is a huge topic, and we are looking at but a sliver.  In its distilled form, movement, dance and expression through music has been a part of human history since the beginning.  Pole dance fits right in with that.  There are daily rituals, family rituals, community rituals, religious rituals, dance rituals, performance rituals and pole dance rituals.  Welcome to our world.  If you’re here, we already want to share, celebrate and worship the earth with you.

Let us riff on the knowledge of rituals in the public domain.  Wikipedia defines them as a series of activities involving gestures, words, and/or objects performed in a sequestered place and according to set sequence.  Further, sacred rites may be prescribed by traditions of community or religion….or it may not have anything to do with either.  Examples are a baseball team wearing their socks a certain way, a priest performing a funeral ceremony, or a family who always eats chocolate covered cherries at Christmas time for no other reason than it’s just their thing.  I for one love the idea that watching National Lampoons Christmas Vacation every December = Ritual 😉

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What are some other qualities of ritual?  Rituals are characterized by rule governance, sacral symbols and performance.  What are some other examples?  Certain types of rituals include:  worship, rites of passage, purification, dedication, coronations, inaugurations, marriages, and more.

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Perhaps we can imagine a sacred Summer Solstice dance performed once a year.  There are always certain steps performed and costumes worn.  Specific fruits and flowers might be used and there is a rush of excitement before, during and after.  Maybe only certain people know it even exists.  The dancers are doing it to worship the earth, and maybe the older dancers are teaching the younger ones how to perform it right.  There is a sense of special knowledge attributed to its execution.  The dancers know something that the onlookers do not.  This is the type of ritual I want pole dance to be associated with.

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What kind of Summer Solstice ritual can you make today?  Even a few moments of sun worship is a start.

Oftentimes, an outsider looking in will see it as irrational.  Don’t we all look a little insane when we’re flossing?  What about the way we prepare for a speech by talking to ourselves in a mirror?  This brand of lunacy is how taboo faiths are portrayed doing rituals by popular culture.  Think of any scene from a movie of a witch conducting a sacred rite, or any scary film centered around the same.  Or how about depictions of devil-worshippers dancing around a cauldron wearing hooded robes and (the worst horror) sacrificing a living thing. Yikes.  This is the image of “ritual” that often comes to mind for most people, rightly or not.

Again ~ why would I want to associate with such things?  Because there’s more to it than that.  This stuff is ancient, beautiful, sacred, and profound.

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Interestingly enough, there is a huge psychological component for the practitioner in that a ritual can be any repetitive behavior used to neutralize or prevent anxiety.  Imagine those witches above feeling all blissed-out while they stir their cauldron.  They’ve got their creepy robes, their pointy hats, their warts and crooked noses.  Yet there they are, chanting, mid-ritual, feeling like the Buddha.  Good times:)  I know if I don’t do a set series of things before a show, I start to get anxious, but when I am on track I’m calm as can be.  I must be a WITCH!

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Most often, all of these rites might include specific songs, chants, and sounds, and if utilized, the sounds of a ritual become the fabric upon which it is built.  Thus, a ritual can be a performance of special music, songs, or dances…..or it is just the sound of you brushing your teeth.

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So where is all this going?  What does this have to do with pole dance?  Oftentimes a pole act will have choreography, music, costume, and performance.  All of these, as we’ve stated, are qualities of a ritual.  With “Performance Ritual“, Wiki says invariance is key as there is usually careful choreography, timeless repetition, and bodily discipline.  The act of it ultimately molds dispositions and moods.  Simply put, morning rituals help us wake up, while bedtime rituals get us ready for sleep.  The idea of a “Performance Ritual” imposes a theatrical frame around it, and creates a cognitive order of the world.  It is mostly the participants who experience this order – both those performing it and those who witness it.  I still hold out hope that each pole dance ritual sends positive, healing vibrations into the universe for all to enjoy.

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This is arguably one of the reasons why many men visit strip clubs but also why people of both genders like seeing a live show.  Any ritual can simplify the chaos of life.  It imposes a coherent system with categories of meaning onto it (from Wikipedia: ritual, performance ritual).

