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Black Men Pole: Meet @POLEPHO3NIX

Who or what inspired you to start pole dancing?

This is one of my favorite questions to answer, because in all honesty, what really inspired me to pole dance started as far back as my love for this iconic movie: The Player's Club. While admittedly there were surely tragic and triggering moments within the film, what I've grown to respect--especially in the real world--was feminine bodies taking ownership of their sexuality in order to dominate and hustle for their dreams and aspirations. I saw this in the main character, Diana "Diamond" Armstrong, and even more so once I became surrounded by other strippers and gogo dancers. It's understood stripping shouldn't be completely glamourized, but for me it's the respect for those who do what they must in order to feed their families or fund their dreams by any means necessary.

Fast forwarding to my adult life, I've always secretly wanted to be a stripper/gogo dancer when I saw other gogo boys in bars and thought to myself, "I could see myself doing that and way more!" Dance is my passion and the way I naturally liked to explore dance was more on the sexy, feminine side. Any of my close friends could tell you I used to joke and say if I couldn't find a good enough job, I would hit the pole...and as the saying goes, "be careful what you wish for." In 2017, I did my first open pole night at Aerial EDGJ's 'Pole Play NYC' hosted at House of YES, to which led me down a huge rabbit hole of teaching myself how to pole dance, finding and taking classes, picking up gigs and slowly identifying strip clubs/strip club experiences catered to the queer community, and becoming certified as an instructor. The rest is history!

How has pole dancing changed your life?

Pole dancing has changed my life in SO MANY WAYS! It has helped me become more confident in myself, both on a stage and in my regular life. It helped me become more connected to my body and my expression of sexuality and sensuality. It provided me power in the sense of taking ownership of my own body and how I choose to express myself, despite how the society at large views those who find comfort in exploring nudity and sex. It helped me strengthen my voice and become such a better advocate and ally for sex workers across the board. At its core, pole dancing has molded me in ways I would have never imagined, and I'm so glad I took the step to dive right into it when I did!

Do you have any pole role models or people that influenced you in the pole community?

There are two names I will forever drop when it comes to my pole journey: Bentley Rebel and Carmine Black. Both of these people I've met through 'Pole Play NYC,' and I consider both to be my "pole Beyoncé!"

Bentley was the very first Black male pole dancer I was able to see live in action. I just finished doing my first pole show, and thought to myself, "I wonder if other guys like myself are into this?" During the post-show pole jam, all I saw were long legs flying that belonged to a statuesque Black man, and his presence solidified that there was space for me in the pole community after all. When I had the chance to share a stage with him during one of my first big shows (Schtick A Pole in It! Beyoncé Edition), that's when I felt like I made it (and I was still just getting started)!

When it comes to Carmine Black, I'll never forget the first time I saw her perform. She seemed nervous and timid before getting on stage the night I first saw her, but she turned into a COMPLETELY different vixen once the music started! It was then I knew I had to learn her ways, and the way the Universe worked she started teaching at my first home studio, IncrediPOLE. I made the plan to take one of her classes, and I'm proud to say she was my main mentor in my movement for a huge chunk of my pole journey when it comes to how I've found my own flow. Her sense of movement, textures, rawness, and all of the above is what I loved about pole dance, and it's what I aim to always maintain when I dance.

Do you have any background in dance or was pole dancing your first foray?

I actually have a background in Hip Hop and Street Jazz. While not classically trained, I had the honor of being part of dance teams throughout my high school and college career, and dance has always been a crucial part of my being. I describe dance as my language; when I'm unable to say the things I feel or put things in words, my body and music are able to translate those things for me. I will say, however, I credit pole dancing for making me become an even better dancer than I was before. The level of body awareness I've picked up while learning pole helped me move in ways I wasn't moving before.

Do you feel like there is an actual career for black men in pole dancing?

