Maverick Life

MATTERS OF OBSESSION

Discover ‘what your body can do’ with pole dancing

Discover ‘what your body can do’ with pole dancing
A pole dance artist performs at The 2013 Central Pole Dancing Competition on May 25, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jeff Schear/Getty Images)

Want to move, twist and bend your body in ways that defy gravity? All while in high heels and spinning on a single pole? Give pole dancing, a discipline that might soon make its way to the Olympics, a try.

In 2017, the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) awarded the International Pole Sports Federation (IPSF) observer status — a step towards the IPSF’s goal of having pole dancing recognised as an Olympic sport. It is a sport that increases muscle strength, improves flexibility and can burn fat from the cardio and strength training movements, says Erica Hersh for Healthline. 

The sport has also been said to help manage and ease chronic pain through staying active and engaging muscle. Sure, it requires extreme agility and dedication but 37-year-old Kathy Lee — owner of The Pole Project in Cape Town — says pole dancing has made her fitter than she’s ever been.

Kathy Lee is the owner and founder of The Pole Project, as well as a qualified instructor who has trained, taught and performed both locally and internationally. Photo supplied by Kathy Lee.

“The physical and mental transformation that one goes through, I think that’s what makes it an addiction and obsession for most people. The physical transformation is evident, most pole dancers you speak to, they’ll say that they’ve never been in better shape, they’ve never looked or felt better in their lives.

“You’re discovering what your body can do, [whether] that means holding a human flag or creating these beautiful mesmerising shapes around a pole in your eight-inch ‘stripper heels’. What I love so much about pole dancing is that you get so strong, it’s a phenomenal workout. You really feel like a superhuman when you are able to hold and control your body weight in the air, so you build this intense physical strength,” she says.

Pole dancing student Danielle Grimmond (C) and Polestars Australia instructor Stephanie Kite (L) practice moves during a pole dancing lesson as fellow student Charlotte Priestley (R) looks on January 31, 2006 in Sydney, Australia (Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

Pole dancing students Lisa Sisson (L) Katrina Dell (C), and Julie Galbraith (R) laugh as they receive instructions on a move from Polestars Australia instructor Louise Noyen (2L) during a pole dancing lesson February 13, 2006 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

But it’s more than just physical. Pole develops an internal, mental strength Lee explains, growing her confidence and forcing her out of her comfort zone as she pushes her body to do things she never expected she could.

“I think the reason why pole dancing is so incredibly positive for so many people — and for me — is because you’re constantly challenging and surprising yourself. Your body is capable of doing things you never imagined possible and I think that shift in thinking transfers to all other aspects of your life; you build this incredible self-confidence and that’s what makes it such an empowering sport and art form,” Lee says.

Having seen the impact that the sport had on her own life, Lee wanted to share her experiences and her love for pole with other people, prompting her to open her own studio, The Pole Project, in 2014.

However, her personal journey with pole dancing began on the other side of the world with a very different career path. Born in Singapore, Lee left her home country to attend school in England, with dreams of becoming a lawyer. She then went on to do her Masters degree at the University of Oxford, and it was while she was working as an intellectual property litigation lawyer in London that a friend introduced her to pole dancing in 2011.

“A friend of mine had a pole set up and she was doing classes from DVDs and learning at home and she was moving to Germany and she didn’t want to take a pole with her. So she called me up one day and said ‘Kathy. Do you want my pole? It’s apparently this new amazing workout and I don’t want to take it.’

“We actually met in the lobby of her firm and it was this white marble flooring and she just came downstairs with two silver poles in her hands and I was like, ‘Oh! You could have wrapped it up or something!’ And then I went onto the London underground with these poles, it was disastrous,” Lee remembers, laughing.

“I started taking classes and I was absolutely blown away. From my very first class it was this unique and exquisite combination of athleticism and artistic expression which made it incomparable to any form of dance or sport,” she recalls.

“Growing up, I loved dance, and always did different dance forms like hip-hop, jazz and contemporary. I also did a lot of sports, but never something that combined the two together so beautifully — that was initially what drew me to it”.

