So in the second of this series of expressions of strength I have decided to cover Pole Dancing. As a reminder the purpose of these blogs is to go outside the traditional bodybuilding community and see what other ways people are getting fit, strong, healthy and in this case definitely having a lot of fun. The first blog in this series covered Powerlifting. A discipline which is easily relatable to bodybuilding and muscle. (to read more on that click here)
OK so first and foremost let’s no longer call it Pole Dancing. The term used to properly describe the sport (and I say sport deliberately) is Pole Fitness. When I told my family and friends and even some readers of the blog that I was going to a Pole event the first reaction from the guys was, predictably “Oooooh!!!” with a slightly pervy look in their eye. Yeah guys you know exactly what I’m talking about. Most of the females in my life were more like “Oh that sounds interesting. Is Debbie (my wife) ok with that?”
My answer to the guys was (in a yo yo yo guy to guys kinda voice) “Haha yeah bro it’s gonna be awesome!!!” but thinking in the back of my mind that I don’t go to these types of shows to go and stare at scantily clad ladies. To the ladies my answer was (in a high pitched answer your mom when you have done something wrong voice) “Yeah she’s cool man!” Little did they know it took a bit of convincing to agree to let me go especially since I was going ALONE! Why is it that we have this reaction though when someone says “I do pole”? I mean the sport has been around a few years now and is a growing phenomenon. It’s even on the ticket when you go to the Arnold Sports festival. See image below.
I realised then that the association immediately made with Pole event is that there are a whole bunch of Strippers, excuse me Exotic Dancers, prancing around on a Pole and in the audience. My wife probably thought I was going to be surrounded by mounds of silicone, fake lashes, stripper heals, pimps and the ghost of Lolly Jackson. I can tell you my friends this was very much to the contrary.
While I was too busy trying to meet and greet and didn’t particularly look at any boobs to identify them as silicone, I can tell you that there were beautiful girls from different parts of Johannesburg in the audience and backstage to perform that night. I was one of not many guys in attendance.
When I arrived I made my way to the back to meet a friend of mine Mazzy, who had facilitated this for me. She is a part-time pole instructor and also a great MC on the night. She took me through the backstage passages all greyed out and darkish (which really made me long for my acting days). At the end was a door which she knocked on and asked “Is everyone decent?” We were given the go ahead and entered. The grey passage walls opened up to made up broadly smiling beautiful faces all looking at me probably wondering if I was lost or even perhaps some kind of weirdo. Initially I felt like I was invading some sort of mean girl sanctuary but after Maz introduced me and explained why I was there I felt a bit more comfortable.
The girls were anything but mean. The first thing I realised is that these are ordinary girls/women and not strippers. How do I know? Well because I asked in my brazen straight forward manor if any of them were. Instead the answers I received were, radiologist, PHD student, mother, CA, horse riding instructor, some other professions and lastly Pole Instructor. Dammit not one stripper in the house. These are everyday women who at some point in their life were looking to either get fit, improve themselves or find a new challenge aaand I’m pretty sure none of them told me they were doing it to try and make a little extra cash on the side. Some of the feedback I got was that the traditional forms of fitness i.e. gym did not appeal, or they felt safer in this type of environment since it was generally an all ladies class. Oh by the way I was obtaining all this information while the girls were warming and stretching which I can tell you was the most compromising thing that happened all night. Blegh! Ok so nothing “fishy” going on at back stage.
I proceeded to try to not make a nuisance of myself Maz took me around for a short tour of the rest of the place and gave me some explanations about the competition. It turned out that this was the first internationally accredited competition by the IPF (International Pole Federation). Essentially what this means is that South Africa now has a structure for competitors to qualify for the world champs. Which is another indication that not only are more people taking up the sport, they are also really serious about it.
To the show though or rather competition.
The event took place in the Atterbury Theatre which I was told would not be for long since the IPF are working tirelessly to get the sport recognised and entered as an Olympic sport so as a result future competitions need to be held in a sports complexes.
