Saudi women reject stigma to embrace pole dancing

Saudi women reject stigma to embrace pole dancing

Despite pole dancing as an exercise form being tainted by its association with the strip clubs and burlesque houses in Hollywood films, at least 3 gyms in Saudi Arabia are offering courses.
10 Oct, 2022

When yoga instructor Nada took up pole dancing, the backlash in deeply conservative Saudi Arabia was both harsh and quick, and she has struggled to overcome the fallout ever since.

Family and friends in the capital Riyadh told her the gruelling form of exercise — a test of strength and coordination involving acrobatic movements on a vertical pole — was “so wrong”.

Pole dancing as a form of exercise has been tainted by its association with the seedy strip clubs and burlesque houses often depicted in Hollywood films.

Undeterred, Nada stuck with the course she enrolled in a few years ago at a local gym, in part to chip away at that very stigma.

The 28-year-old believes she has made progress, at least within her own circle of friends.

“At first, they said this is inappropriate and a mistake,” she told AFP. “Now they say ‘We want to try it’.”

But Nada’s insistence on being identified by her first name only indicates that she and other Saudi pole dancers still have some work to do.

Wider push for participation

 Photos: AFP
Photos: AFP

For many years, notorious restrictions on what Saudi women could wear and where they could work also limited their options for physical recreation.

However, the promotion of women’s sports has recently featured as part of a broader push to open up Saudi society and project a softer image to the outside world, despite persistent repression of women activists and dissidents.

Last month saw the Saudi women’s national football team compete in their first matches at home against Bhutan, and a women’s premier league is now in the works.

Officials are also working towards greater women’s participation in golf, a traditionally male-dominated sport whose popularity is taking off domestically.

In this changing context, at least three gyms in Saudi Arabia have spotted an opening and begun offering pole dancing courses.

“I feel that pole dancing has been given more attention, because it’s something new and girls love to try it,” said May al-Youssef, who owns one such gym in Riyadh.

‘Feeling good in my skin’

Pole dancing enthusiasts argue that because alcohol is banned in Saudi Arabia, and there are no strip clubs, the activity’s bad rap must come from abroad.

One pole dancing student in Riyadh claimed that she “wasn’t ashamed at all” to give it a try.

“That’s my personality, I would say. I’m not ashamed to embrace my sensuality, my femininity. I’m not ashamed of anything, as long as I’m not hurting other people,” she said.

But she did acknowledge that not everyone would be so comfortable with it, and agreed to describe her experience only if she could remain anonymous.

The only reason she stopped, she said, was because pole dancing turned out to be so physically demanding — much more difficult than it looks on screen.

“I realised it’s not my thing,” she said. “It needs a lot of muscles, a lot of strength to be able to do it.”

Gym manager Youssef said she hopes the physical demands of pole dancing come through in the pictures and videos that she posts on Instagram.

She believes that compelling evidence of its benefits can be found in the transformation of her clients.

“With time they seem to like their bodies more,” she said. “They say to themselves: ‘I am feeling good in my skin’.”


TPA Oct 10, 2022 10:59am
Saudi is heading in the right direction.
NYS Oct 10, 2022 11:22am
Backlash comes when some act done off the mark, The pivotal point is the costume that does not expose skin, sports wear (offered by many known brands ie Puma) does best they have elasticity and you can get according to your demand ... As far concern to exercise there is nothing bad to fit your body , this is all how you present...Fit is Hit Aerobic is also one of healthy exercising tech
John Oct 10, 2022 11:35am
soon Iran like things in KSA now ..only paksitan will live in 5th century
Jo Original Oct 10, 2022 11:49am
Whilst in Pakistan provinces are banning sports for women to please TTP! Yet all profess to be Muslims. I'm unsure who is misguided.
Mudassir Hussain Azeemabadi Oct 10, 2022 12:03pm
MBS is not disappointing
Gary Oct 10, 2022 12:07pm
Go girls ,go.
Abdulmoiz Oct 10, 2022 12:31pm
Shameful. This is what a state of anarchy does in the Muslim ummah.
MA Oct 10, 2022 12:51pm
Pole dancing or exercise, can be done without showing belli naked.
Ali Oct 10, 2022 01:00pm
This will happen in Pakistan in how many years? Perhaps never?
Talha Oct 10, 2022 01:15pm
There are many other hobbies out there. They should know where they are coming from. The article has no relation with pakistan
Ahmed Oct 10, 2022 01:48pm
Their fathers must be so proud.
Tanvir Khan Oct 10, 2022 02:05pm
All women of the world have a very natural and instinctive love for pole and its games and dances!!
Haque Oct 10, 2022 02:24pm
Saudis are finally coming to terms with modern times. Its effects are most definitely showing up in a rigid society like Pakistan's as well. It will gather steam with time.
Syed Saad Ahmed Oct 10, 2022 02:36pm
So we're being proud of women pole-dancing now?? Is this what "modernism" has done to the IQ of us? That we are so infatuated with the liberal west that we have lost all ability to use our brains and instead just drooling over everything the west does, and fighting to apply it here?? WHAT A HUGE HUGE SHAME
Iqbal Aswani Oct 10, 2022 02:51pm
@Talha Such articles are written to make up minds in advance. (If you know what I mean)
Mahmood Oct 10, 2022 03:02pm
This is less of an exercise and more of explicit sexual behavior.
Dr. Salaria, Aamir Ahmad Oct 10, 2022 04:09pm
Stigma? What stigma?
Henchi Oct 10, 2022 04:36pm
What happens within the four walls of the house is their business. Let's not get too snoopy.
Zeeshan Ahmed Oct 10, 2022 04:38pm
Doesn't seem to helping her physique at all.
M. Saeed Oct 10, 2022 05:43pm
Pole dances are the most vulgar of all dances ever performed.
SaneMind1st Oct 10, 2022 05:47pm
@Ali started already bro,
Imtiaz Oct 10, 2022 05:51pm
Think of your own family members on this pole. If you still think this is acceptable, I have nothing more to say.
GettingThere Oct 10, 2022 06:39pm
Smelly bars..make sure you clean them..
Pandu Oct 10, 2022 07:13pm
@M. Saeed “ Pole dances are the most vulgar of all dances ever performed.”- and your mujras are very aesthetic and cultural right.
Gamer Oct 10, 2022 11:37pm
@Imtiaz and belly dancing?
GettingThere Oct 11, 2022 04:28am
This makes news for us!?