When I see folks like Miles (Yung Pole Master) and Bentley doing the damn thing, it surely makes me feel a career in pole dancing is possible for us Black men! I will say, however, that it is an industry we still have to really break into. It took so long to find out there were others like us in the atmosphere (and we can thank 'Black Men Pole' for connecting some of those dots), and I believe by more of us showing up, we can be just as integrated and successful in the pole industry as our other counterparts. I always believe if there are things we don't see to represent us, we have the power to create those spaces.

What has been your biggest struggle so far being a black man in the pole community?

I think the biggest struggle for me that I can identify is gender/masculinity politics. In reference to gigs, while I have found spaces that celebrate my Blackness and my femininity as a cisgender gay man, there are still many spaces in nightlife that only seek the muscular, hypermasculine dancers for their events. There's been a couple of times where I would reach out to inquire about dancing at a bar or party, and was met with silence or didn't fit the bill. Did that stop a bitch, though? ABSOLUTELY NOT!

One other struggle that isn't so much a struggle anymore was finding other Black men like myself who are into pole dancing. I was aware I wasn't the only one, but there wasn't a huge pool of representation at one point outside of myself, Bentley, Miles, and a couple of others. Once 'Black Men Pole' came onto the scene, it was as if there was a family reunion! Slowly and surely more and more Black men into pole/aerial arts were starting to appear, and it really solidified for me that there are, in fact, other men like me in this world who are inspired by pole just as much as myself, no matter how they approach it.

Did you ever feel the need to hide being a pole dancer or have you ever felt ashamed?

I can say at first there was a sense of having to hide what I did, or try to compartmentalize pole and other things in my life thinking they couldn't coexist. It wasn't being ashamed more than it was being careful given the history of people losing employment for being involved in anything adjacent to sex work (it's understood not all pole dancers are strippers, but bear in mind strippers and strip club culture is what I ALWAYS juxtapose pole dancing to, as I believe the pole industry wouldn't even exist without it). However, when I worked my first strip club at The Lyfe Lounge in Baltimore and was able to pay bills while being in between checks, that was enough for me to not give a fuck moving forward. I felt and continue to feel my dancing--whether in a strip club or in a classroom--is honest work, and more importantly the level of happiness I experience when I dance on a pole is unlike any other feeling. It brings me joy to share my vibe with an audience and to see and hear how happy/inspired my performances may leave them. When I found the collective community and how we look after one another, it reminded me there is strength in numbers. Even with having a day job, I feel proud to be a pole dancer, stripper, or whatever comes first to mind when you cross my path.

Do you think people made assumptions about you once you made your pole dancing journey public? If so, what assumptions were made, how has that affected you and how have you dealt with it?

I'm quite sure plenty of assumptions were made about me, but they weren't really made known if they were. The main assumption that actually was verbalized when I first started was that I started stripping, to which that wasn't offensive to me at all...I mean, once again, that was a secret fantasy of mine, and I just so happened to manifest it at some point. While I didn't start right away in a When I started bumping elbows with other gogo dancers and strippers, it allowed me to strongly advocate for us and put into perspective that we're all human at the end of the day, and sex work is work. I've been taught by a mentor to address myself how I want others to address me, and when I speak about pole dancing or stripping, I speak about it with respect and integrity in what we do.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

In the next 5 years, I see myself producing more shows and actively putting pen to paper to work on a studio. Opening a dance studio has been an ultimate dream of mine even before pole came into my life, and I'm at a place where I'm more confident in my craft and what I have to share. I want to not only speak my studio into existence, but do the heavy lifting for it!

Do you have any upcoming projects, classes/workshops, or performances coming up that you’d like to share?

Folks can always follow me on IG @polepho3nix to keep abreast of performances and the like as they come along!

What would you like to see more of in the pole community?

Personally, for New York City in particular, I would like to see more strip club experiences catered to Black queer people. Surprisingly enough, while New York City has a nightlife scene, there aren't many strip clubs--if at all--that exist to hold space for Black queer folk. Aside from my ultimate goal to open a dance studio, this is an experience I would love to be tasked with to bring to my city. Might have to bring back my 'Black Phoenix Nest' show and remix the concept!

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