Pole dancing is a blend of dance, aerial tricks and acrobatics in rotation, mainly around one (or more) vertical metal bar(s), usually with a diameter of 38 to 50 mm.
Nowadays there are various theories about its origins. The use of a vertical bar (wood, at the time) to perform gymnastic movements more or less if not downright acrobatic goes back to the 12th century in India, among yogi monks. And the circus discipline called the Chinese pole goes back to the.....
However, most sources agree that the current pole dancing was born in Canada, probably in the 1920s at the time of the Depression. Fairground troops then moved from town to town, setting up their many small tents around the big top, each dedicated to a specific attraction. One of the tents, for adults, sometimes housed Hoochie-Coochie Dancers, scantily-clad (for the time) female dancers so named in reference to the suggestive balancing (for the time!) of their hips. Because of the small size of these tents, the pole that supported the central fabric was at the center of the small stage, and some girls started to use it for support before they integrated it in their dance moves, thereby creating a kind of spectacular and entertaining show that hadn’t yet lost its erotic charge .....
When the exotic dance gradually left the fairground tents and settled in bars, particularly with the launch of burlesque in the 1950's, the pole was automatically included as an inseparable part of this kind of performance. Obviously just like many strippers these days are using the pole as a mere support, without actually doing any of the above mentioned tricks.
Only in the 1970s and '80s strip-tease and pole dancing became truly popular in Canada and the United States in particular. The clubs are popping up everywhere, and the phenomenon soon spilled over to England and Australia. The generally good and friendly atmosphere of these clubs makes them socially more acceptable, and pole dancing can finally grow, slow but steady.
In the early 1990s, Fawnia Mondey, a Canadian exotic dancer, began teaching women who had nothing to do with the art world or the world of the night. She also produced the first educational DVD of pole dancing. Obviously, the politically incorrect image of the discipline initially made it difficult to gain acceptance by the general public. Nevertheless, and despite the prejudices, those who dared cross the threshold of one of these classes (often unbeknownst to those around them) soon were starting to show their enthusiasm for aspects of both the aesthetic and artistic but also the very athletic kind of fun of this activity so discredited at the time. Gradually, other dancers, such as Tammy Morris and Kelly Kayne (Canada), Katie Coates (England) followed Fawnia's example. Each with their own style, these dancers and acrobats fought with a smile, good humor and undeniable physical qualities to bring pole dancing out of strip clubs and get recognition for what it is: a fabulous way to develop muscles and flexibility, along with an artistic sensibility and self-confidence while having fun and stressing one's sensuality and femininity.
Today, the discipline gradually opens up to men, and there is also a differenciation between pole dancing, pole fitness and pole gymnastics. As the name implies, the latter two are more like sports than dance, although they often incorporate some transition movements, as well as elements from rhythmic gymnastics. However, the techniques are the same in all three cases, and they can be considered variants of the same discipline. Then, of course, it is more a matter of the style, the teacher, and what the students are aiming for. For you must know that, contrary to appearances, pole dancing is accessible to most people, physically speaking.
Over the years, pole dancing has gradually consolidated itself, like most dance styles, and names were given to the different positions and moves to distinguish them from one another, especially for educational purposes, but also for writing choreographies or to facilitate the work of the judges at competitions. But the extreme youthfulness of the discipline and the rejection that it experienced from "serious" dancers or athletes prevents (for now) a real standardization of the positions' names, and they can vary widely from one country to another or even from one school to another! ... Obviously, since pole dancing was born and first developed in English speaking countries, the names of the moves were originally English. But even in English speaking countries, there are sometimes large differences in denominations. In addition, some schools, particularly in countries where English is not widely used in everyday life, preferred to translate the names of their choice to the local language or change it completely. It is a choice that does not promote a global codification, which would open the way to finally formalize the discipline, and therefore its acceptance as an art and as a sport in its own right, far from the stigma of another age.
Fortunately, some international organizations, including the Pole Fitness Association (PFA), have realized that. Nowadays the PFA is working actively not only to promote this sport, but also to professionalize pole dancing through a precise and carefully thought through codification, as well as through a serious and thorough instruction of its teachers.