Dalijah Franklin’s move to New York City almost sounds textbook. The Warren, Ohio, native planned to become a commercial dancer in the Big Apple, and after graduating from Ohio State University with a Bachelor of Science in nutrition science, she made the move to pursue her dreams.
However, her journey in artistry unfolded in an unexpected way. After a few years of failing to see the success she’d anticipated, she realized that traditional dance wasn’t what she wanted to do anymore.
Franklin—who also has several years’ experience with gymnastics and competitive cheerleading—began focusing on pole dancing, which she started as a hobby, until she won third place in Polesque 2011, a popular pole dancing competition that made her realize she was on to something. Three years later, and with more pole-competition titles under her belt, Franklin is now the founder of a burgeoning fitness movement known as Black Girls Pole.
#BlackGirlsPole—similar to other movements including #BlackGirlsRun, #BlackGirlsWorkoutToo and #BlackWomenDoWorkout—is geared toward educating black women about the art and physical benefits of pole dancing, and inspiring them to take their pole skills to the next level in movement and even business.
BGP launched last year in New York City with an inaugural showcase that featured a day of workshops taught by some of the industry’s leading athletes from around the country—including Nicole “the Pole” Williams, Roz “the Diva,” Sasja Lee and Crystal “CryStylez” Belcher—ending in a showcase where a carefully curated group of women showcased their mastery of the vertical bar.
“The reason I started [Black Girls Pole] is because I wanted to see more women that looked like me in this whole community,” Franklin tells The Root. Franklin also wanted to remove the stigma associated with pole dancing.
“Every time someone asks me what I do and I tell them I’m a pole dancer, they automatically think I’m a stripper,” Franklin says. “I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with strippers, because I f—king love strippers, but I just wanted to break that stereotype that all black women that pole dance are strippers.” She laughs as she points out that she curses a lot.
Franklin credits pole dancing with helping to build her confidence and discover her body and strengthening in ways that previous activities never did. A typical class with Franklin at Body & Pole, BGP’s home base, involves a lot of laughter and hard work, but she always makes sure she keeps her class engaged by sharing spirited stories about her dog, boyfriend and travels, which are often related to pole dancing. It’s part of what makes people comfortable enough to trust in BGP.
“I would describe Dalijah as my crazy cousin [and] that is a sincere compliment. I have learned so many things from Dalijah,” says Tiffany C., a paralegal who fell in love with pole dancing as a hobby and credits the sport with getting her once sedentary body in motion. (Tiffany chose not to use her last name for professional reasons.)
“She got me into my first twisted grip handspring,” she continued. “I held it for, like, two seconds, but that was a glorious two seconds. I probably could have held it longer if I hadn’t started celebrating while I was still in the air. Like with all of her students, she pushes me to do my best.”
That same spirit is what the Black Girls Pole movement encapsulates. After last year’s launch, Black Girls Pole went on to produce showcases and workshops in Atlanta, make an appearance at this year’s International Pole Convention, and build an eclectic collective of women on social media, with a network of more than 4,000 followers who share tips on diet, nutrition, competitions and executing moves and, most important, celebrate one another.
“Black Girls Pole is an ever-growing platform, one that has more than a sole intention. BGP at its core is to get women of color moving. It’s a space to get women of color to see other women in this community that look like them,” says Belcher, who is known in the general pole dancing community as one of the world’s most entertaining dancers.
“It’s a space for us to share our journeys of pole and fitness,” she continues. “It’s a space that’s not exclusive but, rather, celebratory, enlightening and encouraging for all. It’s an opportunity to welcome the wealth of individuals who enjoy what we do and expose it to those who may not be privy or informed.”
Black Girls Pole celebrates its second annual showcase on June 27 with a day of sold-out workshops (tickets for the general show are still available). It’s through the help of the BGP sisterhood, and even nonblack girls (and guys, too) who support the community, that Franklin gets her work done.
“When you build a brand and people believe in it, they’ll help you build. It’s black girls, white girls, brown girls, and it doesn’t work without the help and support of everybody,” says Franklin. “I can’t do this without Kyra [Johannesen] and Lian [Tal], who are the owners of Body & Pole. I can’t do this without my graphic designer, and she’s Asian. I can’t do this without [my friend] who does my P.R., and she’s a white girl. It’s a community of people who stand by it because they believe in me and they believe in what I’m producing.”
Starrene Rhett Rocque is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based freelance writer who often fantasizes about becoming a shotgun-toting, B movie heroine. Follow her on Twitter.