Vaudeville and Vixens Part 3: The Pole

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Pole dancing has spent some time being thought of as degrading, but it has been becoming more and more accepted as housewives rave about the empowerment found in strip aerobics and other more exotic forms of exercise.  The history of the pole dance is centuries old. It is often associated with the strip tease, which has a history that goes back even further.

According to DallasPoledancing.com, this ancient art form dates back to the Sumerion times. Striptease began with the story of Sumerian love Goddess, Inanna who traveled to the underworld in search of her lover. With each layer of hell that she traveled, she removed a layer of clothing.  The earth is barren during her absence, but abundant upon her return. It is thought that belly dancing evolved from this story, and was originally thought to strengthen and prepare the body for childbirth.

Some African tribes had a form of pole dancing. Betrothed women would dance with wooden poles to show their future husbands how they wanted to make love. Some pole dancing is also attributed to the pagan ritual surrounding the Maypole.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, traveling tent shows had strip performances to keep the men coming back. The smaller dancers began using the tent poles to dance around, and they became the pole dance tents. These dancers were also tied in with the “hootchie kootch” dance.  According to Streetswing.com, “(Hootchy Kootchy)  is derived from the French "couche," past part of "coucher" which means "to lay down." The Hootchy-Kootchy (Hoochi-Coochi) or Cooch dance is a pseudo-Turkish, sensual dance executed only by women in short skirts, bare midriffs and tight breastbands, which is said to have originated at the Philadelphia Centennial Fair (May-Nov-1876.)” Over the years many forms of erotic dance were lumped into that category.


The first recorded pole dance debuted in Oscar Wilde's play  "Salome".   From there pole dancing was made more popular in 1968 by Belle Jangles at a strip joint in Oregon. Modern Pole Dancing did not come begin to evolve until the eighties.  It started as a craze in Canada and spread into the United States with help from Gentlemen’s club corporations like Rhino Spearmint. Canadian dancer Fawnia Mondey is one of the first pole dancing champions, and she started teaching pole dancing to every day women in the nineties. She produced the very first instructional pole dancing DVD.

Louisvillian Jeanette Martinez a.k.a. SoulFire Bay began her journey to the pole at a young age. Born and raised on the west coast of California, she started gymnastic and dance training at age four. She then moved onto martial arts and modeling.

“It was noted  at a young age that I had extreme flexiblity,” she says. “ I loved to show that  off and was encouraged to do so. I took ballet and tap lessons at five-years-old, began tumbling and modern dance  with a company at severn-years-old, and began modeling, acting, runway lessons, shows and conventions at eight-years-old.”

Martinez continued to improve her skill through out her younger years and evolved into a contortionist extraordinaire who has learned to incorporate the pole into her contortions.She began doing cabaret shows on the west coast at age 18. Since her debut, she has performed in 90+ clubs in cabarets across America. A connection with a music producer led to  many print ads and magazine shoots. During this time she also experienced and overcame a mentallly and physically abusive relationship that she was able to overcome and continues to find empowerment through her art. She hopes to encourage other women to find their own sexual empowerment and to seek for their own inner beauty.

In addition to dancing and contortionism, Martinez plays classical piano, guitar and writes poetry. She is also a student, proud mother of one, and a featured dancer with the Louisville burlesque troop Va  VaVixens.    She most recently performed in Va Va Vintage and will be returning for Va Va Valentine in February at Art Sanctuary and the Alley Theater.  The Vixens have been performing in Louisville for one year and Va Va Valentine will be their fifth show. Don't miss your chance to see this ancient art form on the stage.

About Jessica Lynn
Jessica Lynn has been writing for Louisville.com since fall of 2010 and has also been published in LEO, Velocity, Voice-Tribune and others after serving as Editor in Chief of The JCC student newspaper, The Quadrangle. She has also served as columnist or contributing writer to an array of online publications.
More articles from Jessica Lynn
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