On a breezy autumn night in Spanish Harlem, the art of pole dancing was on full display at the “Body Art” showcase. Pole dancers converged on Camaradas El Barrio on 1st Avenue to celebrate the human form and spirit with a showcase of pole dancers from around the city. Hosted by healer and wellness instructor Panquetzani, women and men took to the stage to display their talent and to express themselves while continuing to invite others to take part in the benefits of pole dancing. Among the participants was famed dancer XO, Tarzan, who’s contributed his choreography to Madonna’s Rebel Heart Tour and performed with Grace Jones. As someone who made a name for himself in the world of commercial dance, he advises anyone interested in learning how to pole dance to embrace fitness overall.
“Take care of your body,” he advises. “You have to make sure you’re eating well, sleeping, and working out. Dancing is a cardio form so you defintely have to workout! Take care of yourself. I took a workshop from Ciara’s choreographer Jamaica Craft … she said, ‘If you stay ready, you never have to get ready.'”
“Whenever I tell people about pole, they always say, ‘Oh, you’re going to [the strip club] Sin City now? Ha-ha-ha,'” dancer/instructor Starr Rocque explains. “I don’t have anything against strippers. I think strippers are great. But pole dancing is a sport. You can do with it what you want: you can be sexy if you want to. You can just do tricks if you want. You can just walk around the pole if you want to. It’s not just about stripping. It’s not just about fitness. It’s a real movement.”
“Body Art” was the conception of dancer and instructor Makeda Voletta. She was inspired to bring various forms of African dance together, and pole dancing became a natural draw for both participants and the audience. For her, it’s about connecting everyone to expression and being open about sensuality.
“I’ve been dancing since I was five years old. I started out in ballet, but as an adult I’m a student of dances of the African diaspora,” Voletta explains. “It’s always centered in the hips … I’m also a sacred sexual educator, so I do a lot of work around sexuality. So I don’t see the shame in it. A lot of black dances, whether it be from the Carribbean or the South or South America, they all involve hip gyrations. I’m also a trainer. So, I look for exercises that are most effective. I feel like dancing is a tool to get people connected to their body.”
And she wants more men and women to embrace their bodies.
“There are a lot of women who feel sexually empowered from pole dancing,” she says. “You have pole as a sport, where it’s more athletic and Olympic-oriented where they take away any booty-shaking or anything suggestive. And then you have the art side of it.
“I know that a lot of moves that are big in pole fitness come from strip clubs, from black strippers in particular. So, when I see black strippers or dudes on the subway who are self-taught, I respect that. And we all come from sex, so I don’t see a problem with sexuality. I wanted to take the sensual side of pole dance and other black dancers of the Diaspora and put them together.”