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pole dancing grace lee

This is my presentation of everything I gathered during my time spent on researching pole dancing including my final project. I picked this topic because I am very passionate about pole dancing and it deserves more respect than the current stigma it holds.

secondary research


Pole dancing can be traced back more than 2000 years, to sports that were only participated in by men.

Pole dancing has evolved from a combination of Chinese pole, Indian pole or “Mallakhamb”, other circus-based pole such as Dutch and French pole, exotic dance, and traveling fairs of the Great Depression. Chinese pole dates as far back as the 12th century where Chinese circus professionals would use a 10-30 foot rubber pole while wearing full body costumes. The performances of these acrobats were less fluid than the modern day pole performances because of the grip of the pole and the costumes, but pole dancing today incorporates a lot of the tricks that were developed for Chinese pole. Exotic dance was influenced by a number of different forms of entertainment, such as burlesque cabarets in Paris and

Middle-Eastern belly dancing. Pole dancing itself has been said to originate from the travelling carnivals and circuses during the Great Depression, where a group of dancers would dance and entertain crowds in tents. They became known as the “Hoochie Coochie” dancers and would dance with the pole that was holding the tent in place. One of the earliest recorded pole dances was in Oregon in 1968, and the erotic strip tease started in Canada in the 1980’s and then eventually in the United States. Pole dancing has evolved into a form of exercise that can be practiced by anyone, from casual students and gym-goers to professionals and performers. Today, pole has both female and male participants.


In the last twenty years, pole dancing classes have emerged as a popular form of recreational and competitive sport.

There are three categories of pole dancing: Exotic dance, pole fitness, and pole sport. The exotic dance category is actually what most people think of when they think of pole dancing, the strippers. This category is more involved in the “entertainment� side of pole and is not necessarily trained. Pole fitness is the category that most of the public is involved in. This type of pole is used as a way to get fit and feel good. Classes are offered all over the world in a private studio or gym and the instructors are highly skilled and trained. Lastly, pole sport is the competitive side of pole. The women and men involved in this category compete around the world and are

striving for the Olympic level. Furthermore, men take part in this activity as well. Males tend to be more unique in style and are able to learn and perform better than females because of how quickly they can gain muscle, strength, and stamina. For example, Adam Tan is the Malaysian Finalist of the International Pole Championship. His style is unique in a way that he incorporates some hip hop flavor into his pole routines. Russian Evgeny Greshilov, executes riskier moves that require tremendous amounts of strength with an aggressive energy while also mixing some hip hop.


With the unique qualities of pole there has been many distinctive design executions.

With the unique qualities of pole there has been many distinctive design executions. There is a well-known web comic called “Pole Dancing Adventures� where the artist wanted to focus on shining a positive light on pole dancing. There are many different photography shoots that have been done, including using black lights and neon. There are also two major magazines that focus on pole. Pole Spin and Vertical. A documentary has also been made about pole dancing in Australia, called Blood, Sweat, and Sequins.

observational research

observation 1

I went to two different pole studios in Orange County and North Hollywood to take observational pictures.

Smoke and Mirrors Fitness Irvine, CA The studio space affected my pictures which resulted in silhouettes of the girls. This ended up being very positive because it really concentrated my attention at the forms that these dancers made. I noticed how strong these women were, and creativity was present to execute some moves especially with two people on the same pole. They were also very flexible and very supportive of each other.

observation 1

I went to two different pole studios in Orange County and North Hollywood to take observational pictures.

The Choreography House North Hollywood, CA These photos were taken in an advanced class. I also taped a Go-Pro to the top of a pole, giving me a unique point of view of the dancers. Self-confidence is high in each dancer because of the sheer physical strength each woman has and uses to perform a move. Regardless of the studio, support and encouragement is always present. Many of the dancers train like athletes and are extremely flexible. Many dancers even come up with their own moves with experimentation, making them the leading pioneers in pole dance.

observation 2

I looked at the media and society’s views on pole dancing.

