Much of the acts in Pole dancing are borrowed from a ancient Chinese acrobatics performance called Chinese pole.
I'm guessing that acts of Chinese poles originated from climbing bamboo, a ubiquitous plant in China.
In Chinese poles, it's almost always performed by males, due to the requirement of strength (think of men's gymnastics), even though in Chinese circus acts, there are about same number of female and male. Typically, males perform acrobatic acts, and females perform juggling/dexterity/skill acts (such as kicking/balancing a chair). In contrast, Western circus acts often involve mostly males as jugglers, and lots of females in acrobatics/aerials. See: Chinese variety art.
When i was a teen (1980s), i was a juggler and involved in circus. So, i've seen many Chinese pole performances on video.
Recent history of pole dancing is from strip clubs.
In the past 10 years, pole dancing has become a competitive sport, much like skate boarding or gymnastics. Though, as far as i can see, the sport is still mostly done by females and still has a erotic context. (you can see in the video that most of them still wear high heels.)