Wednesday, 5 June 2013

The Evolution of Pole and Pole in the Olympics

So here is a blog that is bound to cause controversy but that is not my intention. Pole Dance, Pole Sports or Pole Fitness (whatever you like to call it) has evolved so much since I started teaching back in 2004 and generally I have seen a big improvement in the industry with better teaching standards, better insurance, an improved syllabus, the use of risk assessments, limited numbers of students per pole etc. This is all great but it is where the industry goes from here that is starting to worry me.

I feel that Pole dancing is currently in a place where it is finally respected as a way to keep fit and have fun by the mainstream and that perhaps it is just the minority who assume that pole dancing has no skill involved. My concern is that as the industry moves forwards we may start to lose some of the fun that initally drew us, and our students, to this amazing art form. Whether you teach stripper style or pure pole fitness I am sure that the majority of instructors like to make their classes fun and this is the main reason why students keep coming back. If we make the environment too sterile then surely we lose the very thing that makes pole classes special. I have heard talks of schools in Russia and former Russian states requiring classes to be carried out in silence, whilst that may fit with the gymnastic model, for me, this goes against the very ethos of pole fitness for recreation, fitness and fun.

As you may know there is a move to get pole into the Olympics, the IPSF set up by PDC Pioneer KT Coates has done admirable work but is that where we want to see the industry going? Don't get me wrong the WPSC 2012 event was admirable and I was very proud to be involved but since then I have looked further into the world of gymnastics and Olympic standards and I am not sure I like what I see.

What I fear for our industry is that ultimately we could end up with a situation where pole becomes elitist and if you haven't started pole dancing from the age of 3 then many clubs won't be interested in training you. Most recently I watched some of the children performing in Miss Pole Dance Russia and their performances had me cringing, whilst the youngsters displayed amazing strengthand flexibility there was something false about their performances which reminded me of some of the more dodgy elements of freestyle dancing where young children are dressed up like beauty pageants, covered in fake tan and heavy make-up and told to force a smile throughout their routine.

For me one of the biggest joys of teaching is working with those who haven't done much exercise previously, those who may be overweight or have body confidence issues. I love watching those individuals exceed their own personal expectations, achieving their very first pole sit or invert. These students don't want to compete or necessarily partake in gradings but they love pole and I love teaching them pole.

The other worry about pole dancing becoming a gymnastic discipline is that we will lose our roots, pole dancing did evolve mainly from western (mainly Canadian and US strip clubs) and we have learned much from this exotic dance style. Rather than degrading women this dance style has allowed everyday women to feel more confident and more in control of their bodies. I hope we can continue to allow the different genres of pole dance to evolve allowing each individual, whether male or female, to choose to move their body in their own unique way without facing critiscism. Check out this amazing video from US Champion Pole Dance Michelle Stanek showcasing two very different styles. Both styles are equally beautiful in my humble opinion.  If you like this subject then check out the marvellous post "No funny businesss, Please, we're British" by the gorgeous Miss Glory Pearl.

My final concern for the industry is that if we become too gymnastic we risk becoming very competitive, we also risk going down a road where dancers over-train, over-bend and actually damage their bodies rather than enhancing them. I know this is rather a sweeping statement but I am already seeing the industry move towards this harsh training regime with dangerous diets, the use of steroids and damaging stretching/contortion techniques.

I want to hear your thoughts. What do you love about pole dancing and what do you hate? where do you want to see the industry going? Do you want to see pole in the Olympics? 

Please reply here and, if your comment is genuine and not some spam selling viagra,  then your comment will be posted within 24 hours :)

Stay Healthy

Sam x

Pictures courtesy of Leigh Drinkwater Photography (bottom left),  Ozzie Glover Photography (top right) and 360 Pole dancing (top left)


Linda said...

Very interesting blog Sam! Pole in the Olympics, mmm, some while ago I would have been all for it, but only because I thought that if it was accepted as an Olympic Sport then it would get more widely accepted across society. But now I agree with you about it becoming too much like gymnastics and would not want to see that happening.
I Started Pole Dancing with friends because we used to mess about at clubs and wanted to learn more for fun than anything else. But since that first lesson I was hooked! Mainly because it was the first time I felt I could enjoy doing physical fitness (having tried many classes and gyms before). And several years on now I still enjoy my lessons and hate to miss a week!
But what frustrates me is the lack of acceptance still, and while things are improving I still feel there is a real stigma attached to Pole Dancing. I am a secondary school teacher and would love to share my love of what I describe as Pole Fitness with my students and the physical benefits it brings, but I feel I can't in case any parent took offence.
My feelings are that Pole Fitness should be in the same category as zumba classes, body pump classes and other similar fitness classes, so that we shouldn't feel ashamed to encourage young people of both genders to take it up as a way of keeping fit but having fun at the same time!
Incidentally, I am a 44 year old mother of 4 who is not particularly skinny or flexible but feel proud of what I can achieve on the pole :)

Caroline said...

i completely agree, it should be fun, it should be run in more gyms alongside other classes. i started it for fun and found it gave me so much confidence in my body after losing weight. i wouldnt go to silent classed - the grunts the giggles and the fun are what makes pole for me and i wouldnt have it any other way!

