Pole Sports: The Great Debate Continues…

Hey everyone. I hope you had a good weekend. I did a 10k hill run in Durham on Saturday, which was hard, and then I had my first pole lesson in about 8 months yesterday!!

 

This year, I haven’t had any time to train pole myself. And when I have trained, I’ve looked like a little fish that’s out of water, flopping around all over the place as my guns skinny arms let me down. These bad boys have shrank!

 

So, sadly, I’ve stepped back from teaching, and yesterday – with all the nervousness of a new girl at school – I once more became the student in the hope of actually progressing. After all that hard work last year on my splits, I’m still where I was on January 1st! Don’t worry though, the splits won’t dominate this blog like they did this time last year. I’d feel like a fraud. Although I could just recycle all last year’s posts…

 

My teacher and I looked at some moves that were new for me, and worked out what the focus areas will be moving forward. There’ll be more strength training, more back and shoulder flexibility, and more ab work. My shoulders are sore today, but that’s only a good sign (I tell myself, as I grimace just trying to bring my coffee cup to my lips).

 photo-148

 

And, if it wasn’t the biggest coincidence, when I was eating my recovery chocolate (an absolute must in my book), I read this article: Pole Dancing: Olympic sport or strip-club sleaze? . The basic arguments are:

  • This journo went to the World Pole Sports Championships with a number of preconceptions, including doubt as to whether it could be a sport
  • She found out that she was wrong

Ok, I admit, that’s a pretty basic summary….

 

What she discovered was that the world of pole is dominated by supportive women, not the ‘dirty mac brigade’. She learned that it was in the same family as gymnastics, but was less dangerous as the pole itself supports you (says a mother of a 13 year old competitor), and that it’s easier to actually do because you don’t need as much room. This skeptical journo closed the article on a positive note, and wondered if ‘anything could get (her) flying like a human flag’. And everyone was happy.

pole sport

 

What the article doesn’t do is apologise for the sport, or it’s background: the competitor she speaks with credit strippers for helping make today’s incarnation what it is, and in fact one girl believes that it’s empowering to have taken pole dance out of the strip clubs and developed it into a competitive sport.

 

I don’t want every post I write on this to have a slightly defensive tone, but when I write them, I can’t help it. Sorry guys! I am working to remove this huge chip from my shoulder. In August I wrote about pole dance vs pole fit, and said that as long as UK pole has a conservative view towards the sexier element of the sport, I would prefer the Aussie way (which is all sexiness). However, this article today pointed out that if it wants to be taken seriously as a sport, it needs to set certain limits. And apparently these limits lie with cleavage and actually taking clothes off on stage.

 

I can understand this. To conquer people’s preconceptions, the sport must be seen to differentiate itself from ‘titillation’. Even though the journo closes the article more positively, she still litters the article with phrases like ‘gyrating on a pole’ (twice) and ‘grinding prop’, when her quotes from the performers themselves make pains to show how the sport has actually progressed. Which proves the whole point.

 

So…. I guess I’m backtracking a little from my stance in August. While it’s not my personal preference, I do admire what these people are trying to do: bring down the conceptual barriers surrounding the sport, and which stop people from seeing it for what it actually is. If you see two people doing the same dance – but one is in a sports crop top and pants, and the other is in a glittery bikini – I wonder how your interpretations would differ. These little things do matter if it is to be taken seriously, even if they do eliminate a certain kind of art from the whole proceedings.

 

Although I can’t back track 100%:  it’s still not my personal preference to have such strict guidelines on what’s acceptable and what’s not, because if taken too far, I think they could actually bolster the same prejudices they’re trying to break down. I don’t mean to back track from my back track, but hey, I write these posts and so I can do that, people!!

 

The Winners of the NSW Heat for Miss Pole Dance Australia

The Winners of the NSW Heat for Miss Pole Dance Australia

And, for panache, extravagance and outrageous costumes, well thankfully we have the Aussies for that!! They  have just had their Miss Pole Dance Australia championships, with bikinis, cleavage and stilettos galore!! Thank God for the Aussies, who dance and strut and are proud. Aussie Aussie Aussie!

 

Ellie B

 

 

Too much pole to choose from!

Let me tell you a story.

 

Seven years ago, a young girl tried pole dancing and fell in love. She learned how to move with the music, how to walk in killer heels, and satisfied the monkey-tendencies she developed during her tree-climbing childhood.

 

Four years later, she moved to England, and found her beloved pole dancing wasn’t quite the same – in England they were all about pole fit. She searched high and low, in London and beyond, for a school that taught a similar style to her school in Sydney, but it wasn’t to be. So, like a well-adjusted human being, she had adapted her expectations and get on with life. Only to find that she discovered a friendly pole school in Durham, and rewarded with loads of new moves to learn, a completely new style to get to grips with, and lots of new friends.

 

This post looks at the differences between pole dance and pole fit, and is 100% based on my own experience: I’d love to hear from people who have different experiences too. When I first arrived in the UK, I noticed significant differences between the style of pole in Australia  (dance) and the UK (fit). Here is a basic breakdown on the styles:

 

pole table

This isn’t anything official, but is my own interpretation based on what I saw when I arrived in the UK

Both are designed to be challenging, fun and to reclaim the idea of pole dancing as something that’s not inherently related to the red light district. But they do it in slightly different ways.

