“How do you manage to pole dance so publicly while having a day job?” is one of the questions at the top of my readers’ list. Having publicly and successfully ‘come out’ as a pole dancing academic and following a conversation we had on my Instagram profile, I answer it here while also sharing my Instagram followers’ thoughts and experiences.
What’s so wrong with pole dancing publicly?
Nothing. There is nothing wrong with pole dancing publicly. There’s nothing wrong with being a professional stripper or a pole hobbyist and with having a public profile.
This article isn’t intended to find something wrong about pole dancers’ attitudes to sharing their hobby or work. It’s a reaction to what are, sadly, existing prejudices within society that make some people afraid to share their pole journey or work, or to even start pole dancing altogether.
Some fear their families’ or their loved ones’ reaction – something that can be weaponised against pole dancers and something that I have covered in a reel below.
Others feel their employers’ or clients’ reaction, which is why I’m writing this post in the first place.
Why should your day job be an issue?
When I was starting out as a PhD student, hoping to make my way in an often conservative, stuffy and, often, unequal space like academia, I feared that being ‘out’ as a pole dancer – even as a pole hobbyist – would make it even more difficult for me to find work. Similarly, many people on my social media often ask whether I think it’s possible for them to publicly enjoy pole and do well at work.
It seems that even as a hobby, pole dance – an art and a sport that comes from stripping and that mirrors its aesthetic – brings people to face some (not all) the prejudice and discrimination that strippers may face. Sometimes, this fear of repercussions poling publicly may have on your day job may arise from polers’ own internalised whorephobia. Sometimes though, it mirrors’ society’s view that particularly women and LGBTQIA+ people who embrace their sexuality, dance and show their bodies are somehow not qualified or ‘serious’. If my TikTok comments or even the reactions to Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s (very tame) dancing at a house party are anything to go by, it seems that we should all keep our dancing under wraps.
@bloggeronpole Reply to @spilt_tee I feel like I’m the living proof that this comment doesn’t stand 🤣 stop telling your daughters to hide their bodies to be respected. Your body’s visibility has nothing to do with whether you can do your job! So sad to see these comments come from women. Outfit by @pole_junkie ♬ Cool for the Summer – Sped Up (Nightcore) – Demi Lovato & Speed Radio
So how do people manage their day job with a public pole persona? And how can we help ourselves and others get rid of this shame?
Your day job determines how public you are about pole
The conversation arising from questions my followers asked me on my Instagram surrounded whether people could work for the National Health Service (NHS), the United Kingdom’s publicly funded healthcare provider, and openly pole dance. While, to me, there isn’t a conflict between publicly pole dancing and being a healthcare worker, some of my followers rightly pointed out that, for some, pole may be in violation of the NHS’s code of conduct:
“Ensure behaviour (at work or outside of work) and appearance at work or whilst representing NHS 24, does not reflect negatively on NHS 24 in a way that would bring its reputation into disrepute or cause a loss of public confidence in its work. […]
In addition, staff should be aware that membership or involvement with organisations or activities whose values are inconsistent with those of NHS 24 will create reasonable doubt of the staff member’s ability to comply with this code.
Any activity or communication, including forms of social media, outside of work which is considered to be in conflict with the principles of this Code may result in a disciplinary investigation in accordance with NHS 24’s Disciplinary Procedures. Staff should seek advice from line managers or Human Resources in advance of taking part in any event or activity which may fall into this category.”NHS Code of Conduct
This is, of course, very much open to interpretation – both the worker’s and the manager’s and/or company’s. And in fact, when sharing issues related to codes of conduct, I’ve had different messages sharing different pole dancing vs day job experiences specifically from NHS workers: some preferred making their profiles private to avoid having patients searching them online, while others ran studios and performed outside of work with no repercussions – their bosses were cool with it and their colleagues even came to their classes.
What this highlights however is that, to some workplaces, dancing around a pole in a bikini while wearing stripper shoes may be an issue – meaning that things like the nature of your work, your contractual obligations, the type of clients and/or patients you may have or even the company culture may influence how public you are about pole.
This is wrong on a variety of levels: someone’s current or previous job (particularly when it is legal in the case of stripping) or their hobby (which is, once again, legal such as recreational pole dancing) shouldn’t influence their ability to work and express themselves freely. And while I’d like to think we’ve moved on from more conservative times – e.g. from when, at uni, I was advised to use a fake name on my social media to prevent my future employers from seeing my (very tame) beach bikini pictures – it is still very much true that some professions or people haven’t moved on, and that we all need to eat and pay the bills. Which brings me to the next point…
10 questions you should ask yourself before ‘coming out’ as a pole dancer when having a day job
Doing something that is sadly still taboo results in the frustrating and tiring practice of having to manage different personae in life and online. I want to live in a world where companies don’t get a say in how we look, whether we have tattoos, piercings or colourful hair and in which activities we engage in outside of work. But this is not yet the case, or at least not for everyone.
