Blog

Pole Dancing in Saudi Arabia

Home to Mecca, Saudi Arabia is usually thought of as a highly religious, and often rather intolerant, country. But I was invited there to teach pole dancing.

Women in Saudi Arabia

Saudi is now the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive. Women must also cover their bodies with an abaya in public at all times and are asked to cover their faces and heads with a burqua.

Men may marry up to four wives and until recently women had almost no rights in the judicial system, effectively making them the property of their husbands. It’s not an easy place to visit for anyone, but all single women travelling to Saudi need a sponsor to explain the reasons for the trip in order to secure a visa.

Life in Saudi Arabia

Most of Saudi life takes place inside the home due to the extreme desert heat, where blissful air conditioning allows people to enjoy the sorts of lifestyles familiar to most of us. Generally speaking women and men live in separate houses, and men are not allowed to socialise with women who are not family members.

Many Saudi households are well off and have a staff, including drivers to chauffeur female family members and pick the children up from school. It was strange at first, but I got used to having my own driver – I was able to relax and see much more of Saudi, which was rather nice. (Though not everyone has such positive experiences.)

There is a large foreign population in Saudi too, often working in or with the oil industry, and living in complexes known as compounds. In such a compound, a British one for example, about 40 homes are surrounded by a large wall with guards. Also inside the complex are shops, schools and entertainment, and residents of the complex must uncover themselves and act ‘British’.

My home in Saudi

Upon arriving into the Kingdom, I was whisked off to a wonderful complex (surrounded by big walls and with a huge gate) and introduced to my host family. They all made me feel very comfortable, and I was shown how to order food from the pantry(!) and ask for anything I needed.

I had the chance to have some excellent discussions and debate with the family regarding culture and lifestyle within the Kingdom. I had my own reservations about the country and the culture before I visited Saudi – in particular the treatment of women – but I saw a completely different side to life when I was staying there.

There is a huge difference in Saudi between public life, which is very conservative, and home life, where the family can choose to live how they please. In some households the women and men live in separate houses, but I was embraced as a family member and ate every night in the same room as the whole family. The women can walk around freely without covering themselves, and even sunbathe in bikinis by their swimming pools! (Yeah, it was tough.)

Pole dancing in Saudi

Alcohol and drugs are outlawed in Saudi and punished with strict penalties of imprisonment and execution. Theatres, restaurants, parks, cemeteries and other public venues are segregated by gender. Needless to say, there is no history of pole dancing in Saudi Arabia.

So why was I invited to Saudi to teach pole? The answer is actually remarkably mundane. My client’s sister lives in Europe where she’d discovered pole dancing for fitness, and they’d talked about the amazing benefits pole can have on the body.

My client wanted the same things that attracted many of you to pole dancing: a great, exhilarating workout to get her fit and toned. She liked the fact that it was a feminine exercise, and that she could feel liberated and sexy whilst doing it.

I taught my client pole six days a week, with one day off a week for recovery and rest. I had already arranged to have three X-Stages shipped to my client, which looked wonderful set up in her pole room, with large mirrors spanning the length one wall. (Yes, she had a whole room dedicated entirely to pole.)

Tight pole clothes weren’t a problem at home – we had more privacy than I’ve had in some fitness centres in the UK, and the staff didn’t disturb us while we were training.

Although my client kept our sessions top secret, she assured me it was not because she didn’t want her friends to know, but because she wanted to make the most of our time together and didn’t want thousands of her friends turning up for lessons!

Towards the end of my time I choreographed a routine for her to perform, and she donned her heels and performed for her husband and eldest daughter. They were amazed at what pole dancing had done for her!

Her husband was very impressed by how much she had learned, and was pleased that she was responding so well to the exercise and with the enjoyment she was getting from it – not to mention her dramatically changing body shape. :) And her daughter couldn’t wait to start swinging round the pole – she was a natural.

A new fitness craze in the Middle East?

