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Black Men Pole: Meet @VERTICAL.JONES

Who or what inspired you to start pole dancing?

Like most people, strippers. Lol. I stumbled across the audition tapes for "Pour It Up" and just knew I wanted parts.

How has pole dancing changed your life?

In all honesty, pole dancing saved me from a life of mediocrity. I found myself stuck in that never ending loop of "work and gym", and it reached the point where working out was a chore and no lounger an outlet. After my first class, I fell in love. And after my first competition, I knew it was meant to be.

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

Hands down, Blaine Petrovia. I fell in love with his unique style -- like, dude was dynamic, yet subtle but still somehow enforced assertiveness over his audience. It's mind blowing how one individual is so simple with so many complexities!

Next would be Tinkk Holt. I will NEVER forget her routine from Nationals 2018! Her musicality and performance prowess is top tier. And not to mention, she's strong as hell!

And I would say the pole dancer JKM (@artist.jkm). That man is just SMOOTH with everything that he does, especially on spin!

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

I was a competitive gymnast growing up until I got to high school. Due to an injury, my mom made me quit and I took up track during high school to keep myself busy. That got pretty boring and then I took up stepping and dancing towards the end of high school. Once I got to college, I joined the hip hop dance team where I found myself actually considering a career as a professional dancer. A group of friends and I auditioned for Lloyd's tour with Sean Bankhead and I got blown out the water by the other guys. I called it quits directly after. Lmao!

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

The stripper lifestyle/aesthetic/culture has become extremely mainstream over the last few years. Dating back to the "Pour It Up" video and fast forwarding to P-Valley, pole dancing is just the "thing to do" to for that extra oomph. And like all things that are art forms, it is practiced and appreciated by people of all backgrounds, men included. With that said, creative individuals such as Lil' Nas X and Sean Bankhead have literally cleared out spaces in the industry for black performers and it's a beautiful thing to see. So, to answer the question, yes. Whether it's in the entertainment industry or becoming an international competitor, pursuing pole dancing as a career is feasible.

(This is just a sidebar) Pole dancing is a very physically demanding sport/art. In order to achieve longevity, it's important to be aware of when your body has reached its limit. Learn early on that not all days are going to end with you successfully unlocking that new skill, AND THAT IS OKAY! Set goals, take you rest days seriously, stretch and always be safe!

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

The main struggle that I am ALWAYS dealing with as black man in this community is having to break stereotypes -- internally and externally. Other pole dancers see me and assume because I am a male dancer that I probably have a pair of Pleasers in my bag, wrong. Lol. When performing, everyone thinks I'm all muscles and strength until I hit them with the Jade and Meathook Split. THEN it's all gasps and applauses. People outside of the pole community always inquire if I've ever sustained injuries to my man parts. And it's like, THAT'S the question you want to ask me? Lmao!

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

Naturally, I am extremely reserved. So, yes. Lol. But it's never out of shame, more so along the lines of I just don't like being asked a lot of questions. Especially by someone who's already committed to a negative narrative that's in their head. Like, I already know you don't think men should be dancing on the pole because it's "effeminate", so why are you asking so many questions?

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?

The same reaction that everyone else gets: I'm stripping. And if I'm stripping, then I can be bought or am for hire. If I can be bought, then I'm probably extremely vain and am low functioning. And if I'm low functioning, then there's a high chance that everyone and their parrot has had a turn with me. The list goes on and on. Lol.

And I mean, to a certain degree with some of that, they're not wrong. Lol. But mindsets like that just go to show how much people are lacking critical thinking skills. A little bit of research, and an OPEN and RESPECTFUL conversation would do WONDERS for some folks!

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

My goal by 2023 is to make it to Worlds. Competing internationally has always been THE goal for me since I started competing. It would be a dream come true to go up against the world's greatest athletes! Aside from that, I would love to travel and teach workshops.

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

I would love to see the mutual support of each other to continue! As pole dancing becomes more mainstream, amazing opportunities will arise and I pray that does create division amongst us. There is space for everyone here!

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