Fitness Fridays: Black Girls Pole Creator Dalijah Franklin On Taking The Taboo Out Of Pole Dancing And Making It Fitness
The first thing some people think of when they see a pole is exotic dancers, stripping and nudity. For Dalijah Franklin, she thinks of strength, confidence and she sees sisterhood. All of these things come to mind for the 34-year-old because she’s experienced all of them in the more than 10 years that she’s been pole dancing, teaching pole dancing, and winning pole dancing competitions. What started as something to try for fun with a friend has morphed into an overall movement that Dalijah created for Black women called Black Girls Pole. The organization seeks to diversify the pole community, educate women of color about this burgeoning mode of fitness, and help Black women embrace their bodies while also challenging them. With almost 50,000 followers on Instagram and an even bigger following growing outside of the United States, Dalijah is excited to be changing the way people see pole dancing. She’s also thrilled to be celebrating the fifth anniversary of BGP in New York City in July with a few events.
We spoke with her about the confidence boost and physical changes pole dancing has provided, the overwhelming support she’s received in growing Black Girls Pole, and why she’s hoping people will see that pole dancing is not only for exotic dancers (whom she has the utmost respect for), but also for fitness enthusiasts and everyday athletes.
MadameNoire: What was your introduction to pole dancing and when?
Dalijah Franklin: So in 2008, a friend of mine wanted to try a pole dancing class at Crunch gym in New York. I was like, “Okay, I guess we’ll give this a try.” I did one class and absolutely fell in love with it. My friend, she actually quit doing it after about three months, but I stuck with it. It just made me feel so confident. It made me feel sexy, it made me feel strong. From there, I kind of went on to teaching classes, then I entered into a pole dancing competition, which I had no idea what I was getting into. It was like pole dancing mixed with burlesque. I entered into the competition and I didn’t win, of course, because I was probably like three or four months in at the time, but I kept at it. Eventually, I did a work-study program at a studio called Body & Pole and that was how I got started.
When you first started going to these classes, was it a welcoming environment? Also, was it a diverse one?
It was super-duper welcoming. The classes were pretty diverse when I first went in. I would say out of 30 women, there were eight women of color. But everyone was so warm to each other, everyone was so supportive of each other, cheering each other on. I never felt like “I don’t belong.”
If the classes felt diverse, why did you decide to start Black Girls Pole, and what was the response early on?
I wanted to do it because the more and more that I started doing competitions, that’s when I noticed there were not a lot of women of color and there was not a lot of representation. There were a handful of women at the time. In 2014 I was teaching at Body & Pole full-time and I ran it by the owners that I was going to create this event. “I think I want to call it Black Girls Pole just to get more Black pole dancers together and do a show and have classes for everybody to take,” and they were like, absolutely. When I did it, I kind of wanted it to be a one-off event where it was like, we have this great event and it’s sold out, people came from Boston, D.C., Atlanta, they all came to New York and that was great. However, people were like, “When’s the next event? What are you going to keep doing with it?” I had nothing. From there it just sort of grew into doing more events, then doing a retreat and just trying to make it grow. It honestly just kept growing without me even trying, it just spread like crazy.
What do you say to those who look at pole dancing and see it solely as something associated with stripping?
I always tell people that pole dancing, the style of pole dancing that I do, it did originate in the clubs. I absolutely have the most respect for exotic dancers, for strippers, and sometimes I do like to put on my heels and do some things. They’re very closely related to each other and it’s just trying to educate people that there are different avenues of pole dancing so it doesn’t always have to be the sexy heels. You can do it barefoot. You can do it more of in a gymnastics style. It’s always just really trying to educate people to how broad pole dancing can be.
What have been the physical benefits you’ve experienced?
Oh my goodness [laughs]. I feel so strong, especially when I’m training for competitions and especially because I’m lifting my own body weight. I’m putting my abs over my head, so it’s a total body experience. It’s very, very empowering because you do feel so strong, because you do feel so sexy, and then with all of that strength, the confidence comes. Not only am I physically strong, but mentally and emotionally, I feel very strong because I just feel so much more confident in who I am and the type of woman that I am and how I conduct myself.
I was going to ask you about that, the mental/emotional impact of pole dancing. With any workout, if you’re into it more than just feeling like it’s a chore you have to do to stay in shape, there are the benefits of feeling a sense of peace and even an adrenaline rush. What do you feel from pole dancing? Also, since people tend to do pole dancing in fewer clothes, it looks like it helps cultivate a lot of body confidence. Can you speak a little further on that as well?
It absolutely does. I’ve never considered my pole workout to be an actual workout. I’ve never dreaded having to go train just because it’s so fun and there’s so much freedom in it. When we often workout, we do weights, we do the treadmill, we do the elliptical, it’s like a straight path. But with pole dancing you can turn it into movement — it’s almost like a meditation for me because I can clear my head with it, and I can explore where my body can go.
I also wanted to ask about the benefits in terms of being more comfortable in and expressing your sexuality. Is there a correlation?
Yes! Absolutely. Because of pole dancing I do feel more in tune with my sexuality. Just more confident. I can walk around nude, I feel great naked, I feel great having sex, I feel great all of the time because, I think, of pole dancing. It’s definitely a great booster for you and your partner [laughs].
For those intrigued by pole dancing, say for instance they’ve been seeing singer FKA Twigs excelling at pole dancing and are interested in trying it for themselves, what should people know before their first class?
I always tell people you don’t go to the hair salon with your hair already done. You’re not going to walk into a pole dancing class already strong. It’s definitely a journey. Be patient with yourself, be patient with your body because it does take a while to adjust, but once you get in there, you will feel so much freedom. It’s a liberating experience. Don’t get discouraged. It’s like riding a bike. The first time you did that, you probably didn’t do well at it, so just have patience with yourself.
With your fifth anniversary events coming in July, where do you see Black Girls Pole in the next five years, and where do you see pole dancing going overall as a mode of fitness? What are your hopes for both?
For Black Girls Pole, I do hope to expand it more to having more retreats, having more events, maybe having sister chapters in different countries. London is our next biggest following so that’s kind of been a good chapter for us. So opening up more chapters, opening up a Black Girls Pole headquarters or studio somewhere. Also, some branch of a non-profit for it. It would probably be with movement and body positivity for young girls, not dealing with pole dancing, but just movement and body positivity for younger African-American girls.
As for pole dancing in general, I just hope that it will continue to grow and become a household type of exercise so it’s not a taboo thing anymore but looked at as something that can continue to keep women confident and men confident, too.