The Pole Panel: A discussion on Inclusion and Accountability presented by Carmine Black

One way that I am committing to help dismantle systematic racism and white supremacy in our society is by educating the shit out of myself. Knowledge is power and by arming ourselves with the facts and information, we can begin the hard work ahead of us to make society a fairer place.

As part of my education mission, I signed up for The Pole Panel: A discussion on Inclusion and Accountability presented by Carmine Black that took place on Friday 26th June. The panel was a wonderful, two-hour long discussion- packed full of enlightening and key conversations about what we can do to ensure that everyone is embraced, included and seen within the pole community.

In order to share this key knowledge, I have attempted to note down and summarise the most important quotes in the variety of different conversations had by the panel. This is a huge but very important blog, so grab a cuppa, settle in and get reading!


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Poling by the Pool today. Happy #SundayBumday

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Panelists

Nicole the pole (@NicoleThePole ) has been pole dancing since 2007 opened her first studio pretty much when she started. In her pole career, Nicole has performed live on stage (recently with motherfucking Snoop Dogg!) and has starred in music videos too. Nicole loves changing lives through pole dance. She is also a life coach and loves incorporating helping people to realise their power and potential into her training. Nicole is currently available for virtual lessons (drop her a dm if you fancy a lesson) and (when the current laws allow for this during the Covid-19 pandemic) in person lessons and in stay- mediation, training and life coaching lessons too. All the good shit we need basically.

Michelle Mynx @MichelleMynx has been pole dancing for an impressive 25 years! Michelle began her career in the strip clubs for 15 years before transitioning into teaching and performing outside clubs. Michelle opened her studio in 2010 and produces the Mynx extravaganza showcase, which prides itself in showcasing the true diversity of pole dance, with performers of all races, sexual orientations, genders, and skill levels. Michelle’s goal is to make pole accessible for all who want to take part in it. At the moment, Michelle is running zoom classes via mynxacademy.com and all are welcome. Michelle is also hosting the first ever online Mynx Extravaganza this Sept 2020, which is set to be a huge event with over 100 performers! The proceeds from this event will go to the Sexual Assault Victim’s Care Unit of Call for Help, inc. so even more reason to buy yourself a ticket!

Eva @evil_opez has been pole dancing since 2012 and is PhD candidate in critical dance studies. A substantial amount of Eva’s advocacy work is focused on native issues, right from when she was younger passing out American Indian Movement flyers to the present day fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Eva has also worked with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and True Spirits movement. Eva’s current focus is on her PhD work and poling as a student, but she also occasionally teaches online classes at the Moxy movement in Utah.

Kayla @RisKay_Rene  has been pole dancing and performing for four years in the Chicago area and holds her doctorate in Nursing Practice Advocacy in Healthcare. Kayla wrote a scholarly paper in Dismantling Structuralised Racism and how that affects African American health, which she presented in Washington DC last year. Kayla is passionate about using her voice in the pole industry and encouraging others to use theirs too. Kayla begins instructor journey in August in Chicago working with Carmine Black.

Jasmine @jas_mrtn  is relatively new to the pole dance community and has been pole dancing for a year and two months in the New York area. Jasmine works in the music industry as a consultant to help integrate musicians into art, fashion and film. Jasmine is passionate about understanding how we can create movements and moments to support black artists and artistry and how we can bring these resources into the pole community and vice versa, to ensure that everyone is included, supported and feels seen. Jasmine has been writing a lot on @scene.nyc, a behind scenes website for creatives who work in music, art, fashion and films that focuses on perspectives on when BIPOC felt seen in their industry and when they first saw themselves.

Sassy @misss_sassy_pants has been pole dancing for almost three years in both New York and New Jersey. Sassy is an educator who specialises in multicultural education and supporting students with different backgrounds. Sassy has expertise in providing a safe environment for learning and motivation. Sassy loves to dance and tell her journey via her Instagram. Sassy loves working with clients on a 1-1 basis, supporting them in their journey and her DM is always open. Sassy gives private lessons on request and plans to start a book club soon on the book “How to be an Anti-Racist.”

Isake @poleblerd began her pole journey in 2016 in the Brooklyn and Manhattan areas. Isake began her career as an educator before branching into consulting, with a focus on diversity and equity consulting, before transitioning into strategy and innovation consulting for the best ways to make lasting change. Isake has spent a lot of time helping people work through difficult problems and has a background in change management and organisation development. She really enjoys dancing and spends a lot of time thinking about how she can bring the energy and time in her career to make space for black women in the pole dance community. Isake also records a podcast called Cheers and Queers, drop her a DM her to be on it!

Carmine @carmineblackdance  has been an influential member of the pole community for seven years and instructor for five and a half of those. Carmine partakes in most of her advocacy outside of pole community but has two challenges Brazen and Sexy Pole challenge which actively focus on marginalised groups within the pole community. Carmine also teaches 8/9 online classes per week at carmineblack.com. Two weeks ago, Carmine partook in a panel (facilitated by Erica from DancePhreakz) with Nicole and Joe on Black Lives Matter and race relations both in and outside pole community. Carmine wanted to narrow down on systemic issues and things that have been occurring in the pole community in regard to marginalisation, and felt so inspired after the panel so created one herself. Carmine chose these panelists because they have so much to contribute, a wealth of experience with diversity and inclusion and something different to bring to the table.

Joe @Verticaljoes – Who hasn’t heard of Atlanta’s world famous Vertical Joes?! Vertical Joes have a show on 18th July celebrating black voices,  a Twerkathon on 25th July and their studio summit at end of July too. The studio summit is a safe space for studio owners from far and wide to attend to help them understand how they can promote inclusion and diversity in their own studios. The next studio summit will include participants making the pledge for more diversity and will discuss the N word. If Wendy’s, Nascar and Amazon can make the pledge to be openly anti-racist and distance themselves from those who are racists, then you can too! Studio summits are also available as recordings. The fabulous and as seen on TV @vjsfiyastarta of Vertical Joes co-hosted the panel.

So that’s our awesome panelists introduced, now let’s get straight on to the all-important topics and what everyone had to say.

Lack of representation in pole community and industry

There is a lack of stripper representation in the pole community, they have more to say and contribute. Those who hold power in the industry are not the black women in clubs who popularised the movement.

Attention needs to be paid to the real influencers and influencing sources in community such as black culture, twerk and hip hop as opposed to just used a tool used for profit. Your influence came from somewhere, so we must take more time to celebrate people and show continuous celebration of the real influencers in our industry. Gay men also need to be celebrated more in the pole community.

There is a real lack of acknowledging the many different styles of pole dance. We need to not put down a style of pole dance just because it’s a style that we don’t like, stripper shaming etc is limiting. Different styles can be incorporated within the same studio.

There is a lack of visibility of the different paths you can take in your pole dance journey. For example, are you learning pole dance to develop your fitness, explore your body or for another reason? It could be perceived that a general lack of visibility of people owning who they are contributes to a lack of stylistics.

Economic and financial factors also contribute to a lack of representation in the pole community. Competitions not only cost money to enter, but also incur costs for purchasing costumes, MUAs etc. Videos of competition performances then consequently circulate and create exposure for those who competed. Recently, the tide has been turning with many instructors/studio owners offering free performance spaces at their showcases.

It’s vital to not get offended when someone asks, “do you strip?” as that offence is a form of stripper shaming. Instead let being asked that question be your time to educate others on the origins of pole dance and amplify the pole world’s voice, as not everyone is as clued up about the pole and stripper world as we are.

We need to focus on how pole can be an expression of self. For many, pole dance is about sexual expression and empowerment, so it’s important to focus on how we can embrace and create a space for a diverse group of students.

There is a lack of BIPOC representation in pole wear and modelling.

 

Studios that align with ALM and/or won’t support Black Lives Matter

Making hurtful comments such as “all lives matter” is the equivalent of telling the relatives of a murdered BIPOC person “yeah well other people get murdered too.” You don’t get to re-name the movement at all and by saying ALM you’re saying you don’t care about slain individuals and the murderers being bought to justice. The phrase is hurtful to BIPOC and those who are fighting for justice. It’s as offensive saying the N word. It is also offensive to use the term “coloured” and important to know the difference between POC and black people. If you’ve ever watched any black dancers, you need to be on their side and saying hurtful statements like “ALM” is categorically not on their side. Black people have worked for years on how to support, not offend, and suppress themselves to non-black people, so now you need to take the time to support and understand them.

After 401 years of oppression in America, if you say “ALM” it means you don’t think my life matters, you don’t see me, and I don’t exist to you.  You don’t deserve my money, time and deserve my rage if you say that. Of course, we are not saying “all lives don’t matter” but black lives have been made to not matter for 400 years.

Running a pole studio is also about friendship and creating a family for your students. Not only should your business should align with Black Lives Matter but you should also genuinely care. You don’t want racists in your studio.

Appropriation- cultural, intellectual, creative, or otherwise

Don’t culturally appropriate. Pole dance originates from stripping so we must honour that. If someone shares something with you, be it cultural, intellectual, creative, or other, consider what you can do to honour them in return and always ask for consent and permission first before sharing. Think critically about multiple voices otherwise you’re just taking.

People often claim to be or teach something they have no knowledge of, for example, non-strippers teaching exotic pole classes with the word “stripper” in the class name. Appropriating is taking an experience that isn’t yours and benefitting from it, so if you have a question about something you’re doing and wonder if you’re appropriating something start, there and ask it. Are you gaining something from this that isn’t necessarily yours to take?

It can be frustrating for dancers when putting out content because there is no acknowledging or thanks to where you got it from, however social media consists of a lot of re-posting that can prevent of people giving credit to where something (eg a piece of choreography) is originally from. It’s important to credit those on a smaller scale, so if you’re using someone’s choreo, give credit to where you got it from.  However, it is important that we be understanding to those who honestly just don’t know where the moves/choreo came from.

I am excited for other races to learn to twerk, but you must study it first from someone who is a pioneer/credible source and give credit to where you learned that from. Don’t create comparisons between black and white girls when twerking! If you catch someone doing that then shut that down, it’s not fair. Respect the culture and continue to learn.

Do not be a Culture Vulture! Culture Vultures are people who take another’s culture and make it their own. If you’re making money off something that’s not native to your culture, learn and always pay homage and you won’t have problems with cultural appropriation.

If you’re learning information, be it dancing or anything, from a variety of professionals then it’s inevitable that different pieces of information are going to be bleed over. However, it’s important that professionals should be aware of each other and integrity for where they learn things from.

Exclusionary practices of students, staff, professionals in industry spaces- conflict aversion, complacency clique-ey-ness, mean girl culture and favouritism

Some Instructors may not like their students going elsewhere which sets the tone for the whole studio. We are not part of a cult and students get to dictate where they want to learn. What instructors can do is make sure that what you’re offering is valuable to your students, so they want to return. The pole dance community is not just in one studio, so how can we support that? There is a common fear of not wanting to share students or clients, but you must be for a student’s growth and not just for your profit.

Possessiveness of students doesn’t make them more loyal if anything it pushes them away and a general lack of respect and disregard for students who visit different studios isn’t fair. People often enter this community to search for, gain or feel part of something. Instructors that breed exclusivity need to think why? Do you want to foster an environment of safety for people in their journey? If so let the student do what they want, they will come back to you.

The sports mindset of thinking of your studio like a team that’s better than others is the first thing that will get your business to collapse. There is an abundance of studios out there and if the student is going to two studios, they will do so. We must encourage the inclusion of all dance styles within the pole community. If you can’t offer everything let your students go somewhere else to get what they’re after that you don’t offer. Students, please don’t put other students down for visiting other studios.

 

Cancel culture, virtue signalling, shaming and bullying

There are a lot of moderate white people who have never experienced different cultures and genuinely don’t understand why ALM is a bad thing to say. Those of us who do understand need to explain how saying ALM is hurtful without trying to shame or guilt them those who don’t understand. It’s vital to ask questions so they don’t feel attacked otherwise they will shut down.

