Harvard’s freshman pole dancing club seeks to “empower” its members, especially those with “disadvantaged historical identities”.
A young woman does push-ups in the bright Boston Pole Fitness gym. His arms rest on the silver bar, his legs hang over his body, his back arched and his fingers pointed out.
This photo is of Stacey D. Fabo who was appointed to the Harvard Student Pole Dance Club in ’25. Fabo, who had no prior pole dancing experience, became interested in the club after seeing her Instagram page. “I thought, ‘Oh, that sounds good,'” he said.
The Harvard Student Pole Dance Club opened this spring to offer free pole dancing lessons to interested students.
Heather H. Park ’25 is one of the founders of HUPDC. When Park and his classmates, freshman Class of 2025, first approached GroupMe with the idea of starting a pole dance club, other interested students quickly joined the group. This year, with funding from the Harvard Art Office, he turned his idea into reality.
According to its mission statement, the group seeks to “empower” its members, especially “historically disadvantaged individuals.” When a spot is assigned by lottery, the club “gives preference to low-income students and BIPOC.” HPDC has made a conscious effort to alleviate the financial hardships of pole dancing classes.
According to Parker, the club has a “diverse population” of different genders, sexual orientations and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Modern pole dancing evolved from the practice of acrobatic pole dancing in circuses in China and pole gymnastics in Mallahhamb, India – both traditionally male-dominated sports dating back to the 12th century.
Although its meaning extends beyond its roots in the sports world, pole dancing is physically demanding. In HUPDC classes, members always begin with a slow half-hour stretch that focuses on building strength over time. Then they switch to dumbbells and repeat unfamiliar exercises until every muscle is burned.
In addition to teaching members how to pole dance, the club hopes to focus on body positivity through the recognition of fitness and sexuality.
Through working with HUPDC, Park said she has grown to respect her body more and “enjoy every class that I take.”
Fabon’s feelings mirror Park’s feelings. “I mainly deal with things that need physical coordination,” he says. “But being able to absorb what I learned in that class gave me more confidence.”
Arianna C. Fowler ’25 added: “I feel like I’ve become one with the movement. “You’re just moving your body with confidence and agility, which is atypical during normal training.”
The modern concept of pole dancing from the West was influenced by exotic circus dancers and “hoshi kuchi” dancers who toured the United States during the Great Depression.
In the 1950s, strip clubs began to appear in new locations, taking the essence of the idea. Strippers add movement on the floor and choreography to dance on the floor, synthesizing sexy and athletic elements from the history of pole dancing.
Now, with fitness classes, reality shows, and appearances by celebrities like Lil Nas X and FKA Twigs, pole dancing has become mainstream. While the recent popularity of mobile dancing has helped dispel the stigma, the powerful in the industry have not promoted the movement.
Given the link between pole dancing and prostitution, Fowler said, the physical and sexual aspects of the activity are often intertwined. “I really don’t think there should be a stigma against pole dancing because it’s so fun,” says Fowler. “Just because it’s in a club or something doesn’t mean it can’t be a good sport, it also helps build confidence, express sex and explore body movements. .”
The dichotomy noted by Fowler—pole dancing as a sport and pole dancing as prostitution—reflects a broader approach to orthodox pole dancing. Park still meets people who don’t want to see pole dancing.
“We understand the stigma that pole dancing can bring,” she said. “We just want to emphasize that this is definitely a different form of dance. We don’t want to be different from any other dance organization on campus.”
Aware of this bias, HUPDC even praised the link between pole dancing and prostitution. HUPDC’s mission statement says it wants to “honor the sex workers and strippers who have been and continue to practice their profession.”
Many of the HUPDC members we interviewed found that pole dancing gave them something they couldn’t do often. Fowler associates this with the eroticism of pole dancing and describes the energy that allows it to connect with mind, body, and person.
“I record everything,” he said. – And I can see the beauty of my gender.