A pole dance artist performs at The 2013 Central Pole Dancing Competition on May 25, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jeff Schear/Getty Images)

While there seems to still be many a preconceived idea about what pole dancing is and for whom it is as well, Lee says the sport is nothing but upliftment that honours strength and athleticism. She feels that the way pole and those who pole dance are viewed should be reframed, as pole dancing is not about dancing for others but rather for one’s self. 

In this regard, Lee adds that rarely, if ever, do people take up pole dancing to please their partners.

“Ironically, I have several students who started pole dancing and have ended relationships with their partners because they discover who they are and they’re like, ‘You know what? I deserve better’. They become more confident, they end bad relationships, they get rid of bad energy in their lives and they become stronger. That’s the most amazing thing about pole, it really changes you and your outlook on life.”

While Lee acknowledges that pole dancing as an art form would not exist without its origins in stripping, she believes that pole has evolved and expanded as a sport in its own right. While there are aspects of pole dancing that are sensual, pole is far from being solely sexual. In fact, there are three main types of pole dancing that you can participate in. For those wanting an athletic routine there are pole classes focused on fitness and if you are looking for something more artistic, there are dance-orientated pole classes. If you want to explore and embrace your sensuality, there is exotic pole dancing, she notes. 

China’s Fang Yi, a dancer who has competed in the finals of the 2015 World Pole Dance Championships, shows pole dance at a pole dance training center on September 15, 2015 in Jinan, Shandong Province of China. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

Dancers perform during a training session at the pole dancing school in Tianjin city, China, 08 October 2013. EPA/WU HONG

Indonesian dancer Vicky Burki (C) teaches her pole dance class at the Indonesian Pole Dance Association’s studio in Jakarta, Indonesia, 02 December 2014. EPA/MAST IRHAM

Indonesian dancers practice pole dance at the Indonesian Pole Dance Association’s studio in Jakarta, Indonesia, 02 December 2014.  EPA/MAST IRHAM

Because of this, pole is for everyone, addressing the misconception that pole is only for ‘strong, skinny women’. There is not one body for the sport, nor one gender or one ability.

“There is no stereotypical pole dancer. The demographic is so vast. If you come to a pole class you see moms, college students, doctors, accountants, personal trainers, any profession under the sun. All shapes, sizes, ethnicities and ages, it really is for everyone.”

Nor do you have to be a specific age. At Lee’s studio, her youngest member is six years old and her oldest member is sixty-two.

“One of the criticisms we had was of sexualising kids, but what is wrong with a kid dancing on a pole? They’re not inappropriately dressed, they’re wearing a leotard, which is what they would wear when they do gymnastics.  In gymnastics, they work with horizontal poles, what’s the difference working with a vertical pole? If you see what a kid does on a pole it is so far removed from what you see in a strip club,” she says.

Kevin Grossstueck performs in the 2013 German Pole Dancing Championships on August 3, 2013 in Frankfurt, Germany.  (Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)

“When we do pole dancing for kids, it’s acrobatic and artistic, there’s never any sensuality in it. The skills are very much in line with the aerial world — pole is just another apparatus that you can perform aerial tricks on. Kids are so strong and fearless, they are not scared to fall and pick things up so quickly. If you think about it, pole is just like a jungle gym for them.”

While Lee does admit that there are still times she has to justify her “passion to the sceptics”, she says there is a strong sense of community among pole dancers.

“Community is a huge part of pole dancing and I think it’s because what we do is still considered so taboo by so many people. There’s a unique closeness that bonds us together. We like and share each other’s videos, we watch each other perform. There’s so much support in the community, which I don’t see anywhere else,” explains Lee.

And the community is growing, Lee says, as more people begin to appreciate pole dancing as both an art form and a sport.

“It’s becoming more mainstream, bringing pole more to the forefront of the fitness and dance industry. I think that’s increased public appreciation and awareness of what we do, and public perception is evolving. It’s not just about stripping, yes, it can be sensual, but it’s also hugely acrobatic and artistic,” she says. DM/ML

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted