I researched the article "Empowerment and the Pole: A Discursive Investigation of the Reinvention of Pole Dancing as a Recreational Activity. It was authored by Kally Whitehead and Tim Kurz, and it can be accessed by going to lib.umn.edu, finding the Sage Journal Subscription package, and then searching for this article in "Feminism and Psychology."
Pole dancing came into being in the 1970s. It was considered another tool for erotic dancing. The pole was used as a prop to perform tricks and spins, and its use was strongly associated with strip clubs. Recently, the pole has been repurposed. Pole dancing is an aerobically strenuous activity, and women (and men!) have begun signing up for pole dancing classes as a form of fun, sexually liberated exercise. However, this form of exercise has not lost its sexual background. Australian advertisements for pole dancing classes include phrases like "Strength and femininity", "power and beauty" or "Sex appeal comes from within". Whitehead describes the activity as similar to an aerobics class. The selection of classes ranges from "flexibility" to "fat-burning". There are a number of poles in the room, each women selects one, and then follows the movements of the instructer, who has her own pole at the front of the room. Some women wear exercise clothing, while others choose to wear high heels and clothing which is more stripper-esque.
Whitehead and Kurz believe that pole dancing as an exercise activity represents an ideological dilemma. On one hand, who are we to judge the healthy (literally) choices women make? Using sexuality for health certainly seems empowering, and since these aerobics classes are not monitored by men, it seems difficult to make the argument that pole dancing for recreation is consumption of women by men. On the other hand, the sexualization of exercise and the rise of "porn-chic", where the trendiest new enterprises are also the most risque, may represent a movement towards the hypersexualization of women. When stripping and pole dancing is the only type of sex-positive imagery we can conjure, what does that say to the thousands of women who live subtler, more demure sexualities?
Whitehead and Kurz did a rhetorical analysis of the way that customers and teachers talked about pole dancing. They found that broadly, people thought it was empowering because the focus was on fun and fitness, and less on sexuality or "attracting" men to come into a club. One woman pointed out that because she was the one paying to take the class, she had the power. Dancing was an active choice she was making. She believed that when strippers were payed to dance, it made dancing a forced choice for them, because they had to do it for their livelihood.
Another group indicated that they thought pole dancing for someone you loved would be different that dancing for a stranger. They indicated that dancing for a stranger requires no emotional connection - the stranger merely sees a body. Dancing for a significant other means that they already know the person behind the body, and see the act as an example of confidence or playfulness.
Whitehead and Kurz were concerned by some of the statements that women said. Particularly, they thought the dichotomy between dancing for a boyfriend and dancing for a stranger was troubling. What if men said, "It's ok for me to objectify her, because I love her?" Using love as a justification may allow all sorts of degrading and objectionable activities.