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This is part of the satisfaction of performance I think.  It is in fact a “performance ritual”.  The sense of order in the world, albeit for just the length of a song, or sometimes for the entire day of a show.  There are numerous procedures that go into the “beforetime” of a show, and many performers have a “pre-shot routine”.  Still there are protocols directly after a performance too, completing the circle.  As the day concludes, this temporary order is the hangover, and the chaos of life is successfully held at bay for one more turn of the earth.

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In a condensed version, ritual is “a type of routine behavior that symbolizes or expresses something” (Wikipedia).  I’ll say.   I don’t think the witches shown above are chanting for whether or not they’ll get to see Sponge Bob Squarepants on TV that day.  I believe rituals are done to convey the importance of an idea, and the ritual itself shows how significant something is.  Many of the acts I create include both sacred symbols and expression of emotion.  Oftentimes there is an assertion of a strong feeling, but more than that I aim to invoke the allegory of the earth, the cosmos, Axis Mundi, and the sacred dance between the divine masculine and feminine.  This may sound a bit boring to some, but I can’t help it ~ deep down I am a mermaid and have an extreme aversion to shallow living.  Buckle up as we dive into all of these next.

Otherwise known as the cosmic axis, the world axis, the world pillar, the center of the world, the world tree, the World Ash, or Yggdrasil, Axis Mundi is a concept as old as time.  In my mind I imagine being in eighth grade and seeing a geography video trying to explain the spinning of the planet.  There’s a cartoon drawing of the earth, on a slight tilt, spinning on a central axis that reaches from North to South pole.  It is my belief that this is the symbolism of a pole dancer dancing on a pole, or any dancer that spins from a central point (whirling dervish, aerialists, ice skaters).  Put simply, it is a body in motion spinning on a central axis!  The analogy to the planet is all but spelled out for us.

Google search: “Axis Mundi”

You see, there is, in this spinning rod, a divine connection between Heaven and Earth.  It is a celestial and geographic pole.  It’s a point of connection where the four directions meet.  Furthermore, travel and correspondence are made between the higher and lower realms.  The spot one dances upon is the navel of the earth, where the pole sits.  Think of a tree, a vine, a stalk, and a column of smoke.  A pole of connection could even be human made:  a staff, a tower, a ladder, a staircase, a cross, a steeple, a rope, a totem pole, a pillar, a spire.  Sacred poles of communication can be found in both churches and lighthouses, both temples and skyscrapers.  This intense connection between the Heavens, the Earth, and the Underworld is like a lightning rod which allows electricity to travel up and down the pole between the three realms.

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The same idea is hidden even in the highest peak of a mountain.  Mountain peaks have been worshipped as sacred, with temples at the base for communicating what was discovered at the top.  Of course it’s easy to connect the same meaning to the pyramids and the ziggurats (step-like pyramids) of Ancient Egypt (dated to roughly 2,600 B.C. depending on whether or not you watch Ancient Aliens).  A common shamanic function world-wide is that of the healer traversing the Axis Mundi to bring knowledge from the other world (Wikipedia:  Axis Mundi).

Thus, multiple spots can be considered the center of the world.  This is not a contradiction.  Some mountains are home to deities while others lay where the dragon currents converge (lines of magnetic force traversing the globe, oftentimes referred to in Chinese culture as “dragon lines“).  Even the smoke rising from a prayer candle or a pipe represents the soul’s connection to the heavens, and people use both to get “higher” (Wikipedia:  Axis Mundi).

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Enter: the first time you saw a pole dancer.  Of course it was sensual.  Of course she/he was marvelous.  Of course there was something there that you couldn’t take your eyes off of.  Do you remember the feeling you got from the performance?  That sense of something you don’t know about, that is slowly being revealed to you during a song?  Even if the performance was dynamic and upbeat instead of slow and sensual….you still feel a sense of being “taught” something.  That energy is partly due to the Axis Mundi power a pole brings forth.  The Heavens, Underworld, and our own shared world are mixed together into an awesome live-action painting of the moment.  This is the art of pole dance.  This is the artistry of the pole dancer.

