If you see a scantily-clad woman standing next to a vertical metal pole, would you first think of her as an athlete or stripper? The point is most people would still traditionally associate pole dance to strip clubs. However, over the years, pole dance has evolved to become a form of a performance art, which combines dance and acrobatics. The media has also played an important role in giving new meaning to pole dance after Hollywood celebrities like Sheila Kelley started creating her own pole-based fitness routine. Today, it’s more than just a form of entertainment but also a sport, which could become the next Olympic sports.
Last Sunday, thirty elite athletes in the sport of pole dance fitness from all over the world were gathered here in Singapore for the International Pole Championship (IPC) 2013 which was held at University Cultural Centre, National University of Singapore.
The director of the International Pole Dance Fitness Association (IPDFA), Ania Anna Przeplasko was the brainchild behind this annual pole-dance competition. “Finalists will be arriving from countries as diverse as Brazil, Australia, Poland and the Ukraine. All of the finalists are locally renowned pole artists, and most of them hold multiple local, national and international pole dance fitness titles,” she said.
Ms Przeplasko also said IPC made history by being the very first pole-dance competition in the world to include a Men’s and Disabled Division. That evening, we saw not only women of various shapes and sizes, but also men who exhibited a different form beauty and grace to pole-dance. The most noteworthy in the entire championship is a talented 63-year-old woman from the United States of America named Greta Pontarelli. She was doing full splits and swirling around the vertical poles, looking like a young ballerina dancing so elegantly on stage.
What impresses me further is when IPC 2012 Disabled Category Champion, Deb Roach from Australia, took on the stage and did so many athletics movement on the pole with just one hand. “ Deb is a beautifully graceful and technically brilliant competitor, who has a unique feature – she has only one arm,” said Ania.
It does seems like this competition isn’t just about discovering great talents in pole-dancing but it is also about providing equal opportunities to all, regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity and ability. I conducted an email interview with Ania who spearheaded IPDFA and IPC.
Email Interview with Ania Anna Przeplasko
1) Could you talk about your encounter with pole dancing?
When I got to Japan to design outfits for a show, I happened to see pole dancing being performed, and saw how toned the dancers were. The only mechanism for exercise was the pole, so I decided to create a fashion show on the pole. Unfortunately I could not find any models who could pole dance, so I decided to learn and teach the models. That was 13 years ago.
2) Is pole dancing to you, an art or sports?
Both – the power of pole dance can be used as artistic expression and a means of achieving goals in sport.
3) Do people raise their eyebrows when you told them that you're a pole dancer? How would you respond to them?
Not anymore. Up to 5 years ago they did, and I responded “come to my class, see what its about and gain respect for it.” A lot of them became students after that!
4) Til today, people still associates pole dancing with strip clubs and sexual entertainment acts. So, how does IPDFA play a role in changing people's perception of pole dancing?
We are the first competition to promote a male and disabled division (our disabled competitors enter to achieve their ultimate best and push their boundaries, and do not have a sexual entertainment purpose in mind!) We are lobbying for inclusion in the Olympic Games. We are working with the Government in some countries to include pole as a form of exercise for a healthy lifestyle. IPC showcases amazing talent, strength and athleticism, proving how far away we are from strip clubs.
5) Pole dancing classes are now offered in several fitness centres and gyms in Singapore. What are the fitness aspects of pole dancing?
Pole Dancing is a form of dance gymnastics, using a vertical steel dance pole. It requires substantial muscular strength, endurance and flexibility, with emphasis on the arms, shoulders, back and core, as the majority of movements require physical lifting of bodyweight. Frequently momentum is used in order to add movement and is generated from the lower body to perform spins, mounts and climbs. Pole Dancing is renowned for its acrobatics known as ‘tricks’ which describes a series of poses using limited body contact, leveling from beginner upright poses, intermediate invert poses to advanced aerial rotations.
Pole Dance is a physical activity that activates both cardiovascular (aerobic) and muscular (anaerobic) systems, which means it is a complete body workout. Depending on the frequency and intensity of an individual’s pole dance practice, it can help maintain or it can dramatically improve fitness levels.
6) The international pole championship also has competitive categories open to men and the disabled. Why so?
Why not? If someone tells me I cannot compete in a sports competition because I am a woman, this is surely discrimination. So I feel the same way about introducing a men’s and disabled division. Pole fitness/pole sport is for everybody, even for kids.
7) In your opinion, why do you think some men would be interested in pole dancing?
Some men even see pole as a career path; they can approach international productions like Cirque du Soleil, as have many of our competitors, and other men see this as a great way to build core strength, flexibility, and polish their dance skills.
8) Should pole dancing be considered as an Olympics sports?
Definitely. There are similarities between pole sports and gymnastics – we use the bar in a different position.
9) How does Pole dancing empower women?
One of the biggest challenges of pole dancing is to learn a routine and see yourself in a mirror. A lot of women do very well with learning new moves and tricks, but have difficulties with facing themselves as a reflection. They have to start to face themselves and start to like their own body. Pole dancing is helping women to love themselves, regardless of their shape or size. Because, after a while, the excitement of learning a new move overtakes the feeling of self consciousness.
10) Can everyone do pole dancing? What does it takes to become a pole dancer?
As with every sports activity, there are restrictions, depending on your health and medical conditions. However, right now pole is being learned by men, women, kids, seniors citizens, and people with disabilities.
It depends which level you wish to achieve – hobbyist pole dancers, instructors, performers, competitors. Each of them requires different type of education and investments of time. Students require one hour a week to have fun and meet new people. Instructors need to invest in instructors courses to approach pole from a different angle, while performers need to invest more in learning showmanship and costumes. The most dedicated are the competitors, who need to spend between 2-5 hours a day on training if they want to be recognized on an international level and succeed.
This year’s international pole championship is an eye-opener and it simply affirms the saying that ‘anything is possible’. It’s an art and a sport that can empower women, and even men too. And to empower ourselves, women, is to love and accept for who you are. Learning to love and respect your body as the power to stay happy lies in you. You decide.
The 'bunnies' were sent to clean the poles before each contestant takes the stage.
Yva Au and Irene Ng
( from Australia)
She is not only a performer but also a yoga teacher, pilates instructor and personal trainer.
( From Italy)
( from America)
Mina Mortezaie & Nadia Shariff
Eri's hearing was impaired but she could still dance and synchronise with the music in.
Tiff & Ruth
( from Russia)
Her long bright pink hair has become her trademark.
Suzie Q and Toby J
For more information, do visit the following websites:
International Pole Dance Fitness Association
International Pole Championship