Photo by Michele Beck.

Reclaiming the Erotic Body, one pole at a time

Performance artist and filmmaker Michele Beck has turned her camera on her women-only pole dancing class — and herself — as an exploration of the ways women can reclaim their sensual, body-centered sexuality by using a dance form that has long been considered exploitative and misogynistic by many feminists. Removed from the limited context of a strip club, these classes offer a safe space in which to liberate a form of feminine sexual power that has been repressed, cut off, shamed out of existence, misunderstood or misdirected in the lives of many women.

The documentary My Erotic Body is set to be released in 2016. You can watch a brief trailer above, and another short video about the project here (it contains some of the same interview segments with these ‘regular’ women, but also some words from Beck).

Reviewing the project on the Psychology Tomorrow website, Velleda C. Ceccoli, PhD, writes:

Pole dancing and the particular moves that it involves — squatting with open legs, crawling on the floor, swinging and wrapping oneself on the pole — seem to counteract the constrictions that history, society, and culture have imposed on female sexuality. It helps to liberate Woman from the inside. In fact, the classes provide ways of moving that are aimed at helping women to re-experience their bodies within an environment that is about self indulgence, in that it encourages what feels good. For some, this involves re-claiming their sexuality after having children and shedding the idea of motherhood as sexless and/or saint-like. For another, it involves reclaiming aggression as a way to protect oneself and insure that what happened in childhood never happens again. For all the women in the film, there is an element of performance that helps to create the particular erotic creature they become – the clothes, shoes, and other accouterments that they select have a powerful effect on how they embody their erotic.

In the end, this film is about women discovering their bodies and their Eros along with other women, through their validation of desire and sexuality. It is about re-discovering the female body in all of its embodied sexual potential, and needing other women as mentors and co-conspirators on the way to developing a sense of comfort and confidence in being WOMAN.

Perhaps we are still reclaiming the feminist movement.

2 thoughts on “Reclaiming the Erotic Body, one pole at a time

  1. M.

    Thank you for this piece Amanda.
    “…a dance form that has long been considered exploitative and misogynistic by many feminists.” Well, that’s because it actually was both exploitative and misogynistic, seen as it is/was performed in front of a mainly male audience that is/was very happy with – or at least doesn’t seem to want to go very deep into the question of – seeing and treating women as objects. Moreover, I’ve recently heard a social sciences professor talk about how, far from being a “career choice”, work in strip clubs mainly involves victims of trafficking, so there’s one very literal connection between exploitation and women’s sexuality. I know this post doesn’t focus on this subject, so I won’t go into it further. But, in my view, this aspect cannot be ignored, and I do believe the exploitation part of the conversation needs to continue.
    As for the rest, I’m all in. Especially trying the particular moves, re-connecting with sexuality after trauma or big life changes and purely learning to love and enjoy one’s own body as a woman, all in the protection of a safe space. I’ve been exploring these moves (with the exception of swinging around the pole because there isn’t any), fully clothed in free movement workshops, amidst a mixed group of men and women. The sense of wild freedom, deep healing and enjoyment of the animal power I connect to are really hard to put into words. At the same time, it is a very vulnerable place to be and it’s taken me years to actually dare to try it – not to mention, be visibly thrilled with it! But I’m doing it, and plan to keep dancing my dance, really…

    1. Amanda Painter Post author

      M. — thank you for calling me out on that wording! Yes, of course stripping and pole dancing in clubs *is* generally exploitative, for the reasons you state. And I honestly cannot blame men for enjoying watching it; I do, however, take issue with stripping’s ties to human trafficking and abuse, and those who turn a blind eye to it.

      At the same time, I recall a few years ago seeing a video from some kind of pole dancing championships in which a woman danced an *incredibly* athletic routine to “The Dog Days Are Over” — and exuded such authentic, beautiful joie de vivre while doing it (rather than blatant, showy “sex appeal” for lack of a better term). The routine was Olympic-caliber in her strength and creativity, and a joy to watch thanks to her spirit. So I think that routine is always in the back of my mind when I think of pole dancing, though it does not fit the stereotype (or the context) that the activity is so strongly identified with.

      Anyway, congratulations on finding your wild dance and dancing it with abandon! Such a delicious discovery. Keep going!

Leave a Reply