I took my seat in the back, we were welcomed by our MC Maz and the “fun” began. The competition was broken into 4 classes Amateur, Professional, Masters and Elite. Immediately getting into the Amateur division I realised this is not Pole Dancing. The emphasis is on compulsory moves and a lot of technicalities. First I want to explain to you how I felt when competitor Jen Buck came out on to stage and performed to the instrumental of Christina Perry’s – 1000 years. This was a song close to her heart and as somewhat of a romantic it is a song that evokes emotion in me. Immediately I felt as though she conveyed her feelings through her body. At that moment I saw that this is even more than a sport. It is an art form. More importantly it is an art form that can invoke emotions other than those of men in a strip club. The lines of her body and the way she interpreted the song into movement… Wow I was blown away!!! (and we were only in the amateur division)
The rest of the evening saw me trying to compose myself. Luckily there wasn’t any more music that I personally connected with (facepalm) so I could cut out the emotion and truly examine what these girls were doing with their bodies. From amateur we moved into the Masters to which we were treated by a spider inspired performance from Benita Bouwer. From the romance Jen to the power, agility and sheer creepiness of it all. Benita completely captured the spider like movements not only on the floor in between, but on the poles she performed on. The way she climbed the pole to the way she sculpted and moulded her body to replicate the nature of the spider.
The professional division showed a step up in skill and difficulty of moves and routines. In my initial mingling with the girl before the show I met Monika Barnes. A mother and Pole Instructor who had travelled all the way from Tanzania to partake in this competition. But to be honest this did not impress me. What did impress me is when I asked her how she got into pole she replied “Oh my mother convinced me to try it out” she also informed me then that her mother was still doing the sport and that she was also over 60 years old! Clearly this is a sport that can assist your longevity ladies.
We then proceeded to the Elite girls, and let me tell you guys there is a reason these girls are called elite. Their bodies could easily be mistaken for gymnasts. At this point I had another realisation. The sport would fit perfectly in the Olympics as a gymnastic discipline. Perhaps the “Vertical Bar”? There are women who would kill me for suggesting the name change from pole which I hope the Olympic committee would keep since there is a clear connection and sense of pride when a person tells you “I do Pole!”. They do not see themselves as gymnasts, they see themselves as pole athletes.
Back to the Elite girls however. Each of these girls displayed strength, control, artistry and flexibility. This is where you can truly see as a spectator that the abilities required to be a Pole athlete. I am referring to beginner straight through to the elite. Every part of the body is involved on some way in the execution of a move. Whether it is the hands holding on to the pole of the toes pointing to make the movement complete both artistically and technically. At any level of this sport your core needs to be immensely strong. I can tell you though that there were no bulky waistlines.
There are also cognitive processes happening all the time during a performance. An athlete needs to have awareness of their body positioning, on the pole, both how high they are and which direction they are facing, in relation to the judges and also in relation to how they are going to transition into the next movement. There were some moments where my breath was taken away at the drops that some of the girls employed to transition. Don’t even get me started on the flips off the pole by Tammy Smith. I swear for one of her dismounts she was almost at the top of the pole which is like a good few meters high. So not only do you need all this technical and artistic skill as well as strength. I would say you definitely need some ahem… “balls” to do this sport.
Now guys and girls don’t let all this scare you or turn you away from the sport. Get past the stigma attached to the sport first. Which I hope after reading this piece you will be less inclined to think is not for you. Once you have gotten past that throw away your thoughts that this would be impossible for you to do since you’re weak or overweight or whatever other thoughts you have regarding your physical prowess or lack thereof. All the girls I spoke to told me that your first class is the hardest but the key is to keep going back. The strength and technique that you build is all incremental. So going back over and over gets you to a point where it becomes, well, easier. Pole seems to be a sport that also has a profound effect on the psyche of the girls I spoke to. The feedback I got was along the lines of:
- Pole gave to them Confidence
- Taught them Perseverance
- Helped with Discipline
- Taught them that they had both the physical strength and emotional strength to overcome obstacles on a pole and in life.
- It changed their body and self-image.
And many more which I wasn’t writing fast enough to catch.
Essentially readers. If you’re stuck for a way to get fit and strong and have some fun. I would highly recommend you try out some Pole Fit classes. I’m referring to guys and girls here. It is energetic, fun and each workout will most likely be dynamic. Yes you may find it hard the first few times, yes you may fall off a pole or two, but from my understanding from talking to Mazzy sometimes the point of coming to class is also to let go and laugh. You grow relationships and friendships in between somewhere so there is also a social side to it.
So my question to those who are bored, or sitting on the couch because you might be too self-conscious to go to a gym or a traditional form of exercise.
Why haven’t you tried Pole yet???
Here are some links I have taken the liberty of Googling for you:
X-Pole Studio Directory (This site has a listing of pole studios nation wide)
Special thanks go out to Marizanne (Mazzy) and Julie Fowler of Vertical Vixens for giving me the access and answering all my questions on the day
Your Brother in Iron (Remember Poles are also made of steel, and so are the bodies, minds and hearts they sculpt)