Pole dancing is becoming a popular form of fitness, but it is far from accepted by many and still holds the “stripper” stigma. For example, George Takei posted this photo up on his facebook. It was immediately met with many outraged comments, and surprisingly most of them were positive and supported pole dancers and strippers (including men). Comedian Chris Rock has a well-known joke about fatherhood in one of his stand-up comedy sets. While talking about his daughter, he said: “And sometimes I pick her up and I just stare at her and I realize my only job in life is to keep her off the pole. Keep my baby off the pole! I mean they don’t grade fathers but if your daughter is a stripper you fucked up.” Although it was a

joke, it still shows the negative stigma that pole dancing must break through in order to gain the respect it deserves. Emma Watson has been taking pole dance lessons for fitness and an upcoming movie, and commented on how it shed a different light on her perspective on pole dancing. There have been various TV shows and music videos that feature pole dancers in different ways. This slow and steady exposure into society with the media shows progress is being made for pole dancing to become recognized as more than a taboo. As more people are becoming aware of the presence of pole dancing, there will still be protestors against it as well as advocates.


finding a start

By using the process of triangulation and process breakdown, I identified areas of opportunity, areas of interest, and areas I needed to know more about.

AREAS OF OPPORTUNITY • psychology of pole dancing • cultural acceptance • mixture of different dance styles • pole dancing filmography

AREAS LACKING INFO • Why do they like dancing in heels? • spinning pole • upper body strength • pole dancing in strip clubs

AREAS OF INTEREST • pole in Australia • men and pole dancing • pole fashion • personal pole style • music and pole


I made experimental collages to help organize everything I had found so I can start to form my thesis.

forming a thesis

My thesis started to go into the direction of women athletes in sexualized sports.


I interviewed Kelly Yvonne, the owner of The Choreography House and gained a lot of new insight about my subject. “There are a lot of pole communities everywhere in the world. So as this community keeps growing, that means that more and more people are starting to become aware. Each year, there’s more and more converts to the artistic and fitness pole movement.” KEY FINDINGS • Kelly is one of the first pioneers in pushing the artistic side of pole. • It’s all about context, but ignorance is what keeps pole dancers stuck in our own history. • The view on pole dancing is definitely changing and exposure in commercial media is the proof. • Pole dancing is definitely an art form as well as a sport. • The pole community is huge and is still growing as the activity is becoming more accepted. 2012 IPDFA “Choreographer of the Year”; Owner of The Choreography House; Creator, Director, Producer and Performer in Girl Next Door – a pole dance soirée and Choreographer of numerous award-winning pole dance routines performed around the world!

QUOTES • “So it’s really showcased pole dance for a lot of people both in the pole community and out in a way that is very theatrical, artistic, way that’s very unexpected.” • “But you know, as it gets bigger, people are going to start to see it’s not really [stripping].” • “But you can’t say [it is what it is] when you’ve seen a pole dance routine that makes you cry. That makes you laugh hysterically. That makes you very introspective. That makes you…feel something... besides turned on.”

analysis and insight

My research at this point took a turn from “pole dancing should be taken seriously as a sport� to exposing the artistic qualities of pole dancing. What makes pole dancing so special from things like yoga and ballet? How can I elevate pole dancing into an artform? Pole dancing is both sensual and beautiful while demonstrating an artistic quality. It also moves in time and space. I wanted to embrace its artistic qualities by celebrating the forms of the dancer.

final thesis

The sensual beauty of pole dancing can inspire communication and elevate it as an artform. Therefore, a typeface is the perfect solution to illustrate the forms of pole dancing in a manifestation of communication.

final project process

dancers and photographer I contacted some of North Hollywood’s best pole dancers and performers and a fellow Art Center photo major and organized a photoshoot to create the letterforms.

