Disabilities and ableism are more common in the pole community than you think. Polers can come from any story, and that includes those of use with invisible illnesses, chronic pain, long-term injury, physical differences, and endless more. There are so many of us we even have a big facebook group for polers with autoimmune disease! Unfortunately, ableism is built into our culture in so many insidious ways, and the pole community has not at all been immune to it. Every person (even those of us with disabilities!) is capable of enacting ableism, including you, so here are some things you can do to make pole a more inclusive place to everyone.
1) Learn your student’s needs. Everyone has different needs and talents anyway, so learning each of your students as an individual will help everyone. Most instructors ask classes if there are any injuries to be known, but it can be nerve-wracking to announce a disability in front of everyone and not know how it will be taken, and the disability isn’t always an injury, so this question may not do the job. Take notice of which movements are giving a student trouble and ask questions to make sure you understand why. Here are three ways to ask without demanding personal medical information that you are not entitled to: “Is there something I don’t know about stopping you or getting in the way?” “Are there things I should be keeping in mind for movements like this?” “Do you need an accommodation to make this something you are able to do?”
2) Create accommodations. Once you know your students’ needs, you can help them learn that pole is not a rigid system that can only be done one way. In fact, that’s what makes pole such a great rehabilitation tool for so many people! When you and your student land on a movement that they can’t do, help them find another way from A to C besides B. It is typically better if this isn’t made into a big deal, rather it can be a calm “What about this?” In my experience, there have even been times that the accommodation becomes what the whole class prefers and everyone can do it together!
3) Allow for accommodations and pacing. When your students gain confidence in their ability to put moves together and gain more understanding of what they can do, they may be able make their own accommodations, aka the start of their own style of dance! Great ways you can help foster this confidence and creativity are by explicitly letting students know they won’t get in trouble for not following the exact choreography and celebrating their success when they do come up with their own way to get from A to C. Another accommodation students may make for themselves is taking breaks. If a student has to pause, sit down, walk away for a minute, or have a small snack to regulate their blood sugar, let them! When it is easy for us to take care of ourselves during class, we come to more classes and can put more of ourselves into each movement!
4) Create choreography that doesn’t need to be modified. More often than not, disabled pole dancers either have to accommodate movements or accommodate themselves to the movements of others. It gets old! At times, it helps for the choreography to already fit the needs of the students in the class and for those without that disability to learn to dance in that way as well. Everyone grows, and disabled polers feel included, rather than feeling like an afterthought.
5) Class/workshop descriptions. This can be a HUGE barrier to students taking your classes without anyone realizing! As someone whose disability presents in my knees, I feel excluded and disheartened when almost every workshop or class I look at says, “Kneepads required” in the description, suggesting that knees absolutely will get beat up in the lesson. Such rigid language sends the message to me that people like me are not wanted in the class, leaving me very few options to try new things and instructors. After following the steps above, you will be much more able to provide a warm welcome to disabled polers, but how on earth will we know that?! If you are willing and able to provide disability accommodations to your lesson, put that in your class and workshop descriptions. That shows us we are welcome and considered ahead of time, not seen as an afterthought or a burden.
6) Allow differences in prerequisites for disability and make that known. Most studios have some kind of prerequisite for higher levels of classes, which is a useful tool for many reasons. Flexibility in them can be very important for disabled pole dancers, because the tiers of our abilities may be different than yours. For example, given how my body works, I consider no hands inside leg hangs to be one of the hardest moves there is, but give me a brass bridge anytime! If a studio had a strict policy that inside leg hangs were necessary to move on to the class with brass bridges, I’d sit there frustrated, lose confidence and never learn the other things my body can do. Again, if you wait for us to ask for accommodation, we may never know we are allowed to. Having language somewhere obvious that states your willingness to be flexible will help us know we are accepted.
Let's work together to make pole a more inclusive place! - Doozy
Photo: Doozy showing off what she can do thanks to her mobility tech and inclusive poling environment.