The first time I heard the term “pole mom” was in 2015 at the PSO Northeast regional competition held in New York. Tynesha B. had just finished a dynamic performance, and as I applauded from my seat, Seth Bacher flew by me up the aisle, eager to be the first to hug Tynesha as she exited the stage. He was proudly yelling, “That’s my pole mom!” It was such a powerful display of love, pride, and excitement, and I thought, “Pole mom, huh?”

Pole dancers have a language of our own. We say “good grip” instead of “good luck” before a performance. We know every alternate name for our favorite tricks—Jamilla or apprentice? Figurehead or hood ornament? Attitude or sunwheel? We can list different grips on command—bracket, forearm, elbow, twisted, strong, cup. But what about the term “pole mom?”

A pole mom is someone who takes care of a new pole student or pole baby by showing them the ropes at the studio, sharing grip and gear tips, or screaming “YASSS!” in support during a class or performance. A pole mom can be an instructor, but doesn’t have to be, and it’s usually someone the “pole baby” looks up to or admires.

Seth, the Pro Division 3rd place winner at the 2019 Florida Pole Championships and a current member of The Hub Pole Fitness Club in Watertown, New York, separates a pole mom from any other trainer or coach, noting that a pole mom typically has a lot of strength, compassion, empathy, and love invested in their pole babies. Seth says of his pole mom Tynesha, “She was not only our teacher, but she was our friend. She’s one of my best friends in this world now. She taught us our skills, and then we talked about life. She was someone who willingly gave advice when the situation called for it. She wants us to succeed in and out of the studio, just as a mother would with their children.” Clearly, it’s a term of endearment.

Tobin Crosby, pole dancer and owner at Love Pole Fitness, echoes Seth’s sentiment, adding that the term pole mom is a way for students to show appreciation for their instructor. “Sometimes a student’s pole mom is their first pole instructor,” she says. “I’ve had some instructors but never really a pole mom. I was 50% home taught, so I guess I’m my own pole mom?” Tobin concedes that she had pole mentors on her come up, but no one she’d call a pole mom, per se. Perhaps a pole mom is a part of the studio setting and not something that home polers experience.

I started to wonder if pole mom is a variation on “house mom” and if its origins, like everything else, came from strip clubs; I have yet to confirm that. I asked Nia Burks, stripper raconteur and owner of Butter and Filth, but if Nia doesn’t know, then who does?

Crystal Cumbee, pole dancer since 2010, has seen the term mostly on Instagram via captions and hashtags. She thinks it generally suggests someone who is “strong, fierce, and ready to take on the world in 8 inch platforms.” The pole mom portrait is starting to pull into focus.

If you’ve never heard the term pole mom before, that’s okay. Neither had Meredith Winston, mother of three and poler since October of 2020. Her immediate thought, however, was someone who is nurturing and empathetic— the Mama Bear of their studio or corner of the pole community. For a term of art, “pole mom” seems to have some repeating ideas—empathy, investment, compassion, strength, and love.

Motherhood and polerhood seem to go together so well. I’ll explore why in part two with comments from Sarah Scott and Amy Hazel, among others.