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An interesting tangent relates to the Vitruvian Man.   Vitruvius (1st Century B.C.) outlined a connection between the human body, the earth, architecture and Heaven.  Inherent in the body’s ratios are sacred geometries that we also see in divine architecture.  Vitruvius connects all of this under a sacred blanket we can use to gaze up at the stars.

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The chakra system also allows for the human body itself to act as a pillar between earth and Heaven.  This is the concept of “human body as temple”;  the spot where one stands is the center of the order, while outside lies foreign realms of chaos/death/night.  Mandalas similarly show us that every place has a sacred center.

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In summary, “Anyone or anything suspended on the axis between Heaven and earth becomes a repository of potential knowledge.  A special status accrues to the thing suspended:  a serpent as in the rod of Asclepius, a victim of crucifixion, a rod, fruit or mistletoe.” (Wikipedia:  Axis Mundi)

Or what about a DANCER?  If a mistletoe counts, we sure as hell count too.  Spinning like the earth, ascending the pole like a healer, and connecting what we find there to the world around us:  this is what a dancer does.  We communicate our new found perspective, with words and/or movement.  We’ve finally reached the main idea my friends – the pole dancers of today are carrying forward a tradition of ritual, symbolism and knowledge that dates back to pre-history every time they dance around a pole.  They are communing with Heaven, earth, and the Underworld as they climb this central axis.  While honoring their bodies, they also honor the earth, nature, and the Universe.  By honoring the earth, we choose to protect the earth.  Once again this is Pole for the Globe.

Protecting the Earth & Performing a Ritual at Tourette’s Without Regrets // Oakland, CA.

In a mind-blowing book about Aborigines, “Voices of the First Day”, Robert Lawlor writes:  “the pole symbolizes an invisible thread, which can be climbed to connect the initiate to the revelations of the Dreamtime epoch of creation” (pg. 75).  In this description the author is describing one of many sacred initiation ceremonies held by the Aborigine culture to bring deeper consciousness to its males.  The pole is oftentimes a tree or other structure that is used in the ceremony, climbed or held during the act.

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Similarly, we consider the Maypole.  I saw a hilarious reference to a Maypole in The Hustle Movie (2019) recently that made me spit up my drink.  Check out scenes 3:35-3:50 in this video clip:

Fantastic:))) Check out that winning smile at the end of her dance. Rebel Wilson for the win.

But in all seriousness haha ~ these Maypole dances are olllllddddd.  I see them as an extension of Axis Mundi but with added emphasis on fertility, spring, sexual attraction, playfulness, rebirth, hope, dance, and ecological awareness.  When we talk about Maypole dancing, we are referring to old dances with a central pole and several circling dancers holding on to strands that are tethered to the central stake.   They’re able to circle around and around and their circle becomes the dance.  The origin is unknown but there has been many of these dances in the Germanic region of the world.  It most likely came from medieval pagan or Christian Europe (roughly 400 – 1400 A.D.).  It is a symbol of spring and is often done on May 1st/May Day.  It is the summer rod, on which garlands can be hung.  Some say it is the symbol of the world axis (there’s that Axis Mundi again).  They also align with German paganisms’ love of sacred trees.  In Norse paganism, cosmological views held that the universe was a world tree known as Yggdrasil.  With the May Day “Maypole”, it is a celebration of new vegetation and fertile growth from the land.

There is no indicator, beyond speculation, that the poles were phallic symbols (get your mind out of the gutter this is pole dancing for goddess’ sakes haha).  Eventually, after centuries of practice, some leaders and Protestants banned Maypole ceremonies as they were thought to promote wickedness (well duh this is a natural side effect of electricity being transmitted into your body from Heaven and the Underworld…one tends to feel a bit wicked).  The intertwining ribbons were added in the 1800’s where the boys run one way and the girls go the other until they meet at the base.  Other interesting traditions are the chosen “May Queen” who leads the ceremony the following year and does more elaborate ribbon dances, and the “Green Man” who is a symbol of seasonal renewal and ecological awareness (Wikipedia: Maypole, Yggdrasil).

