The Wicked + The Divine Pole Dance Tribute
I can’t believe that in just two issues The Wicked + The Divine comic book series will be over. This is the first comic I bought in issues from start to finish. WicDiv has been a small and consistent joy throughout some major life changes, even when I was hustling like crazy to make ends meet. For those unfamiliar with it, The Wicked + The Divine (WicDiv) is about the reincarnation of gods and goddesses from every mythology thinkable in the form of pop icons. The rebirth happens every 90 years and caters to the art form most popular at the time, so the current arc is pop stars, but past pantheons have been poets, sculptors, etc. I love everything about it- the storytelling is amazing, the art is gorgeous, it’s the perfect mix of fun and intellectual themes (I’m a sucker for mythology based stories), and the characters are diverse in a way that doesn’t feel ham-handed.
As all artists do, I have struggled many times with the age old question of “but what is the point of my art?”, wondering if it has any meaning or impact at all. WicDiv often served as a reminder that it did. One of my favorite panels that illustrates this is:
WicDiv inspired me to produce my first pole dancing show back in 2015. I wrote in my journal that year that “my proudest 2015 moment was getting to watch some of my students perform for the very first time! I organized a show at my favorite local comic book shop (Fantom Comics), making it also the first time many audience members had seen a pole performance. I love this adorable photo because it’s three of my students laughing before the show, and they hadn’t met prior to collaborating on this. Brings a huge smile to my face.”
My students all blew me away- they each designed their own numbers, including costuming, choosing music, and choreography. I have a link to an entire YouTube playlist of dances from the show, as well as the Spotify playlist here. For now, I will just post a video to my own performance that night, along with a brief explanation on why I choose Tara as my character.
When our show was written up on Bleeding Cool, there were a few comments asking “but why pole dancing?” and mentioning they felt it was weird or inappropriate. (I do wonder if these people are reading WicDiv? How did they feel about the Christmas special?) The answer was simply: because it’s fun and it had meaning to us.
This kind of reaction to pole dancing is exactly what drew me to the character Tara. In WicDiv, each god or goddess is “reincarnated” when Ananke finds them as teenagers, where they have been living a normal human existence, and awakens their abilities. The catch is that after two years of fame, they will die. In this issue, we meet the goddess Tara for the first time. Previously, we’ve only heard about what an “attention whore” she is, that she’s selfish, aloof, and slutty (but at least beautiful). In this issue we’re given an inside look at some of her life’s defining moments, from being catcalled on the street as an eleven-year-old to trying to perform her songs at a local pub while wearing a mask to hide her appearance. She wanted to be loved for her art and her talent without the complications of people focusing on her looks. This desire carries over to her goddess-form, but when she attempts to perform some of her original songs and poetry instead of her goddess-enhanced and transcendent pop songs, her audiences start to riot. This tension results in a love/hate fandom and a trending hashtag #fuckingtara.
Tara’s struggle between what fans demand of her art vs what she wants to express was so similar to what I went through at the time with pole dance as an art form. Many pole dancers receive nasty comments on their videos and social media, and one amazingly talented dancer made an entire routine based off some of her comments:
You can see how similar these comments are to the hate tweet spread in Tara’s issue:
Now pole dancers on being censored on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr. Instagram in particular is a huge platform for us to connect with each other — sharing content, tips, tricks, and more — as well as our audiences. Online platforms may be the only place some dancers have access to as a means of sharing their work. We are increasingly seeing our posts demoted and removed. Whole accounts have even been permanently deleted with no warning or justification to the owner of the account. If you use Instagram to host all of your photos and videos, you may have lost several years worth of art, growth, and relationships. Furthermore, guidelines on what is deemed ‘inappropriate’ are unclear. Just having a pole in your video can get your post marked as overly sexual even if your performance is anything but. Simultaneously, these same platforms are supposedly struggling to monitor and censor hate speech from right-wing nationalists (Instagram is still hosting Alex Jones for example). It’s hard to find hope and encouragement when it feels like our society is back-sliding, so I will leave you with these words:
To the entire WicDiv team: thanks for creating a small haven for us. To my fellow dancers: a large reason I started this blog was to give myself and others a platform to showcase performances beyond the 60 second Instagram cap- if you’d like to post/host your video here let me know!