As far as I know, the poles I taught on are the only poles in Saudi, but it’s interesting to ask what would happen if pole dancing for fitness and fun started to become more popular across the country.

Because there’s no history of strip clubs or pole dancing, most men would think women were just learning a new form of exercise – ironically in a place where religion and judgement plays such a large role, pole suffers from fewer preconceived connotations or moral judgements.

My client’s husband didn’t try the pole while I was there, but he didn’t try because he felt he lacked the strength, not because of pole dancing’s less salubrious roots.

Changing through pole dancing

As someone who lives in a liberal, pro-woman world I thought I would find Saudi a very different place to be. It certainly was different, but my experiences were overwhelmingly positive.

Pole dancing for fun and fitness will always happen in the home and in private classes, something that suits Saudi culture well. If pole dancing were to take off in Saudi, it could well mark the beginning of a new era for freedom of choice from the women and men living in the country.

Change is happening, if sometimes painfully slowly, but my visit to Riyadh suggest that the change is a positive one and that pole dancing may someday be embraced by the good people of the Middle East.

This post was linked to by American Bedu and some of the comments relate to that.

40 Responses to “Pole Dancing in Saudi Arabia”

  1. Lucy, well done honey, I’m proud of you :) xxx

  2. What an incredibly enjoyable read about your positive experience teaching private pole lessons in Saudi Arabia. You’re a pioneer!

  3. Thank you for sharing your experience!

  4. Awesome article and it was exceptionally well written. Very impressive. Go Pole!

  5. Wow that was really interesting! Thanks for sharing it with us.

  6. Thank you for sharing your experience!

  7. What you write i know since long, in Saudi life is not like what we read in Newspapers and TV. It have a very special touch and magic because of that 1001 Nights was created…it have much very good and for the West we could just profit from it.

  8. great article! thanx for sharing!

  9. Fantastic article, loved reading it. What an incredible experience :)

  10. Great article. Very interesting. Terrific job!

  11. asalaam alayikum! hello, peace be upon you

    I just wanted to say how happy I am to have read this article! I am a revert to Islam and I love to dance. I am veiled now and I love it and the respect that i have gained but it doesn’t stop me enjoying feeling sexy and confident in the privacy of my garage!!

    what you did in Saudi for that sister is amazing!

    All thanks !! xx

  12. Thanks for sharing your experience in Saudi Arabia. Pretty much all I’ve heard about Saudi is from documentaries and the news, it’s great to get info on the real people that live there and their take on life. Keep poling!

  13. Hi .. I accidentally came across ur blog .. I’m Saudi .. And I found ur article interesting, I pole dance and I love it for the same reasons ur client loves it ( and all women do!) it’s fun and liberating and sexy and an exercise all in one .. I was looking for a grip aid.. Do u have any recommendations?
    Thanx

  14. @ Joe Really glad you enjoyed the post (and pole too of course :). We’ve reviewed pole grip aids before (and in an older post) – hope that helps!

  15. Read your article!
    What number can I contact you to chat about your experience for a story on msnbc.com.

    Thank you!

  16. I’m a Saudi girl, i have only one disagreement with u in the article which is we don’t have to cover our faces or heads in Saudi, i actually walk with no head scarf…

    and for those who will say probably i’m not saudi, i’m 200% Pure Saudi… the abaya is a must but nowadays abayas become more of a colorful fashion for us…

  17. Hey Sammie

    That’s really interesting that you say that. When I was with the family in Saudi I wasn’t allowed out without covering my head! The family were very well connected, and said it was still the law to cover your head and if the religious police found you out without covering you could get into trouble. They said it was better than it was before, but the law still states to cover!

    That’s really interesting – it was almost a year ago I was out there – has it changed since then? :-)

  18. Dr. Paraj Shukla 21 April, 2011 at 13:53

    +1 to Lucy’s comment. It is still a law to cover your head. I see religious police in or near Malls “correcting” the misconduct of the nonchalant women. I was pointed out twice recently on behalf of my wife. In a way it is good also. Crime against women in Saudi Arabia due to “their” presence is negligible comparatively.