Dancers: Crystal Gibson, Jennie Gonzales, Carolyn Peters, Sasja Lee Photographer: Linus Shentu Location: The Choreography House


I created a shot list and call sheet to prepare for the shoot and to help speed the process. The schedule had to be strictly followed to avoid conflict with the day’s pole classes at the studio. Poleography Shoot


Photography shoot of pole dancers’ bodies as the letterforms (A-Z) on the pole. Shows the sensual beauty of pole dancing as an art form.


April 2nd, 2013


7:00 AM

Est. Wrap:

11:15 AM


The Choreography House Studio A On Standby: The Choreography House Studio B


Sasja Lee: 626-367-9876 Crystal Gibson: 323-875-4401 Carolyn Peters 213-500-6509 Jennie Gonzales Possible Dancers: Janell Burgess: 818-568-6607

SCHEDULE: Time 7:00 AM 7:20 AM 7:35 AM 8:05 AM 7:45 AM 7:50 AM 8:20 AM 9:40 AM 9:55 AM 11:15 AM 11:40 AM 11:50 AM 12:00 PM

Set transport gear start set-up find spot to shoot environment set up camera set up girls show up girls stretch and warm-up ABCDEFGHIJKLM (or 13 letters) break NOPQRSTUVWXYZ (or 13 letters) clean up leave studio lunch first class starts (Beginner I)

Studio B 1:30 PM 3:00 AM

open pole beginner ballet

the shoot

The schedule had to be strictly followed to avoid conflict with the pole classes at the studio. The photoshoot was a success as well as enlightening.

final project

Dancers, the typeface on a pole.


My audience is the skeptics, non-believers, one-way thinkers, and anyone else who has not seen the other side of pole dancing as well as dancers all around the world who love what they do. Emily Wu 19 Years Old Attends UCSB Christian Emily is an english major with a 4.0 GPA. All throughout high school, she was a cheerleader and is a firm advocate of cheerleading being a sport. She used to be the outgoing party girl but once college started she stopped doing illicit activities and started to concentrate on school and religion. She loves music and plays guitar. Hip hop dance videos are her favorites to watch on youtube. She’s loves going to the gym and tried aerial silks at school. Self-image is important to her and exudes a lot of confidence. Emily has been invited to pole classes by a few of her friends but always turned it down because she’s afraid of what her parents might say and is dubious about the activity.

Dan Park 44 Years Old Elementary School Teacher Father Dan is devoted Korean father raising a set of twins (one boy, one girl) with a loving wife and 2 beautiful dogs. He goes to church every Sunday. Target is one of his favorite places to shop. He is a handyman and a hobbyist and has a huge range of interests including photography and gaming. As a self-taught musician, he owns a piano, a set of drums, and guitars. He is the main cook in his home and is knowledgable about many topics. Dan can sometimes be old-fashioned, but keeps an open mind since he works with kids. However, he thinks pole dancing is just stripping and is an activity for strippers. He associates the idea of pole dancing immediately with stripping.

final conclusion

Through my research I found many aspects of pole dancing that I did not know about. I discovered various new forms of pole dancing design projects that I have never seen before and learned about the history and the pole culture. As a pole dancer myself, I am constantly encouraged and amazed by the women surrounding me because of their dedication and strength. I would love to see that they get the recognition from the public, and not be shunned as a taboo. By making an expressive typeface that illustrates pole dancing as a form, I successfully created a poster that elevates the nature of pole dancing while lowering the negative stigmas it currently holds.

future plans

Right now, my the creation of my typeface is only the beginning steps toward the exposure of pole dancing as an art. If I had more time, I’d explore the possibilty of creating moving type by filming the letters in motion so it shows the true, full scale beauty of pole dancing. I would also like to explore the possibilty of “Dancers” forming the American Sign Language. Music is also a big part in pole dancing as well, so the challenge of being able to tie in audio with physical dancing is interesting. I hope my project has inspired you as much as it inspired me.

Dancers Process  

Dancers, the typeface on a pole. This book goes through the process of creating my final project. See the rest of the project at www.gracemi...

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