The difference between strippers and pole dancers

Crossover alert! Sheila Kelley loved playing a stripper for “Dancing at the Blue Iguana” so much, she became an instructor and opened a studio (the infamous S Factor!)

There are two kinds of pole dancers: strippers and civilians.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But my managers always has me keep an eye out for the professionals.

Don’t get me wrong–I have nothing but love for strippers. This isn’t about singling anybody out. It’s a topic of concern, at least for me as a teacher, because girls with backgrounds in exotic dance tend to need a different kind of instruction.

I’m pretty sure a woman in my class last weekend was a non-civilian, for a variety of reasons. For one thing, girl could move–but she couldn’t take instruction. She could do just about anything I asked if I stood next to her and performed it, but as soon as she tried to follow verbal instructions with the group, she was lost.

This makes perfect sense once you consider the competitive learning environment that is a strip club. If you like that reverse back hook spin you’re seeing, you’ve got to copy what you see; nobody’s going to give away their best moves to other girls.  Your only feedback for whether it’s working is cheers and tip money.

Trouble is, when you learn by copying–be it at the strip club or on YouTube–you’re usually not learning the safest, smoothest, most efficient ways of performing moves.

This occurred to me while I was watching a Netflix DVD last night that was clearly made by a stripper.

Let me back up.

I’ve been getting kind of bored with the routines I teach in classes, so I took advantage of Netflix’s very limited dance selection and rented a striptease-oriented “Pole Work” video.

I was hoping to pick up a few new floor moves, transitions, or maybe some spin variations to play with, but, as I watched the video, my real education was in the vast differences between how pole instructors teach and dance, and how strippers teach and dance.

(First, how I knew they were strippers: the teacher, Fawnia, had a series of “Miss Nude” titles listed as her dance credits, and the video was made in a shoe store. Okay, so that last bit is judgmental, but… telling. Also, they kept referencing “your show.” As in, “This is something extra sexy you can do for your show.” Unless they’re assuming the DVD is good enough to get a beginner into a pole competition, we’re talking about a very specific kind of show.)

Here are a few points of contention (between what I was seeing and how I teach) that bugged me:

1. Strippers tend to stick to their dominant sides

This is probably a symptom of copy-cat learning: doing every spin on your right side (usually–unless you’re a lefty). But it’s dangerous! You don’t want the kind of muscle imbalances or injury from overuse that this encourages.  I know things look better on your right side  now, but trust me… you need to use both. Instructors know this, and teach both sides accordingly. Strippers on the other hand just need it to look good, fast.

2. Flash is more important than form

If sex appeal is your main concern, accuracy doesn’t matter.

As the woman in the video demonstrated moves, she’d do them slightly differently each time–sometimes swinging her arms during spins, lifting her feet at different moments, hooking the pole at varying heights.

I couldn’t help but wonder if all the changes meant she didn’t understand know how she was executing the moves–she was just doing them. She also didn’t explain the mechanics of spinning, or how the momentum works, I suspect because she didn’t know herself.

3. Aesthetics are different

It’s a personal preference, but everybody’s got a different style in mind when they imagine themselves pole dancing.  Tiny changes, like the distance your legs are apart when you do a backslide, can tip a dance into raunch-ville.

I certainly love a slinky, seamless dance, myself. But it’s the effortlessness and the composure I’m shooting for over sex appeal. If you’re learning from exotic dancers, it’s pretty likely your stances are all going to be… different.

That said, there are things strippers POWN at. Flexibility, for one–strippers are the kind of pole dancers who find a way to end every move in a split. Because it looks awesome.

And eye contact–as Fawnia herself says in the video, if you’re unsure of something you’re doing, just lock eyes with an audience member. It’s incredibly convincing. Jedi mind tricks–strippers can haz them.

Finally, improvisation. Strippers often don’t have routines when they take the stage. In fact, many of them are in the process of learning when they get out there every night. But they keep moving.

That’s a huge advantage that exotic dancers have over everyone else: they never stop, and their in-between moves are just as hot as the main events.

So that’s my two cents. Have you ever learned moves from strippers? If so, what?

I remember being completely blown away by a girl at the only strip club I’ve ever visited. She was blasting through ballroom turns like nobody’s business, six or seven in a row. And of course, in the highest heels I’ve ever seen. Mad skills.

Don’t forget–I’m teaching tonight! There’s a pole choreo class at 7pm and a Spins class at 8pm. Hope to see you there!

Happy twirls,


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