In the spring of 2014, an energetic and bright-eyed pole dancer named Dalijah Franklin was living in New York City and noticed that she wasn’t seeing a lot of faces like hers walk into her studios. She had been juggling two instructor jobs at different studios across the City and was constantly trying to understand why black women weren’t as comfortable talking about their interests in the sport in public settings and why they weren’t as visible in top pole dancing competitions. Out of this questioning came her idea for Black Girls Pole, an organization that seeks to diversify and educate people about the pole dancing industry.
With over 45,000 social media followers in five years, Black Girls Pole has now become an international movement that has helped women of color embrace their bodies and unique personalities through an often scrutinized and questioned dance form. In this interview with BAUCE, Dalijah, a 10+ year pole dancing veteran and winner of multiple pole dancing competitions, opens up about what inspired her to launch and grow a community for women who aren’t afraid to go against the norm.
Let’s start with your relationship with dance. How did you get started?
Dalijah: So, I actually started pole dancing with a friend of mine at a local gym in New York City. And I had kind of like no desire at all to do it but she was like let’s just try it out. So, I did and I fell in love within the first 10 minutes of the class. Since then I have been at it nonstop. I started going [to classes] like once a week — and this was eleven years ago. And then I started going twice a week. And I was like, “Oh my God I really love this!” At that time, I was also doing commercial dance but I soon kind of pulled back from commercial dance and then just stuck with pole dancing. I did a [pole] competition and since then I was like this is the world that I want to be in.
You mentioned commercial dance. Can you share a bit more about your dance experience? What other styles of dance were you doing prior to pole dancing?
Dalijah: So, I’ve been a dancer my entire life. I started dancing at the age of two and I did you know ballet, I did jazz, tap, hip hop. I actually moved to New York City from Ohio to pursue dancing. So I did a lot of commercial dance like street jazz. A lot of hip hop. And I still kind of you know freshened up with like ballet every now and then and stuff but it was mostly street jazz and hip hop commercial dance world. I was in a lot of different training companies for it too. And I did work-study at the Broadway Dance Center. I was like full in. And so all that happened as well. I was also a gymnast growing up and a cheerleader. So that that kind of helps me a lot with pole dancing just you know having the skills and the strength from gymnastics.
What inspired you to start Black Girls Pole?
Dalijah: It actually started five years ago. I noticed in the pole dancing community that there was not a lot of women of color that looked like me and that were at the high level of competing and being instructors. You know there was a handful but there was never like a lot of them and I always thought to myself, where are all the black girls? I know they’re out there. I know that they would love pole dancing as much as I do. So I kind of just bounced the idea off of a few people and I said I want to have this event and I think I want to call it Black Girls Pole to bring together black women who like to pole dance. I brought in people from California, from Atlanta, from Houston and it was this huge event that happened. It was basically classes during the day, and then after the classes, we did a big show of all of the well-known pole dancers.
People kept coming up to me after the event asking, “When’s the next event?” I told them at that time there is no next event. And they’re like “No, you have to do another one.” I was like no guys seriously — this is it. So, it started as a one-time event. I didn’t have a website. I didn’t have anything. I didn’t have an Instagram. I just decided to do it. And it sold out super fast and the response and the love from it was what kept me kind of going.
And when you hosted your first event did you know all the “well-known” pole dancers that performed? How did you use your network to get big names at your first event?
Dalijah: I definitely blindly reached out to about four of them that I didn’t know. And mostly because the girls that I did know were like, “Oh do you know Nicole? Do you know Sasha? Do you know this person?” I didn’t know who they were, but I definitely remember hitting them up and being like, “Hi, you don’t know me, but I’m Dalijah and I’m asking you to fly to New York City and you can stay with me for free.” I was just wishing and praying that people would come for the love of pole dancing and they did.
You mentioned previously that there was a lack of black women at high levels in pole competitions. Why do you think that is? Are there certain stigmas or challenges that exist that are preventing women of color from excelling in those spaces?
Dalijah: I don’t necessarily think that there are challenges [anymore] because now, you know, five years later [black women] are winning everything. There was a huge competition that happened a year ago and they swept the whole thing for first, second, and third place. So, I don’t necessarily know that there was a challenge but maybe it was just that they didn’t have a safe space to feel like they could do this or they weren’t getting recognized as much as they should have been. But I do believe with Black Girls Pole and the recognition [we provide] it’s helped a lot with helping women feel like they can do something that other women can do. Representation is so important.
By creating this movement, I’m sure you’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback. Have you also gotten negative feedback for creating Black Girls Pole?
Dalijah: Yes, the negative feedback is more so people asking me, “So, wait are you guys just all strippers?” You know there’s still that stigma that that comes with pole dancing. And I always say this: I absolutely love strippers and I absolutely love exotic dancers and I think that they definitely were the reason for pole dancing to get to where it’s gotten. But when I get negative feedback, I think it’s more so that we just need to continue educating people that there are more avenues and there are more lanes to go down than just being an exotic dancer [when it comes to pole dancing]. You can be a studio owner. You can be a coach. You can be an instructor.
Black Girls Pole currently has grown rapidly and you expanded your events internationally. What prompted you to take Black Girls Pole overseas?
Dalijah: Three years ago, one of the women that came to my Miami retreat had a studio in Bermuda. I told her, “Oh my God. I really want to go to Bermuda!” And it kind of just went from there. I wanted to do it because I know there is still that stigma that black people don’t travel, and I wanted to break the stigma around it by using the pole dancing retreat to entice people. It gives people a reason to travel. It gives you a reason to pole dance. It gives you a reason to communicate and meet with other women. And I was really adamant about us [as black women] getting more stamps in our passport.
So, I do want to continue to go internationally with different retreats. I want to take Black Girls Pole to Bali and Paris. And you know I just really want us to get out there more and travel more because if non-women of color can do it there’s no reason that we can’t do it.
Some people find it really challenging to build a long-term career as a dancer. In your opinion, do you feel that pole dancing is a full-time career that someone could have or is there a point where you just can’t keep doing this anymore?
Dalijah: I will say this — it’s hard on the body. The older you get the more you’re just like ugh, this hurts a little bit more. So, do I think it’s sustainable? That’s a hard question. I’m in my thirties and so far, so good, but I definitely think that unless you’re creating a huge platform or unless you’re globally teaching or owning a studio just being an instructor may not be feasible. I don’t think you can just live off of just that.
I always challenge people to always have multiple sources of income coming in from different places. Entrepreneurship or being your own boss isn’t always easy. Sometimes even I’m like “Oh my God. Where is this money going to come from?” With big things you sometimes have to take a financial risk. I know there is safety in having a 9 to 5 and having a salary. But with the risk and worry about where the money is going to come from, you have to know in your heart that somehow it will come if you work hard.
What is your advice for someone who has an idea and wants to start a movement similar to Black Girls Pole but they are scared to launch?
Dalijah: Go for it. The longer you sit on an idea, the longer it’s just going to keep knocking at the door to tell you can to do it. If you feel something, go for it. And it’s ok not to know the direction that you want it. It’s OK to make mistakes. It is ok to learn as you go. I’m still learning as I go. Being an entrepreneur is very challenging but it has so many rewards. I absolutely love how I’ve chosen to take this path. I would definitely say 1000 percent go for it.