  19. Thank you Dr. Paraj, I didn’t think the family I was visiting would have got it wrong due to their political connections! I believe the religious police have to be accompanied by the government police, but as you say it is still the right of the religious police to ask a woman to cover herself. Thank you for your comment!

  20. Linked from American Bedu…

    Sorry, but I find pole dancing to be very degrading toward women considering it originates from strip clubs and I honestly cannot understand how this ever became a trend.

    I’m happy you had a positive experience in Saudi, which is where I live, but I have no doubt in my mind that for your hostess it is a case of more money than brains. She invited you over because she had the means to do so without considering how bringing such a scandalous activity could tarnish a very holy city. I found your photos to be disrespectful towards women who wear the hijab with dignity in Saudi and who would never step foot next to a dancing pole after knowing it’s hideous roots. The fact that your hostess thought the pictures to be “hilarious” just shows what a class act she is.

    There are numerous other forms of exercise that people can do to build upper body strength that does not have such a seedy reputation as pole dancing does. For the life of me I do not understand how women could miss the immoral implications of participating in such an activity. How very sad indeed.

  21. That was a great article. People do use the poles for strip clubs but nowadays you see the poles everywhere in form of fitness. So saying that its just seedy is obviously because you havent tried it. I think it is a great way of building strength and even confidence by getting up on a pole and it is only “degrading” to women if you only see it as a money making scheme in night clubs so its everyones views and maybe some people in Saudi want to do this as exercise as it is a lot of fun.

  22. I am a 50 year old woman with a PhD. My dissertation was considered to be “feminist” research and emphasized women and gender issues in support of women in sport and fitness.

    I have been training with weights for 30 years and I had just a smattering of dance training but dance is my passion and I am mostly self-taught in that regard.

    When I discovered pole dancing for fitness I felt very inspired and excited by the prospect of it. I found a way to combine my love of strength with my love of dance. I have enjoyed it ever since and still participate.

    I don’t care what the “roots” of it are. I am not a 50 year old stripper – i do it for fun and fitness. Because of it I have actually become even MORE fit and have increased my flexibility and have learned things I never knew how to do (headstands, handstands, etc) as I have no background in gymnastics.

    I’m not sure how there are “immoral implications” of doing pole dancing in my home or a dance studio. The pole, to me, is a prop used for self-expression as I would use any other prop in dance – be it a hat, a cane or whatever.

    There are MEN primarily in India and China that do pole dancing – it is part of their history and culture. Yes, I get that the history of it is different here – but should these cultures stop doing it because it took on a different connotation in other countries and cultures?

    and, yes, I think it is reprehensible that the primary “professions” where women out-earn men are modeling, stripping and the porn industry – all that emphasize a woman’s beauty-at the least, or sexuality and sensuality – but taking ownership of pole dancing and transforming it into something that IS positive and healthy – I think – is a step in the right direction.

  23. opening_perspectives 22 April, 2011 at 17:49

    Hi Rosemary,

    You mention that its ‘roots’ are in strip clubs. In fact the fitness side of using a pole originated in the circus.

    I have been poleing for over a year now and it is not degrading AT ALL- there is no stripping, I dont wear heels, I dont do sexy moves, I am all about the tricks and fitness side of it, incorporating elements into a routine, just as a conventional dancer or gymnast would do.

    Pole fitness is simply acrobatics or gymnastics on a vertical pole.

    With regard to it being a ‘scandalous’ activity- I completely disagree. It is what you make it; sure, some pole dancers these days do include sexy elements to their routines with glamourous costumes; but others do not.

    What I do is nothing like pole dancing that goes on in gentlemen’s clubs; believe me, I cant dance or move ‘sexily’ if I tried!! I am simply performing an aerial art form that just happens to use the same piece of equipment. It doesnt mean it’s the same thing.

    I do feel it is a shame that some people refuse to open their eyes to what pole fitness really is; they hear the word ‘pole’ and immediately assume the wrong thing.

