Pole Dancing Adventures’ author talks about sexuality, prejudice and comics

La Lune, Leen Isabel, 2012

Pole Dancing Adventures is a webcomic by Leen Isabel. It is a fun and light read that shares some straight-from-life situations related to pole dance. The updates are generally one or two panels, and vary from instructional, to motivational to comical.

You can see that Leen is in love with her art. This makes the reader feel empathetic, even the non-dancers. Before I even realized, I was cheering along with her achievements and getting excited with every new pose learned.

Through the webcomic, I got to learn some things I was always curious about pole dancing. For me, the sexual connotations and how dancers embrace it, or not, seem fascinating and empowering.

Leen Isabel, Pole Dancing Adventures webcomic, 2013Were you interested in comics before Pole Dancing Adventures? How did PDA start?

My love for comics started when I snuck issues out of my brother’s comic book boxes. I became hooked by seeing Marc Silvestri’s artwork for the first time on X-Men. I think I was too young to really comprehend what was going on (I was about 5 years old), but the designs just wowed me. I would read the same issue over and over again, just to look at the artwork.

Pole Dancing Adventures started in 2012. I was about two years into being a pole dance student and it was the only thing I thought about, day in and day out. Searching online, I found many pole dance blogs but rarely any art that was honest about the dance form. Since I’d rather draw than write, I decided to create a webcomic. It took off pretty fast after that!

Drawing a comic about pole dance is pretty much about anatomy, right? Do you life draw?

It is! I definitely over-simplified the human body in my comics into very anime-inspired figures. I did that because I produce Pole Dancing Adventures strips on a weekly basis, so I have to plan, draw, and color comics pretty quickly.

However, I love the way my characters look and their appearance is deliberate. I think their cute and simplified designs have helped to present pole dancing in a non-threatening and not over-sexualized way. You come to my site expecting something NSFW, and you’re going to find adorable, happy little dancers instead!

There are times while I’m drawing when I’ll be stumped over the way the body wraps around the pole. Luckily, since I can perform these poses, I will often be my own photographic reference! I’ve also found that visualizing these poses as I’m drawing has helped me as a dancer as well.

When I have time, I do love to go to life drawing events and classes around Los Angeles.

Do you think your comic is also read outside of the pole dance community? If not, do you wish it was?

I have heard from readers who stumbled upon Pole Dancing Adventures because they were interested in trying it out. My comic helped them to take the leap and get over their fears or concerns. Hearing their enthusiasm after their first class really brings me joy.

As for readers who do not pole dance or ever plan to, my webcomic was recently reviewed on Robot 6 / Comic Book Resources by a non-pole-dancing male! And he was very open-minded and positive about it! It was a proud moment for me to have reached beyond my dance community.

So, if there are any other “outsiders,” I’d love to hear from them and see what they think!

Leen Isabel, Pole Dancing Adventures webcomic, 2013How is your relationship with your readers?

I’m so grateful to my readers. They are very enthusiastic and when I hear that I’ve made them laugh with my work, it really brings on the warm fuzzies inside! I’ve made many pole dancing friends from my comic, and we’ll just talk about pole dance for days. I’m open to chatting with my readers on Facebook or Twitter. It’s great fun.

Thankfully, I haven’t encountered any haters and I’ll admit that I’m constantly tense for when that day comes. I just hope that my comic can already speak for itself as to how much the pole dance culture has changed over the years.

Do you also draw things not related to pole dance?

I participate in art shows both domestically and internationally. I’m also a member of Girls Drawin’ Girls which is a collective of female pin-up artists! I love to celebrate the female body and sexuality through my work. Many of my recent paintings can be seen at my website: http://www.leenisabel.com

I also recently self-published a comic book called “Hiraku” that I co-wrote with my husband, Nguyen Dong. We debuted it at Wondercon this year.

La Lune, Leen Isabel, 2012

Do the situations in PDA come straight from real life or are they only inspired by it?

It’s 100% inspired from real life! Many of my comic strips are inspired by my own experiences in class or by my friends. (Like the comic where a character farted in class while dancing? That was me.)

Pole dancing can be hilariously embarrassing,just as much as it is devastatingly sexy. There are times when we’ll have something epic happen in class and my mates will yell out, “Hey Leen! Ya gotta make that into a comic!”

Do you think pole dance is inherently sexual?

It began that way, sure. For me personally, a sexual style is my preference. To express myself through a sexually charged dance is really liberating for me.

Of course, it also means something different to different dancers. I’ve met solely athletic polers who look like body builders, and on the other side of the coin there are dancers who will never part with their stiletto heels and g-strings. Then there is also the Chinese pole style. They’re acrobatic and not considered a part of the “sexy” branch at all. And then you have dancers who are a blend of all three.

The lines are blurring in the pole dance world as we swap tricks and poses with other dance styles. Those who dance in a sexual manner are only one part of a bigger culture at this point.

Unfortunately, some prejudices die hard, and pole dancers are sometimes slutshamed or called sex workers (as if that was a bad thing). Have you ever experienced it directly? Was there any kind of close-minded reaction to your comic?

I’m so ingrained within the pole dance community that it’s been nothing but positive reinforcement from within. If there is hate outside of our community directed at me, I have yet to see it! The pole community is like a protective bubble of awesome.

No one has ever approached me with negative remarks towards my body, my comic or my pole dancing. No one has even left a negative comment on any of my strips! So, let’s hope that keeps up and if PDA does reach a wider audience, people will read first before they judge.


Leen Isabel, Pole Dancing Adventures webcomic, 2014

Pole dance has experienced a boom in popularity in the last years. Do you believe it’s related to women’s fight to embrace their own bodies and feel comfortable in them?

Definitely! I certainly joined for those very reasons. I was in a period of my life where I needed more confidence and pole dancing seemed like a badass way to reclaim it. I started out feeling weak but as the months went by, I grew to become a graceful dancer climbing and flipping 10 feet off the ground in booty shorts. That feeling of baring and letting go of all of your “flaws” while dancing and performing feats of strength — it’s incredible! You can see why we keep coming back!

Are you reading any other comics at the moment?

Yeah! I’m really into Saga from Image Comics right now. That’s on top of my list. Though it’s been out for a while, I also just finished Joe the Barbarian from Vertigo. I’ve been through diabetes related scares with loved ones, so that one hit close to home. Finally, I’m loving Sandman Overture, also from Vertigo! I’ve been a fan of Sandman for many years.

Is there anything else you would like to talk about?

This year, I plan to attend San Diego Comic Con 2014 with Girls Drawin’ Girls. I will also be at Pole Expo 2014 in Las Vegas, where I will be debuting a Pole Dancing Adventures book! Hope to see you there!

Earlier I mentioned my self-published comic. The first issue of our historical fantasy, “Hiraku,” is available for purchase from Amazon and in our online store. It’s about a young swordsman who finds himself in the middle of a violent conflict between two distinct cultures, the Japanese and the Ainu. I hope you’ll take a look!

Thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure to talk to Women Write About Comics!