RIHANNA’S video for her new single Pour It Up is causing quite a stir. But it’s not because of anything the often controversial singer (pictured right) has said or done. Instead, the attention is on Nicole ‘the pole’ Williams, a dancer who performs a gravity-defying pole dancing routine that has already had more than one million hits on YouTube.
Pole dancing was once associated with sleazy strip clubs but that has begun to change in recent years. It’s been embraced as a fitness regime by the likes of Kate Moss, Paris Hilton, Pamela Anderson and Jessica Alba. Dance studios all over the country offer pole dancing classes. And now Ireland has its own pole dancing champions. Lisette Krol and Terri Walsh won the doubles at the World Pole Sports Championships in London in July.
Krol and Walsh are at the forefront of a movement to make pole dancing a recognised sport. “The image of pole dancing as something sleazy persists because that is where it came from,” says Walsh who is originally from Cork and now runs Fierce Fitness Dance Studios in Dublin and Maynooth.
“I wouldn’t mention to a guy I met in a bar on a Saturday night that I was a pole dancer. I’d say I was a fitness dance instructor and if they asked more questions, I’d tell them about the pole dancing and how I’ve won competitions. That tends to change their view of everything.”
Through her teaching, Walsh has found that a lot of women are attracted to pole dancing because of its sexy associations.
“They see that and want that powerful feeling,” she says. “But then they realise how difficult it is and how much their body can benefit from doing it. That’s what it’s all about for me, the sport and fitness aspect of it. I appreciate the erotic dancing. It’s a skill in itself and it’s snakelike and beautiful to watch. There are so many different types of pole dancing, from the slow and slinky side to the gymnastic and sporty side. There’s a style for everybody.”
So, what does pole dancing offer those who are interested in it as a way of getting fit? It focuses on building core strength and flexibility through dance-like movements. “You are lifting your entire body weight every time you leave the floor,” says Walsh.
“So, you are building power, strength and tone in your upper body. You build your core strength too as this is what controls your body as it moves around the pole.”
Sharon Thompson from Twirl Dance Studios and Arlene Caffrey from the Irish Pole Dance Academy have seen huge changes in their own bodies and in the bodies of the students they have introduced to pole dancing.
“It’s a whole body workout from shoulders to feet,” says Thompson. “It’s all about developing flexibility and the strength to hold that flexibility.”
Caffrey, who showcased her dancing on The All Ireland Talent Show in 2011, agrees. “I see how my own body has changed,” she says. “I have increased muscle tone in my upper body and legs. My core is much stronger. I have greater flexibility in my legs, shoulders and hips and I also find that pole dancing improves your posture by building up your back muscles. Overall, it gives you a better understanding of and a better relationship with your body.”
It’s not just the workout element that has contributed to the rise in popularity of pole dancing. There’s also the sense of creativity that is involved. “You discover your own style as you develop,” says World Champion Lisette Krol, who runs Tribe Fitness Dance School in Dublin.
“I’ve seen some crazy routines that are just beautiful to watch. It’s a creative movement as well as a way of staying fit and it’s one you can make your own in your own style.”
There is very little competitive spirit in a pole dancing class. “People don’t take it too seriously,” says Thompson. “There is often a sense of competing in a gym, but in pole dancing classes you have to hold each other and catch each other when you fall. This builds camaraderie. Pole dancing might be difficult but it’s also very enjoyable.”
found that pole dancing made her feel more feminine and sensual. “You learn body awareness and it feels really good, The sense of balance and flow is amazingly empowering and it’s great for self confidence. I was hooked from my very first class.”
It seems there is far more to pole dancing than the popular perception implies. “It’s moved away from its original background,” says Thompson. “90% of people now see what we do and say they would love to do it, that we must be so strong and fit. It’s come to be seen as more of a sport and biomechanically, it’s quite similar to gymnastics. You’re just doing vertically on a pole what they do on the floor.”
“It’s come a long way,” agrees Caffrey. “Most people now know people who have tried it and it’s not so new and alien to them. But some people still find it challenging. They ask me how I can be a feminist if I like pole dancing.”
However, Caffrey believes that pole dancing may lose something if it becomes too mainstream. “I attended some of the very first classes in Ireland in Drogheda in 2006 and it was a shocking thing to do then,” she says. “I liked it because it was a little bit out there and wild. Some people are worried about the movement to make pole dancing an Olympic sport and introduce strict rules. They think this will take the fun out of it. But others think that it will entirely remove its association with strippers. Done properly, there should be room for all the different types of pole dancing.”
“I encourage everyone to try it,” says Terri Walsh. “I have classes ranging from absolute beginners to elite professionals and the elite were beginners two years ago.”
“I had zero fitness going into it so you don’t have to be strong and perfect,” adds Caffrey.
“You’ll build it up slowly over time. Pole dancing is something that is achievable for everyone and it’s something where everyone can dance to their own beat.”
Five essential moves you need to master to become a pole dancer as suggested by Arlene Caffrey from the Irish Pole Dance Academy are:
Stand with your strong inside arm high on the pole. Walk around the pole. Step on your inside foot and lift your weak leg off the ground as you turn your body towards the pole to turn underneath your strong arm. Step your weak foot down on the ground as you place your back on the pole.
This needs to be done in a graceful way that looks effortless using the shoulders and legs.
This is where you hold your own body weight upside down and off the floor. “It’s a new and exciting feeling that is very addictive,” says Arlene Caffrey.
After performing an inversion, hook your outside leg around the front of the pole and allow your inside leg to hang down and point to your toes. You then let go with your hands, one at a time.
After performing a basic inversion, hook your inside leg around the front of the pole and allow your outside leg to hang down, pointing to your toes. Let go with your hands, one at a time.