    Although the pole community is gradually working towards changing perspectives such as yours, it will take time- I just urge you to try and see that pole fitness really is not immoral in any way, shape or form.

  24. Hi Rosemary,

    I hate to do this, but unfortunately, I’m going to have to destroy your stereotypes. I’m a straight, male pole dancer. It’s not degrading, infact, it’s quite the opposite – for the ladies who choose to do it, it is an empowering sport. I have been lucky enough to witness how doing pole dancing has helped build people’s self esteem, and helped people become more confident in all aspects of their lives. I’m an IT Trainer by trade, and believe it or not, doing pole dancing has helped me at work by boosting my confidence and self belief.

    You’d be surprised many walks of life pole dancing appeals to – the ladies I train with (none of whom work in strip clubs – all of them only do pole for fitness) include solicitors, teachers, mothers, hairdressers, photographers, professionals – every walk of life.

    Your reference to pole as a “scandalous activity” is unfortunately, based in ignorance rather than fact. The pole community is an amazing example of how people come together to help each other without any boundaries – I have a superb circle of friends through pole, many of whom I would trust with my life. We, and other pole schools across the country, and the world have joined together to raise money for charities. A couple of months ago, our pole school participated in a fundraiser which raised over ?2,500 for Help the Heroes, in a (Harley Davidson shop!), we have raised money for Comic Relief and many more. This doesn’t fit scandalous in my dictionary.

    As for people “missing the immoral implications of participating”, it is only by challenging stereotypes that this world grows – and it is only by participating and making our own minds up rather than choosing to believe the now archaic stereotypes, that we can actually see things for what they are. I know a first impression is supposed to be a lasting impression, but that doesn’t take into account how pole has evolved.

    I would strongly urge you to attend a taster session at a local pole school so that you can become more informed about the subject you are challenging.

    I appreciate that pole did originate in clubs, and it still prevalent in clubs today. But just because something is used in one form in one place, does not mean that it cannot co-exist in a different form, one which has no links to the clubs. That being said, I have enormous respect for anyone that practices pole in any form, due to the level of physical conditioning that is required to complete a lot of the moves

    Simon :)

  25. I have a Masters Degree in Computer Science from a good UK University, and a job lined up at a top investment bank in London.

    Pole fitness is the best thing Ive ever done! It’s the only sport/ physical activity Ive kept up for a long time, and has given me bucket loads of confidence. (As well as doing wonders for my strength and tone)

    Its a fun friendly environment based around a beautiful dance that happens to involve a metal vertical pole. Ive met many friends through pole fitness and I absolutely LOVE IT!

    Pole dancing in strip clubs is indeed for male entertainment- that is generally why people see it as immoral and degrading.

    But I dont do pole fitness to impress any man- I couldnt care less if it impresses men or not- I learn fantastic new tricks that I never thought Id be able to do, I dont grind the pole.

    Pole fitness is vertical dance and gymnastics combined; the pole itself is just a prop, as DocK stated above.

  26. Thanks for sharing your interesting experience. :)

  27. Rosemary get your facts straight. Pole Dancing origins are not from strip clubs FACT! Pole Dancing origins are infact yoga and chinese pole FACT! It was 1 guy who manipulated these two beautiful forms of acrobatic/gymnastic/yoga and put them into gentlemens clubs starting in the US. It was a friend of his who then nicked the idea and brought that to the UK in the 70′s. Women are now reclaiming this ancient art of self expression we are turning it back on itself and the discipline is now doing a full circle. Thanks to the women who have determination, discipline and dedication to achieve great form, they have now brought the art of pole dance into mainstream.

  28. However did I miss this post? What a great article! As a belly dancer and a pole dancer, this was a fantastic post to read – thank you!

