Answer Man

Elvis was not the first pole dancer in history

Life and legacy of Elvis Presley celebrated at new entertainment complex in Memphis

"Elvis Presley's Memphis" has opened at Graceland in Memphis, Tenn. The facility presents his life, career and legacy in an immersive setting. A museum, car collection, soundstage, and shops present everything Elvis.
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"Elvis Presley's Memphis" has opened at Graceland in Memphis, Tenn. The facility presents his life, career and legacy in an immersive setting. A museum, car collection, soundstage, and shops present everything Elvis.

Q: My wife and I are big Elvis Presley fans. If you remember the movie “Jailhouse Rock,” there is the iconic dance scene in which Elvis works and slides down the pole in the jailhouse. We’re wondering whether Elvis was the first pole dancer or was it perhaps some “lady” who originated it in some gentleman’s club?

Stephen Faro, of Port St. Lucie, Fla. (formerly of Belleville)

A: Movie audiences in 1957 may have been all shook up by Elvis’ hip gyrations, but if you think it was the King who debuted this exercise in sensuality, you’re poles apart from the historic evidence.

Although theories abound as to its origin, they seem to agree that its roots probably date back centuries, according to the scholarly tome “Femininity, Feminism and Recreational Pole Dancing” by Kerry Griffiths. One idea is that it traces its beginnings to the maypole, which some see as a phallic symbol or a pagan symbol of fertility, and its accompanying dance. Others point to the 800-year tradition of mallakhamb, an ancient Indian sport in which athletes show off their strength and endurance through their pole routines. (If you’ve never experienced it, take a gander at www.youtube.com/watch?v=EICkwimL3AI.) Similarly, in the Chinese circus, performers do gymnastics on poles, even using two poles and leaping between them 20 feet in the air.

In the United States, however, its beginnings seem to have far more to do with sex than sport. According to Griffiths, the best guess is that it had its beginnings around the turn of the 20th century during the so-called “Little Egypt” sideshows, which featured sensual “kouta-kouta” dancers, more popularly known as “hoochie coochie.” At a time when women were still dressing in corsets, you can imagine the stir these women caused when they were sashaying around in belly-dancing outfits, adorned in jewelry.

And to raise even more eyebrows, these dancers reportedly tried to lure men into their shows by standing outside and grinding their bodies against the tent poles to simulate sex. As their “art” became less scandalous, the dancers (along with their poles) began moving out of tents and into bars as Sally Rand and other burlesque and striptease dancers became popular. So by the time Elvis came along, the practice still may have been shocking to some, but rather old hat in general.

Now it’s become so accepted that dancers — both male and female — compete for prizes in such contests as the U.S. Pole Federation Championship and the International Pole Masters Cup Championship. In fact, just last year, K.T. Coates, a well-known competitive pole dancer, and the International Pole Sport Federation, petitioned the International Olympic Committee to recognize it as a sport (see polesports.org).

Today’s trivia

Who reportedly changed Helen Beck’s name to Sally Rand — and why?

Answer to Monday’s trivia: Since they were at least partially conceived by the same man, Fran Striker, it probably shouldn’t be surprising that the Lone Ranger and the Green Hornet have family ties. John Reid, the Lone Ranger, had a brother named Dan, who, in turn, had a son named Dan. It was Dan Jr.’s son Britt Reid — John’s grandnephew — who would don his green overcoat, fedora and mask to become the vigilante nocturnal crimefighter. His radio show debuted in 1936, three years after the Lone Ranger.

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer

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