Nikki said...

I think this is GREAT. I agree, I pole because i like to feel sexy, it is a bonus that it gives me great arms and a nice butt. Why it has to be a fit about who is right, is beyond me. We all are.

Unknown said...

It was like reading my thoughts reiterated in cyber sphere! Thank you for writing this piece, Sam.

Inclusion of pole in the Olympics will not "legitimise" pole any more than what pole-dancing already is. There are already world and international platforms for Pole i.e. IPC, World Pole Cup.

It is heartening to hear an instructor like yourself draw a distinction between gymnastics and pole-dance. I believe this is important. Pole-dance should be a genre unto its own, and not be identified as an off-shoot of gymnastics.

There is no denying that Pole has gymnastics elements, however a gymnast I am not. I am a pole performer.

Many of my friends whom I do pole with have become immensely talented in their own personal style and capacity. The fun factor is off the scale - but even more important is how personally rewarding it is to one's self, which is priceless.

Anyway, my two NZ cents.

Wellington, NZ

Mary Ellyn Weissman said...

Wonderful blog with many thoughtful insights!

I was a part of the original movement to get pole into the Olympics and I still fully support that concept.

I also support fitness pole dancing in studios, gymnastic and traditional dance influences in pole, competitions of all styles and down and dirty sexy pole dancing...not just in clubs but in studios and if you wish, at home!

I was impressed with what I saw of the children in the Russian competition and I believe what I saw was a style that was devoid of the emotion and drama that we see in adult competitors and while that came across as mechanical, I am glad it was that way or to me then it would have been too much. I don’t want to see a child acting out emotions which they have not had the chance to actually experience in life!

However, I too am concerned about the direction I see pole dance heading. I don't believe it is the existence of these choices, which may overshadow one type of pole over another, but our own attitudes and what we do about it as the pole world grows.

It is up to us to keep each and every style alive. Right now it feels to some of us that there is a small majority who still cling to the roots of pole dancing and enjoy the sexy style or even those who are not kamikazes on the pole and just like to dance and spin with simpler tricks and inverts.

However, at one time there was a small majority of pole pioneers who faced a world of doubters who said that this was a fad and would never last. We stood strong and WE are the reason pole exists, in ALL of these forms, today.

It is up to all of us to keep our own styles of pole dance alive. We got what we wanted...pole has grown to incredible proportions and is almost, if not fully, accepted by the vast majority around the world now. If those of us who love the simpler or sexier style of pole sit back and allow the rest of the pole world to plant doubts in our heads then our art will be lost. Just like the original pole pioneers we are strong enough to remind everyone that all styles of pole are just as important, that there is a place for all styles AND that there are plenty of us who while we can cheer for the rest, still want to enjoy what we originally loved about pole dancing.

lolorashel said...

Great post!! I too have a problem with children who are pushing their young bodies to do too much physically before they are fully developed (thinking competition level, not kids who just want to do some circus pole for fun). And the make-up and spray tans...keep them away!

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading this post. I feel like it captures how so many people don't want to lose the flexibility of pole, or the emotions that come with pole. I hope that as a community, we find the best way forward.

Unknown said...

I completely agree with this post and your concerns Sam! Having had dance training in the past from a young age, I can understand the intimidation that can put people off joining classes without the long term experience, and it's sad. Having taken a couple years out of dance, the thought of stepping back into a class, perhaps even one where I'd already passed the exams, is daunting! A main attraction to pole for me was the fact that although factors such as flexability, co-ordination, past experience etc are helpful, they are not essential. This more 'relaxed' approach is what drew me to pole as opposed to going back to other dance styles, where I worried that I would no longer 'fit the bill'.

It is fantastic that the stigma around pole is deteriorating day by day, but I agree with your concerns that the more competitive the industry becomes, the stricter the grading criteria will become. Let's just hope there are teachers out there like yourself that don't plan on cracking the whip (too hard!) on their students, and keep pole fun and un-intimidating for everyone!