  29. Rosemary. If you had ever been 2 a stripclub and watched a stripper pole dance vs a studio poledancer you would know these are 2 very different worlds. Not 2 knock strippers but most of them don’t even get on the pole they just roll around or can do very few pole tricks and usually they look terrible in comparison 2 a professional poledancer. And like many others said it originated in the circus and china not strip clubs. And why is it “degrateing” 2 women and not men? Its saddens me 2 see so many are still so closed minded. I don’t know of another sport in this entire world that gives such a sense of family or community. For those from a religious stand point who say its bad my father was a youth minister and taught me that God said ur body is a temple. If that’s the case then I can’t think of a better way 2 keep my temple in top shape. Pole dancing not only strengthens ur body but ur mind as well. Although my favorite part of it will always be the sense of community it provides. I hope that 1 day u might see the world through different eyes.

  30. For context, here’s Rosemary’s comment on American Bedu

    @Andrew:

    Sorry, but I find pole dancing to be very degrading toward women considering it originates from strip clubs and I honestly cannot understand how this ever became a trend.

    I?m happy Lucy had a positive experience in Saudi, which is where I live, but I have no doubt in my mind that for her hostess it is a case of more money than brains. She invited Lucy over because she had the means to do so without considering how bringing such a scandalous activity could tarnish a very holy city. I found your photos to be disrespectful towards women who wear the hijab with dignity in Saudi and who would never step foot next to a dancing pole after knowing it?s hideous roots. The fact that Lucy?s hostess thought the pictures to be ?hilarious? just shows what a class act she is.

    There are numerous other forms of exercise that people can do to build upper body strength that does not have such a seedy reputation as pole dancing does. For the life of me I do not understand how women could miss the immoral implications of participating in such an activity. How very sad indeed.

    My reply, which seems to have been eaten by the comment system it’s up now

    @Rosemary Oh dear. I was really hoping to avoid this conversation as, frankly, I’m tired of it.

    Let me start with a question: do you consider tango, jazz or the fandango to be immoral too? All of these were once considered inappropriate styles of dance for respectable people.

    Yes, pole dancing’s roots are largely found in strip clubs, but that’s not what pole dancing means to huge numbers of people today. People who pole dance (mainly women, but increasing numbers of men too) do not find it degrading and they do not do it for the gratification of others. They do it because they find it empowering, because they find it liberating, because they find it fun — and because it’s a great full body workout. Most students of pole today do not work or attend classes in strip clubs and think of pole dancing as a sport. And this is exclusively what Lucy taught while in Saudi.

    If you have a few minutes, please watch this short video about the first American Pole Fitness Championship. The women and men taking part in the competition are incredibly strong and athletic. Just like gymnastics and other sports, the performances are a show with rules and social norms that have evolved over the past few years. Most of the moves the competitors perform did not exist 5 years ago. They have been created by people who learned pole as a sport for pole as a sport, and frankly wouldn’t be very effective for titillating drunk men.

    I’m not a student of feminism, but I’d encourage you to read and understand a little more about pole from those who are before condemning it as degrading.

    Extract on the changing perception of pole

    [P]ole dancing can be redefined and reclaimed as an empowering, fitness activity. One way in which this reclamation was achieved was through the construction of pole dancing as an art form. Thus, pole dancing is discursively redefined as no longer a ?seedy? or subculture activity, but as a legitimate form of artistic expression. [...]Then, once rendered neutral, it is (re)constructed as a form of expression requiring artistic talent, persistence, confidence and as resulting in a skill that is ?just like any normal dancing?.

    I’d also recommend some of Amber Rhea’s writing on the subject, though her site is unfortunately down right now.

  31. I think someone may be jealous maybe?x

  32. Inspirational…you have achieved something special, let’s hope the seeds you have planted now grow and flourish :-)

  33. I just hope Rosemary see’s she is wrong!!! Pole comes from Circus, Mallakham, Chinese pole, as far as i know, long before the western world turned it into something for woman to do for crouds of men!
    Its hard for any poler to read your comment & not take offence! Lucy is an inspiration to many of us! she is showing woman this sport is liberating, i say well done Lucy!! pay no attention to someone that is obviously in the dark ages & has no clue!!!

