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Netflix’s Pole Dance Documentary shows how women can use the stripper pole to take back their power


For years, stripping and exotic dancers were largely marginalised. The stigma that was attached to the profession led a lot of women who strip to do it secretly. The stigmatisation largely has to do with myths and misconceptions that society has about strippers in general. However, in recent times, stripping has become fashionable and acceptable in pop culture. This is due to the strippers coming out and proudly declaring that it was something they did not just for the money but also because they enjoy doing it. 

A lot of young women have seen how some strippers have been able to use the industry as a platform to launch themselves as mainstream entertainers and legitimate business women. Think Cardi B, the American rapper who not candidly and proudly speaks about bring a stripper and using that to launch an incredible music career. Strippers have become celebrities in their own right. Even the depiction of strippers and strip clubs in the movies has changed – dispelling the long-held myth of drugs and sexual exploitation. 

People are learning about how the stripper pole can be empowering. They are learning that, not every exotic dancer or woman who spends nights shimmying down a pole is doing it out of desperation. The long running joke that young girls who turn to stripping are desperate or trying to pay for college has turned out to actually be true. There are actual girls doing this kind of job to pay tuition and others who are doing it purely because it pays more than a job at McDonalds. 

There are women who learn to work the pole because it is good exercise or take stripping classes to deal with confidence issues. Recently, Netflix released “Down, Rise Up” – a documentary about women using pole dancing as a form of therapy.

The documentary follows both new and old pole dancers who approach pole dancing differently. There are some women for whom pole dancing isn’t part of a job but a tool to obtain fitness, or in the case of the women featured in the documentary, as a tool for healing. 

Strippers who watch this may feel slighted or misrepresented. However, according to the director, the  documentary wasn’t meant to be an examination of the adult entertainment world but it was more about how some women have found empowerment and transformation in pole dancing. It focuses away from the culture and politics of the industry and looks at the lives of individual women as they navigate their way through life, find something that is misconstrued by society as being bad and turning it into a force for good. 

The documentary centers around on a group of women who sign up for classes at the S Factor, a studio that was created for women by Sheila Kelley. At the S Factor women are encouraged to get in touch with their femininity and to draw strength from it. They are taught erotic movement and pole dancing. They are also encouraged to be comfortable with being sexy by wearing clothes that make them feel that way and stripper heels. They do all of this without mirrors and without men gazing at them.  This allows participants to explore and find their own sexiness without judgement or criticism. They do this, not because they want to learn how to please men but rather to find pleasure or express pleasure on their own terms. 

The documentary features women who have gone through different traumas. The women tell heartbreaking and compelling stories of survival. These women come from all walks of life. The film shares intimate stories of rising through trauma and find a way to celebrate the power of being women. However, the work done by the S Factor has been accused of appropriation. There are strippers, one of whom was featured briefly in the movie have voiced their dissatisfaction with the lack of discussion about where pole dancing came from. The film acknowledges strippers and what they do but it does not address the industry as a whole. 

The S Factor founder, Sheila Kelley says that she believes that by reclaiming the pole women can reclaim their own bodies and acknowledge their sexuality. She believes that she has a mission is to normalise sensuality and femininity in the everyday world so that women can feel comfortable to express their sensuality without fear of judgement and reprisals from the patriarchal world we live in.

Strippers who take their performance and the industry itself seriously may feel some type of way because the film uses their world but does not want to acknowledge them. Strippers come off as complicit and are victims of men those who grope and those who simply stare. 

The documentary was released on Feb. 5, 2021 to critical acclaim. It brought the world of stripping back to the forefront of adult entertainment. It peeled off a layer and of stripping and shows just how empowering the pole can be. 

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