Are you exhausted yet?  Have you left this blog and gone back to Instagram?  Would you rather be playing a video game where you can haphazardly shoot other people “for fun”?  If you’re still here ~ then so am I.  Thank you for coming this far.   Lets not shoot anyone “for fun” or for any other reason.  Lets become our best selves.  Would you care to journey a bit further?  I promise there’s a waterfall up ahead.

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Besides evoking the symbolism of literally the entire structure of the Universe, I believe there are even more things happening in a pole dance ritual.  It’s my postulation that the divine feminine and the divine masculine are ever-present in ALL pole performances.  After all we must have the actual performers on our Universal, ancient stage.

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(Sidenote:  Have I convincing you yet that it must be called “pole art”, or would the strip-club-going masses still be unconvinced?    What about kung fu pole dance rituals?  How about contemporary pole dance?)

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I think most people possess their own definition of what masculine and feminine mean to them.  Pulling straight from Merriam-Webster, common masculine synonyms include: strength, handsomeness, robustness, immovability, sturdiness, courageousness, independence, leadership, assertiveness.  Some common feminine synonyms are:  empathy, humility, love, vulnerability, beauty, gentleness, fertility.

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No matter what qualities you ascribe to feminine and masculine ideals, the most important conviction is how these two energies engage in a divine, awe-inspiring, electric, palpable and exciting dance together and how all of us have both masculine and feminine qualities within us.  It is not that males (or those identify as such) are only masculine and females (and those who identify as such) are only feminine and everything is tied up with a neat little bow!  Not at all.  We all have this cosmic dance within our souls on a daily basis and it’s messy, overflowing, and whip-crackingly beautiful.

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So what’s the point?  Who cares?  (If you’re curious about this divine dance between masculine and feminine, check out David Deida’s books , I LOVE him:)  My point is when a pole dancer performs, there is an extra-exquisite dance happening between the divine masculine and divine masculine.  It IS different than the whirling dervish or the aerialist, because it’s one of the most masculine symbols you could come up with: a pole, oftentimes next to the most feminine symbols you could see:  a woman’s body (or a man’s body moving very femininely).  Naturally curvaceous, the curves of a female/feminine body begin to speak to the linear presence of the immovable male/masculine standing at its point.  The two feed off of each other, and the two are holistically joined.

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More than that ~ the sensual moves of a dancer are alternated with the dancer’s own muscular strength as she/he climbs, contorts, grips and hangs off the pole.  Therefore, within a given pole dance, there is a dance happening between the dancer and the pole, between co-ed dancers and their co-ed audiences, and between the divine masculine and divine feminine within the dancer herself/himself.  That’s a lot of interactions at play.  Do you know how much strength it takes to hold your bodyweight on a pole?  Do you know how much flexibility it takes to also be in a split while doing so?  It’s like a WATERFALL!  The dialogue between these two extremes is never-ending in these pole dance rituals.

Y O U   M A D E   I T

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I aim to conjure up a new world with my pole dance rituals.   In this new world we worship the Earth and EVERY BODY is treated as EQUAL (George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, those in poverty, those with wealth, anyone who identifies as LGBTQ, Native Americans, ALL RACES, shorter people, taller people, larger people, smaller people).  I’m tired of everyone’s differences being used against them.  Why don’t we celebrate our common humanity, acknowledge our deeply f*cked-up history, and come together as human animals all over the world?  We must take better care of each other.

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I am not the only one who feels this way, clearly.  The Black Lives Matter movement, the Me Too movement, the voice of Greta Thunberg echoing across the globe ~ a revolution is happening.  At the same time, many pole dancers around the world are engaging in rituals whether they call it such or not.  Humans have been doing these dances to “mark the moment” for centuries.

Now I invite you to join me and create your own rituals.  Mine happens to be pole dance and acrobatics with music, costume and make up.  What’s yours?  What’s your vision?  Please make me read a lengthy blog to understand it.

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xoxoxoxoo Featherpistol

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Congratulations, you made it to the end.  I wish I could give you a Pole for the Globe sticker!  (ask me and I can get you one)