Pole Dance Pedagogy

I am currently writing a chapter centered on these experiences and was inspired to share a little here (read procrastinate).

Twitter and my blog have been invaluable tools for me to develop my ideas and receive feedback, and I wish to thank all of those people who read this blog and offer comments.

Marking essays this week I am bowled over by how many students read this blog, and what a powerful apparatus of public Criminology a blog can be. Without any of the barriers of academic publishing it is very freeing to be able to write like this.

In 2015 I was lucky enough to co-edit a journal edition that I am still very proud of. We facilitated an excellent group of sex workers, practitioners and academics, and I was lucky enough to publish my own autobiographical commentary (Ahearne, 2015).

I made the decision to include a photo of me from my dancing days as a reminder of being pulled back to a place, and as a defiant act of rejecting shame, stigma and judgement. It would be hypocritical of me to teach and write about the regulation of women’s bodies and sexuality and then shy away from stating who I am and from unapologetically owning it.

Throughout this blog I have written about lap-dancing, “This fear of women displaying their breasts is nothing new. In the 1800s the anti-vice and puritan movements campaigned for Burlesque clubs in America to be closed down. In the UK the Windmill International club was the source of much distaste about the indecency of women’s flesh”.

Our bodies are deemed to be indecent by their very being, particularly those who spill out, or are ‘flaunted’ and have other working-class inscribed meanings attached. I write about Aintree Races and the regulation of working class women’s bodies here.

I confidently asserted “Yes a Stripper” here and I criticise the campaign group Not Buying It here.

There is an emotional toll to pay for being inserted into your own research. I write about this here.

I have also written about the trauma of research here. As a woman with CPTSD I am learning more about trauma all of the time, but I maintain that it is a powerful vessel for research.

I blogged about my experiences here in ‘Criminologist or Criminal’ and this will be published as a journal article shortly (Ahearne, 2021). I was overwhelmed with the feedback I received and how many people connected with my words. I had over 8000 views in 3 weeks and the text is being used as a reading on several modules around the country. I can’t thank people enough for firstly bothering to read what I write, and secondly thinking it is worthy enough to share with students. That is real impact for me and what I care about.

The personal is political and my authenticity is crucial for my teaching, research and activism. Academia is a middle-class place that tries to sanitize our experiences and voices. It doesn’t have to be this way. Our narratives are powerful and they can successfully inform trauma-informed truly inclusive practice. Those of us with mess stories and complex histories and a whole heap of trauma (hey there!) have a lot to offer.

We can take you to spaces with us. We can take you round the streets and disrupt spaces with how we experience them. I was lucky enough to be commissioned to facilitate sensory guided walks of sexual entertainment venues for FACT here.

And here.

I was also grateful to be commissioned by artist and lecturer Dr Allie. J. Carr as part of her Into the Spotlight exhibit at Bloc Projects Sheffield.

Performing is part of who I am.

As I write here, “The showgirl is disruptive by her very nature. She is blatant, taking up public space without apology. She commands your attention. The eye contact might make you vulnerable. She owns her body and sells you a brief portion of time, a tiny bit of access“.

There is a lot to be interrogated about women taking up space and making you feel discomfort. Making you ask difficult questions about yourself. A woman refusing to retreat and taking up space, attention and resources that you don’t want her to have. Perhaps you don’t think she is ‘academic’ enough (yawn), or ‘worthy’ enough. Perhaps she is threatening the “integrity of the discipline” and she find her to be ‘too much’. But she doesn’t think of you at all.

As with the majority of dancers, I learned most of what I know in the club. My work ethic, my hustle, my confidence, my people-skills, my negotiation skills. When you strip everything away, that’s who you are. There’s nowhere to hide.

Designing and delivering my third year module Crime, Justice and the Sex Industry and the University of Liverpool is a dream come true.

I have been in and around the industry for nearly 20 years and I have learned a LOT. Sharing this with students, and hearing their vibrant critical thoughts on policy, law, stigma, sex workers’ rights and harm reduction is an utter joy and I am forever thankful to have this opportunity.

I learn so much from being in the classroom, or more accurately during this pandemic, on zoom.

Maybe I should get back to those writing deadlines and stop procrastinating on here.

Gemma x

Ahearne, G (2015) ‘Between Lap Dancing and Academia: Navigating Stigma and Disgust’, Graduate Journal of Social Science, Vol 11, No. 2, pp. 28-37

Ahearne, G. (2021) ‘Criminologist or Criminal?’ Autobiography and Trauma as Liminal spaces, Methodological Innovations