There has to be a willingness for two-sided conversation, so make sure your voice isn’t disregarded. Cancel culture starts when people silence others and are not willing to input into conversations. An issue is not going to disappear by ignoring it, but it will by talking about it. The want to be educated must be there. Being cancelled is called for at times but do try to get in there and help people understand before cancelling them.

We must determine who doesn’t really care enough to want to be informed and who does. There is a difference between calling people out and cancelling them altogether without substantiating if there are any facts behind it. Before we cancel people get receipts and make sure they’re hell bent on being a cunt and not wanting to change.

 

Accountability- where are we collectively as studio owners/students etc accountable? Where are we showing up and not showing up? How can we shift to improve the industry?

Justice and accountability must show up at same time. Saying “ALM”, excluding BIPOC students and not hiring BIPOC instructors or performers is harm. Practice restorative justice and tell someone what they did was harmful and why. Also, if you ask a BIPOC person for work, then pay them.

Accountability ties in with a combination of ideas on abundance and abundance is a way that we can accept there is enough time, space and talent to go round. We do not need to harm others to get what we need. It’s important to be patient with yourself and others but also hold people accountable and let them realise that. My job done when I hold someone accountable and their job begins when they realise they hurt me.

When instructors and studio owners promote their studio as a “safe space”, “empowering others” and/or a “judgement free atmosphere” they need to lead by example and provide concrete examples of how they’re following through on their mission statement. Instructors and studio owners must also work on their emotional intelligence, self-awareness and get to know students. Diversity doesn’t mean inclusion. It’s key to build a safe space of respect and rapport.

We must educate ourselves as the pole world is a microcosm of the wider world. We have to learn how to have difficult conversations and grow from them, be accountable for ourselves and do the work. I recommend attending self-learning courses because they help you so much in life. The heart may be there, but the knowledge needs to be acquired.

Having emotional intelligence is a process and students also have a responsibility to their studio spaces, so don’t come in with fucked up energy. If you pull the energy you will create a hostile environment and may receive that energy in return. Take accountability for yourself and speak up for what you’re not getting. You owe no one a sense of loyalty if you are deficient in your needs and the journey isn’t fulfilling.

For studio owners and instructors, all practices implemented in your business will trickle down. Your business centres around you, so the culture within company is very critical on who the founder is. In space where your voice isn’t centred you need allyship, and there are studio owners who have done the work to create a good model for take aways and insights. If your audience is also a non-black and non-marginalised community then you need to set an example for them. Show them best practices, what you have learned and then hold others accountable from a space of allyship.

We as the pole industry/community need to overcome our resistance to being conflict averse, work out what about having difficult conversations are we not comfortable with and say what needs to be said.

What can we collectively and individually do to shift the industry and the pole community into a space that’s more constructive, safe and supportive?

Leadership comes down from the studio owner first, then instructor and then client. Studio owners need to show they’re on BIPOC side and take the time to educate themselves, as BIPOC are doing so much already. Studio owners need to encourage students to not frown upon different individuals no matter who they are in order to eradicate cliques. At the Vertical Joe’s Studio owner summit, a pledge is made to trickle down standards to instructors and students, as BIPOC depend on your allyship.

As a student your job is to manage your experience inside a studio, so it’s a good idea to reach out to people to share experience, visit studios etc. Students also can talk to each other to create the space and experience they want if it’s not being provided by studio owners.

What thing’s make BIPOC women feel uncomfortable in a studio? How do shows and studios end up being all white when we have so many amazing performers available?

This starts with studio owners and instructors. Your energy is a vibrating from everything you put out. For some studio owners being diverse is not on their mind, so sadly that’s not what they attract.

Think about what you really want for your space and your world? If someone genuinely cared about all ethnicities, then their world would be a more diverse place. There are people who are open to making that change and who want to start including people of all ethnicities, so we can’t be quick to cancel people who are already open to evolve.