  34. Pole dancing is degrading for women if she sells her body .. But we do it first for ouer selves, in the comfort of ouer houses or bedrooms, and for our husbands ,, so tell me how is that degrading! girls themselves are the one who makes it degrading to themselves by doing it for everyone , just like sex, if she do it for everyone she would be a prostitute , dose that mean sex is degrading for women? It’s the same case , how you use it makes it good or bad.

    And there is no seeds or flowers comming in saudi arabia because we believe it is forbidden to do any sexual act exept with your spous.. And that means no strip clubs no nothing .. ? Saudi women are proud to be religious, and doing that or anything els for her husband does not interfere with that .. And men too are free to do anything for there wives,, actually by doing that you keep your sex life sizzling hot, and fulfill his desire ;)
    So I am giving the chance for my husband and the privilage of going to a private strip club without the need of going to one, because I am the one whos performing ,, what’s not to like about that (or degrading).

  35. ????? ?? ???? ???? ????? !!
    ?? ?????? ????????? ?????? ????? ?????????
    ??????? ?????? !!

  36. Hello,i’m looking for a pole dance instructor in Riyadh,I have an XPole X-Pert.

    elham-b@windowslive.com

  37. +1 Rosemary

    I always find it funny that nowadays it’s a trend for people to pick and choose facts to defend their ridiculous ground. A side effect of the west’s ‘no-one’s wrong, everyone’s relatively right!’ Yeah but some things are COMMON SENSE. Example – yes, pole dancing has it’s roots in yoga, and it is a professional event in some circles, and men do it in their cultures in some parts of the world, but come on – say the term ‘pole dancing’ (or even ‘pole exercise’) to a general member of the public and what’s the first thing that comes into mind? Do I even need to type it here?!

    That’s why even behind all these arguements, your selling points says ‘the HOT new workout for the HOT new you’ and dressed up all in lingerie.

    Seriously, just be honest, it’s more dignified. As they say, ‘best to be quiet and be thought of as a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.’

    YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE UP TO!

  38. Great article Lucy; amm but i disagree with you in two things, as I’m from Oman it’s one of the GCC country ( next to Saudi Arabia). i always travel to Saudi Arabia, my brother lived there for 5 years & i have lots of friends there
    1st woman doesnt have to cover their faces ,its not forced not in the country or in our religion ISALAM. you people getting it wrong. in Religion women can cover their face if they are extremely beautiful which means if man so such beautiful wooow woman can bang his head into wall loool. in Saudi Arabia they are not forced by the government but they are been raised like that with their own family. woman can even go out with out covering their hair, the only thing they must wear is abbya,(public places) but if they went to private beach or places they wear bikini or open dresses :)
    2nd man n woman doesn’t have to live separately like two different houses all depend on the family how big & rich , but usually when man come out of the family member they have separate room.
    its one of our culture. we in oman we do the same sometimes, but not always , most of the times we just sit together (women & men)

    i think we should have pole classes here in Oman too.
    i love pole dance & i’m addicted to it. i dont care what people say about pole dancers. all my friends knows that i pole dance

    i think u should visit us in Oman :)

  39. Pole dancing did in fact NOT originate in strip clubs, it is much older than that, maybe some people should stop branding other people as scandalous and hideous and maybe have a look at their own ignorant, stereotypical ways- after all a view like that says more about what they focus on! I did gymnastics growing up and now do pole for fitness- I can tell you it is still a challenging fitness and I feel no different when doing it? After all, why would I when there is NO sexual focus?? I could be on a beam being more suggestive!
    On another note, I too like the phrase “better to remain quiet and appear stupid than to open your mouth and remove all doubt”… I also think it wise not to be over confident when using that phrase that you haven’t just quoted your own actions.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Saudi Arabia: A Unique Fitness Opportunity « American Bedu - 20 April, 2011

    [...] This article is the unique story of an expatriate in Makkah who was sponsored to come and teach pole dancing to female members of a Saudi family. [...]

Leave a Reply