Written by Antonia Crane
I can’t tell you about the first time I began pole dancing because it was a very long time ago and I was on drugs. Probably I slid down the pole in a borrowed, frizzy red wig to an unnervingly sad Nina Simone song about bring broke and broken. I’m sure I wore a tattered black lace slip, mismatched bra and my cheap eyelashes probably bolted from their glue mid-song.
Those dancing days, I got drunk with the little money I made and played billiards upstairs with the more successful dancers who knew how to hustle in their lacy lingerie sets and look fabulous on and off stage. They kept boyfriends, bicycles and invested in the stock market. My slacker-meets-meth-head work ethic made me a terrible dancer. I couldn’t talk. I was paranoid. I felt silly on stage—unattractive and awkward.
When I got sober, it changed. I can tell you about how it felt in my body when I learned a few strong pole tricks in sobriety. I got dizzy from spinning around and around—not from drugs but from laughter and effort. I watched in awe as black dancers twisted and swirled around the pole like aerodynamic heroes. How the fuck did they do that? A girl named “Versace” taught me my first inversion and another girl called “Mercedes” showed me a trick we called the “one-armed wonder” that leads with the left arm, which I still favor today, even though I’m right handed. Back then, a dancer could avoid the high, illegal house fees by being a featured dancer which meant doing 3-song routines 4 times a day. I learned some pole tricks from my work-wife, Scarlet. We had matching outfits made and learned a couple of synchronized pole moves on a high pole and then choreographed a few side by side pole tricks on separate poles. Our stage had 4 poles total and we used them all. We danced to a variety of songs from Bauhaus to Stevie Nicks to house music and rap.
One night in the sore, bruised late shift of pulling double shifts dancing as a house girl, I realized the transcendent nature and the sensuous art of pole. Every one of my co-workers at that gnarly and notorious San Francisco nude club had their own unique style. It was breathtaking.
Twenty-five years later, when I watch dancers, it appears that pole dancing as an artform has gone by the wayside and turned into McStripping: a commercial moment for us to monetize certain body parts as opposed to celebrating them. But once in a while, the corporate haze burns and I see that both were there the whole time. I see the magic in a liquid, bright jiggle, a swift hip sway and a sharp, graceful dismount and I hold eternal, deep respect for the black strippers who taught me pole tricks in the warzone where we were baffled by the arbitrary fees and fines and struggled together in the dark heat of the lap dancing clubs on Market Street.
Like then, I’m still dancing and fighting for the basic rights of dancers. Now that we are employees in California, we have formed a labor movement called The Soldiers of Pole. We are attempting to organize dancers to fight against the rights that clubs are attempting to erode with unfair release of claims contracts, bribes and arbitration agreements. Club owner’s attempts to curtail our newly won employee rights are rampant, but we won’t stop anytime soon. We are strong in numbers and solid in our beliefs that strippers are a deeply stigmatized workforce and we deserve to be protected from exploitation, wage theft and assault.
In fact, we scored a win this week when AB5, which seeks to turn the provisions of the Dynamex decision into law. It passed the California state Assembly, and now heads to the Senate, where it will be voted on in July. Read more about it here and here.
Soldiers of Pole will continue to work hard behind the scenes and inside the strip clubs, building coalitions with law students and members of Unite Here, NLGA, DSA. UCLA LAW and labor lawyers across the state. We stand with our siblings who are sex workers of every stitch, particularly our SWOC and LGBTQ contingents (Happy Pride Month) and we wish to extend a hand to the pole dancing community at large. We ask that all pole dancers stand strong in your affiliation with strippers as we fight for our basic labor rights. Some people think being associated with sex workers is a political liability. Please do not underestimate our strength, beauty and our numbers. We will not be discouraged by close-minded people. Instead, we will fight harder, stand taller, and take up even more space on and off the pole. Please follow us, support us and dance with us.
Soldiers of Pole
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