Published On: Fri, Mar 3rd, 2017

From Strip Clubs to the Olympics: Investigating the Art of Pole

Pavlena Todorova reveals how local fitness clubs are working to change perceptions of pole dancing from a sleazy profession to a global sport…

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Fitness clubs like Pole Ballet are training budding pole dancers to enter official championships. (Image Credit: Marina Iris)

Trends and habits are changing rapidly in today’s world and the general attitude towards ‘’unusual’’ disciplines is slowly changing too.

A perfect example is the revised perception of the art of ‘’pole dancing’’; forty years ago no-one would even consider it as more than a form of sleazy entertainment for men, but today the concept of “pole dancing’’ has acquired a new meaning, a reignited popularity.

Although there are people who still hold onto the belief that the term is strictly related to the sex industry, modern evidence shows that this is not the case. Nowadays, pole dancing is seen as a normal way to keep fit and have fun.

But why would someone partake in pole as a sport and fitness routine?  One of the main reasons is the range of physical benefits that come from it. Kay Herm, the founder of the Pole Ballet studio in Camden, has an explanation for that: “It tones the whole body. It’s an aerobic exercise and it’s fun!”

Currently Kay teaches pole in combination with ballet, which is her personal trademark. For her, the former is nothing like other dance classes, where the competition is arguably higher.

In pole everybody is focused on learning one move; since individual learning could prove difficult for some, the students decide to support each other, moving towards a common achievement everyone can cherish and be proud of.

And Kay is not the only pole dancing enthusiast out there. Alison Hudd set up the Pole People studio, currently based in Clerkenwell, in 2003. In the past 13 years she has witnessed the growth of pole popularity.

The reason behind this renewed popularity, she argues, is that with every new trick you learn, you progress and fuel your need for improvement. “It is fun and people love it. There is always a new challenge with pole – you learn one move, but then there is another one that you have to practice so there is always more to do,” says Alison.

Katie Coates, the president of the International Pole Sport Federation, describes pole as the world’s youngest sport right now. Currently there are 22 individual federations across the globe, but the numbers are growing.

At present, the International Federation’s aims to reach a total of 40 pole federations before this summer. If they manage to do that, then they will be officially recognised as a governing body.

Katie and the IPSF have come a long way. “When I started this in 2006, ten years ago now, everybody laughed at me,” she says. “People said that no one is ever going to let pole into the Olympic games. But right now that is our end goal.

“We had a lot of other short-term goals during the last 10 years – build a federation, build a committee, build competition structure – and we have done all of this.”

The federation has taken the first step towards their greatest goal, applying to be recognised as an Olympic sport. Katie is optimistic: “I truly believe that – while maybe not in the next four years, or even eight years – the time will come for pole to become an Olympic sport.”

Developments like this suggest there has been a noticeable change in people’s attitudes towards pole dancing, but the question is whether the general public would recognise it as a legitimate sport, even if it becomes an Olympic event.

Statistics of pole world championships (Source: IPSF)

Statistics of pole world championships (Source: IPSF)

There are still those who would say that pole is a sleazy profession no matter who does it and why they do it. And although the problem is acknowledged by the pole sport elite, they are trying to look past it.

Katie has established her own way of dealing with people’s opinions by now. “I don’t argue anymore with people, because everybody is allowed an opinion as long as this opinion is based on fact. I just show them what we do and it’s up to them to change their minds.”

She continues: “I am used to every kind of question, statement or opinion. It doesn’t’ bother me now, because I know what we do is valuable and I don’t need other people to validate it.”

But despite its doubters, the recent transition from the sex industry to the realms of fitness and sport represented a drastic and important change for the pole dancing industry.

Kay Herm compares the situation now to how it was 10 years ago: “Back then most of the pole teachers were former strippers, whereas today most instructors are either dancers or gymnasts.”

In the meantime, Marina Iris, a beach bikini champion and runner-up in fitness for 2016, has established her own company for pole dancing called Iris Pole Dance here on St John’s Street.

Her work and teaching is focusing on another aspect of pole, though: “For me, pole dancing is not striptease or gymnastics on the pole. It is the form of art, dance and creativity, where pole tricks are integrated into a performance routine.”

As an example of changing perceptions, Marina’s manager, Oleg Mays, says that when she performs her pole dance fitness routines at competitions, almost everyone from the public is left speechless.

Katie Coates proudly states that the efforts of IPSF resulted in the number of competition participants doubling in just four years.

In 2012 there was neither a youth category nor a masters one. In 2016, at the International Championships, there were six different categories, the initial ones – women, men and doubles, and the new ones – youth (with over 40 children in it), masters 40 and masters 50.

Although the public and critical perceptions of this art are still debated, all the signs seem to point to the same direction: one of increased acceptance for a fast-rising industry that’s redefining itself further with each passing year.

To find out more about pole sport championships, be sure to watch the video below. As always, don’t forget to let us know your thoughts on this story either on Facebook, Twitter or in the comments section below.

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