As such, when wondering if publicly pole dancing can affect your day job, you should ask yourself some questions.
- What do your day job contract or code of conduct say about your extracurricular activities / out of work persona?
- Can you openly speak to your manager / HR department about your wish to pole dance publicly?
- How would your patients / employees / colleagues / clients / students react to your posts?
- Is it (personally and professionally) safe for you to be public about pole dancing?
- Have people at your day job actually made you feel like you couldn’t be public about pole, or is this your fear arising from your experiences / cultural background etc.?
- What do you fear would happen if your pole posts became public? Why?
- Can you portray your pole journey in a way that doesn’t clash with your day job? If yes, how so?
- Do you know anyone in your line of work who publicly pole dances? Can you ask them for advice?
- Do you want to work for a company / in a sector that tells you what you should and shouldn’t be doing with your body?
- Can you afford to lose this job and find work in a more tolerant environment?
These questions are important and necessary because we are not all the same. We don’t share the same bosses, clients, colleagues, codes of conduct, and we’re not all born in the same skin, economic conditions or country. The answers to these questions will determine how you manage your pole persona, and whether it’s worth ‘coming out’.
How I managed my ‘coming out’
I started pole dancing in Australia, where I was doing a MA in Criminology with the aim to retrain as an academic, but where I had to support myself through my old work: PR, social media management and freelance journalism. PR was a creative field, and a field I knew I was going to abandon, so I didn’t really worry about making my pole journey public.
Back then, I was clearly so bad and awks at pole that no one could have realistically mistaken me for a professional. Plus, pole was so mainstream in Australia – with the studio I trained at hosting showcases with families and colleagues – that poling publicly didn’t really affect my day job. Some sleazebag clients *did* ask my boss if they could photoshop a picture of me on their pizza brand’s social media with the caption: “We wanna tap that bitch with cheese” (LOL), but that was about them being gross. Reader, we did dump those clients – this is what having a boss that has your back means.
Still, the internalised misogyny, whorephobia and 2000s culture I grew up with wasn’t easy to shake off. I remembered being viewed as ‘easy’ by some of my fellow team members in a student society I was part of during my BA. Why? Because I had posted bikini pictures on my social media. Growing up by the sea is, for some people, a sign of promiscuity. So even if I didn’t agree with the idea, I had always used a different name on my social media accounts to keep my life outside of work private.
This way of thinking affected me when I came back to London, where I was about to start my PhD and where pole dancing was somehow a lot more taboo. That – September 2017 – was when my accounts were suddenly unified under the “bloggeronpole” handle, and when I decided to separate my academic and pole personae by penning any research with “Carolina Are” and showing any pole work through “Carolina Hades / bloggeronpole”.
I didn’t like it, but that’s how I chose to navigate things back then as I found my feet in academia. As my growing pole persona received more and more attention, I was at pains to make sure it was under my pseudonym. I wasn’t necessarily unsearchable, but my pole stuff wasn’t on the first page of Google if my colleagues or students looked for my real name.
There were, of course, some awkward moments. An old colleague hinted at my pole stuff in a sleazy way after an interview with me appeared in The Sun, and a student – bless him! – tried to pay me a compliment about “what I did” without being able to mention it… only showing he’d been on a bit of a stalk.
Funnily enough, it was Instagram’s shadowban that convinced me to go public. When I obtained an apology from IG about shadowbanning, I realised my research focus on platform governance made my experiences research-worthy, and gave my pole persona more authority. Slowly but surely, my papers started featuring my experiences of censorship, which also allowed me to reach more participants and to question platform power.
So after I defended my PhD thesis, I made the decision to formally ‘come out’ as a pole dancer, and bring the worst kept secret to light. I explain this in this thread below and in more detail in the Researcher Activist Network zine here.
Passed my viva with minor corrections today 💪🏼 I had decided this was going to be the day I brought Batman & Bruce Wayne together 😛 So I’m gonna close my academic-only Twitter & unify my presence under this account. Here’s why it’s important to me to be both people at once. pic.twitter.com/XzEC5zzek4— Dr Carolina Are / Blogger On Pole (@bloggeronpole) December 16, 2020
While everyone was supportive of my choice, finding a postdoc position proved challenging. I don’t know if finding work took ages because of the dire state of the academic market or because my ass was out on social media, but I took part in many interviews where I was told I interviewed well, but that they found “a better fit” for the job. I’ve had work rejected from journals or chapters as ‘not academic enough’ and my assumptions questioned by researchers who view what I do as shameful or wrong.
