Released: 5th February
Seen: 8th February
In 2019 the world was rocked by a single moment, that moment being in the movie Hustlers when Jennifer Lopez walked onto a stage while Criminal by Fiona Apple played and performed a pole dance that commanded the attention of anyone who saw it. The pure athleticism and power on display was magnetic and there is no doubt in my mind that this moment led to a whole bunch of women buying poles to fit into their workout routines. Pole Dancing as a workout routine has been around for a long time, and in the documentary Strip Down, Rise Up we get to see just how powerful and meaningful this dance can be for women.
Focusing on a group of pole dancing classes, the film jumps from person to person and is basically an exploration of why people pole dance and the benefits it has for them. For some it’s a workout routine, for other’s it’s a form of self-expression, some use it as therapy to recover from trauma that has made them feel like they don’t have ownership of their body and others just thoguht it sounded like fun. Each one of these stories is explored in detail and we not only get to learn about these women’s emotional journeys but how they grow throughout the process of learning this artform.
The film doesn’t hold back on making it clear that this is an artform like any other kind of dance and actively calls out the way people just view pole dancing as something that happens in seedy bars with men who have too much money and not enough personality to actually talk to a woman who isn’t paid to be near them. It calls out the sexist BS and the male gaze, instead choosing to elevate how this is empowering to these women who are in it for them and them alone and it does it fantastically.
It also does a tiny bit of “both sidesing” by having one woman who ended up quitting because she didn’t get how it was empowering. They don’t play this off as unfair or wrong, it’s clear that everyone involved gets that this might not be for everyone and doesn’t judge anyone for not getting it… but they will come for you if you disrespect them.
It’s interesting to see just how so many people find a real sense of empowerment with this, the documentary makes it clear how much this means to these women and what it’s healing. Women who have been through a lot will do an elaborate dance on a large piece of metal and then break down crying because that dance brought something out of them they didn’t expect. There’s a power here, something captivating about witnessing people find themselves through an artform like this. It’s never really presented as sexual either, at least it’s not presented as something that’s for the sexual gratification of the audience, it’s always about the emotional power this has for these women and it just really works.
Strip Down, Rise Up is one of those documentaries that you don’t really expect to have an emotional impact when you start it, but by the end your heart just goes out to some of these women who have found something that gives them joy while having to deal with a world that just doesn’t seem to understand how important it is for them. If you want to get beyond the pole and learn about the soul of this artform, this is a pretty great place to start that journey.