If you create a space and someone says they’re uncomfortable or questioning your intention you need to take a step back, apologise and ask how to rectify it. Part of this comes from feeling silenced and anti-blackness because voices are not heard, seen, and dismissed. If you’re not actively being mindful then you’re not being aware so when things are bought to your attention they’re not addressed.

Black, Latina and Asian women’s buying power is a trillion-dollar business in each sector. It is essential to think about that from the standpoint of having something successful and doing something that contributes to communities, understanding abundance and being an ally. Show how POC can be a lead voice in marketing, events and move that forward with your business to really allow for growth and space to happen.


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As I reflect on 2019, I realize that it happened so fast, and was so overwhelming that I didn’t have much time to appreciate everything that’s happened. Every year, has builted upon the next. This year (like the previous three), I got to travel all over the world. I taught multiple seminaries. I produced shows, made new friends, settled into new experiences, and even got pregnant. But more than anything I got to do something I absolutely love, which is teach. I got to teach others how to reconnect with themselves. I received many opportunities (despite internal insecurities) to share my passions. To dance with others, to experience how giving/sharing could allow others to evolve. And reflecting on all of it has been the biggest gift of 2019. Thank you to those who supported/invested in me, and my passion for movement. To those who opened enough to truly allow me guide them as movers. You giving me the opportunity to be a part of your journey has been a gift.

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How do we address concerns without fear of retaliation or gaslighting? Clientele relation and industry as a whole- addressing concerns and feeling supported. Options to address conflict safely and what does allyship look like?

At my studio, myself and BIPOC aerial and burlesque students all came together to create space, allyship and support amongst ourselves from the ground up.

Equity is giving people the things they need so they can be equal, so could studios sponsor a student for instructor training or offer a scholarship? Or competitions sponsor BIPOC competitors and girls in the strip clubs to be instructors if that’s what they want to do? We need to focus on the re-distribution of wealth, abundance mindset and making sure that those who need access to things have that access.

There are many ways that you create community. Studios could offer residency training for engaged students who wish to be instructors or offer practices and resources. This reinforces the community environment of investing as much into students as they invest into studios.

In order to hire more black instructors in studios, to an extent students have to apply, for all you know the studio could be hiring black instructors. If this isn’t the case, mention to your studio to hire a black instructor or put the word out via newsletters, workshop adverts etc. Raise this point with studios and not just moan to other students.

If you want to be an instructor but are struggling to find the resources, see if students want to invest in you or if anyone else can invest in you.

Many people have financial issues coming to pole as it’s an exclusive type of workout, so it’s key to provide opportunity for people to train and scholarships. But make sure whoever you’re investing in is sincere and have the paperwork to back up they want to be an instructor with you from a business perspective. Get certified, offer more options for everyone, and diversify your studio.

We could have a suggestion box in studios and act on students concerns? Studio owners would then be held accountable for not acting upon suggestions.

We have to determine what is it about the community culture in this industry that makes people not feel safe enough to speak up? There are people that are vocal in this industry and they’re generally met with disapproval, so why is it that people are not comfortable with others being honest about practices in this industry are systematically racist and need to be addressed ?Studio owners and teachers that are silent are contributing to the problem and we all need to show up and stand up for people in a more proactive way.

Having open, two-way communication between our students is key. Some people are introverted and would prefer anonymity, which is where a suggestion box would work.

Multiple communication channels are the best way to make sure that as many people as possible are able to offer their feedback. That way everyone has an avenue to show up and offer or ask for the what they need. Industry leaders (that includes instructors and studio owners) have to be able to make space for everyone to contribute in the way that they can in their own different ways. We need to learn to give, ask for, accept and act upon feedback.

People in positions of power, you need to say something! Even if you fall on your ass doing so be receptive to change and feedback. It’s human to mess up and it’s okay to acknowledge that.

We need to invite people into the conversation but sadly you can’t force people to change. Don’t be consumed by those who are closed off but focus on those who are ready for the conversation, so students ask your studio to have these. If your studio doesn’t act on feedback then you need to see if you want to go somewhere else. Call people forth before we call out. We don’t always need to come at someone with fire.

These conversations are so important so please make sure you’re doing your part.

X-POLE
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