But I did find work. I am now working with a fantastic team and a very supportive boss who allows me to be who I am, who follows me on social media and who has even seen my competition performance pictures.
We did check with HR that my persona was not a problem, and that I could still teach in pole studios without it causing a conflict of interest (I got the all-clear). But this very much shows that some people will never like what you do, and that you have to surround yourself with those who do like it or at the very least support it. I know I wouldn’t wanna work somewhere that judged me, if I had other options.
What I do know is that I am a bit of a ‘freak case’: my persona works because it mirrors my research. That doesn’t happen to everyone. As I said above, how public you are about pole with your day job varies depending on your industry and on a whole lot of other factors. And while I’ve had everyone from healthcare workers to nannies, from corporate folks to academics tell me they were public about pole and faced no problems, this doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s your journey we’re talking about here, and that you should go about forming and revealing your pole persona in your own way and at your own pace.
You don’t have to ‘come out’… unless you want to
Ideally, the world would be different and you wouldn’t have any problems with your hobby. But when having this conversation about pole vs your day job on my IG, people showed they’d rather keep it private, and they had valid reasons to do so. Some, for instance, worked on their own in an isolated space and couldn’t be sure that their clients knowing about pole may endanger them.
Others at earlier stages of their career, or who had just started a new job, preferred to wait and see how their relationship with their workplace or their career evolved. This is entirely valid and it’s what I did too: you don’t have to go public straight away, and you don’t have to stay public if that doesn’t work for your current circumstances.
Others still viewed pole as something entirely personal, and preferred to not give their day job access to their personal life: “I use a stage name and a separate Instagram profile. Work knows, but I like keeping some of my life private,” someone said, while someone else told me that “it means I choose who knows what about me.” A wish for privacy is also entirely valid, and it doesn’t have to stem from shame.
Your own attitudes to pole may change over time. You may want to hide it from some people and show it to others. You may realise it’s too big a part of your life to keep hidden, and have to make a choice as a result. Or, as a healthcare told me: “One family even complimented my picture after a pole photoshoot, but another family stopped sessions with me after seeing a photo. But pole is a big part of my life and I got to the stage where I didn’t want to hide it anymore. So I choose to work with families that are supportive.”
In short, how and if you ‘come out’ as a pole dancer to your day job and/or your social media is influenced by outside variables, but is entirely up to you. There is one thing that sure needs to change though, and that is public attitudes towards people’s bodies – and particularly women’s bodies.
Why public attitudes to women dancing are a problem
I have an “everything out in the open” policy about my life. I do keep some things private, but with ‘big’ things such as pole, my sexuality, my beliefs and experiences, I prefer to be open. Why? Because I don’t want to give anybody the opportunity to shame me, and because if I make things sound like a problem, people will view it as a problem. This reflects some of the views of people who have shared their approach to managing their day job with pole in my IG chat: “I just talk about it in a-matter-of-fact tone – and then if they throw judgement at me I shame them,” someone said, while someone else told me they’d rather “be open about it, ” because “if I hide it, then it becomes a liability and risk to the company.”
Still, we don’t pole dance in a vacuum. We pole dance in a patriarchal, unequal society. Our bodies should be our business, but our rights to bodily freedom are always under threat both offline (see the US abortion ban) and online (see platforms’ censorship of bodies and sex). We exist in a world when male colleagues and powerful individuals’ sexual harassment may not be classed as an HR crisis, but your pole posts might. The fact that sleaze is “banter” but someone being open about their sexuality is an HR crisis speaks volumes about double standards. And sometimes, sadly, this policing of our bodily freedom may even come from other women.
Yet, inevitably, the fact that your posts or your hobby may cause some crisis implies that someone is watching. Which makes one of the responses I got – “Take screenshots when directors like your pictures and slide into your DMs to blackmail” – not only hilarious, but also food for thought.
@bloggeronpole Reply to @boredasf269 maybe you are the problem. Just saying. Outfit by @pole_junkie ♬ Thot Shit – Megan Thee Stallion
Maybe it’s the people outing you who have malicious intent, and who are a crisis to manage. Sometimes, if you stand your ground and you refuse to be shamed, you may even normalise a hobby which should already be normal. But meanwhile, keep thinking about your answers to and relationship with those 10 questions above.