Pole dance reclaims it by maintaining the overt attractiveness to the dance: fitness and strength are as equal to mastering a smooth routine, with sexiness an important part of the performance. You as the dancer are in control – you’re not being objectified (not that there’s anyone there to objectify you!), and you are choosing to demonstrate your strength and femininity in that way. And looking objectively, apart from the shoes and the costumes, a lot of the routines aren’t overtly sexy – what makes them sexy is the attitude of the dancer themselves. They consciously steer their performances towards a certain interpretation.

Bobbi Right Leg Hang

This is Bobbi doing a pole dance move. The way her arms are placed, her shoes, and her facial expression all shows that this is a performance. All lines are smooth, but not dead straight, suggesting movement and fluidity.

Pole fit has a different focus: it focuses more at the actual move itself in isolation, with an emphasis on building core and muscle strength. In my experience, UK dancers know loads more actual moves than the Aussies, but they don’t always have the stamina to do combos or routines. They reclaim the sport by trying to negate any sexual connotations: their focus is on the sport and fitness of the activity, and work to steer their activity away from any inherent sexiness.

pole fit scorpio

This is the same move as Bobbi, but a pole fit version. The lines are straight and rigid, her outfit emphasises sport rather than costume, and the overall composition of the photo is designed to show off the move itself rather than create a performance.

So, basically, the Aussies are saying ‘too bloody right, mate, being sexy is a part of the sport and we’ll continue to work that into our routines with kick ass moves, and we’re true blue proud of it’ (because that’s how all Aussies talk), the UK are saying ‘excuse me, actually, you can have a perfectly respectable sport without reminding ourselves of the stripper pole, thank you very much. Now pass the tea’. And I am qualified to make those statements because I am: a) a pole dancer, and b) have lived in both countries, so know how they talk.

In recent years, there has been a shift in both spheres to focus on really contortion-y moves: how you literally tie yourself in a knot around the pole. The only way I’ll do this is to remove a few ribs, or quit my full time role and spend my days on a rack, like the good old middle ages.

Contortion 1

Rainbow markecho

Recently it seems like  UK has started to focus on expressionist dance. Performances are done bare foot, and costumes have to include a certain amount of material to pass: you can’t be too sexy. So with that in mind, here is some homework before we continue.

Go and watch these videos:

  • Here is a performance by Bendy Kate – UK pole superstar, and winner of the World Pole Dance 2014 as well as many other titles (web address: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NV_zbt7ycUc)
  • And here is a personal hero of mine, Cleo the Hurricane, two-time Miss Pole Dance Australia, dancing to Courntey Love (web address: http://www.poledancevideos.com.au/weddingday/)

 

So. One is a competition entry, and the other is a freestyle dance. Both are really fun, amazingly impressive and super advanced, but in my opinion, Cleo seems a little more free. Maybe cos it’s not a competition entry, but still. The routines that are based in pole fitness are often more creative because they interpret it in so many different ways, however they sometimes lack a certain…. liberty that is present in the routines based in pole dance.

Personally, I love the energy in Cleo’s style. It’s fun, and she’s completely in control of what she’s doing – like I said before, there’s no objectification there whatsoever: what you think says more about your attitudes than her, and her unapologetic confidence is like a huge f*ck you to any naysayers out there.

That’t not the only reason why I like her style, but I appreciate what the Aussie style pole has done for me personally in terms of not being awkward about yourself: now instead of feeling self-conscious on the dance floor, I frickin tear it up, as we found out on Friday (whether the moves were any good is a different question…).

Anyway, this is a bit rambly now. The main points are:

  • Although I like the inventiveness of the expressionist pole routines, as long as the UK is still a little conservative towards certain styles of pole dance, Aussie pole dance will be my favourite
  • The sexy element of pole dance is what has had the biggest impact in my overall attitude, and I don’t think I’d be as open minded, happy or relaxed in myself if I’d learned only pole fit – if that sounds weird, I’m happy to talk more about it!
  • The moves that my pole heroes can do are breathtaking in their grace, strength and contortion, and both pole fit and dance are moving in an incredible direction
  • I have made some amazing friends through pole fit in the UK, and so even though I don’t get my headrolls in as much as I’d like, I would never choose to be without these ladies

 1973773_10152293493469551_1782847630_o

So that’s that. Like I said, this is all based on my own experience, so please feel free to agree, disagree, go off on a tangent in the comments…..

 

Ellie B

When Pole and Pop Culture Meet

This is the second of my little pole dance series of posts (the first one is here). Since the first post, things blew UP in the pole world because three dancers appeared on The Voice Australia as back up dancers for a guy named Frank  Lakoudis. As they ducked and dived around the poles, weaving their magic, Twitter erupted.

 

Because I am a geek the coolest, I love watching shows alongside social media: getting involved in the discussion, seeing the immediate public reaction. And public opinion did not like these dancers being on family tv. I’m sure that Joel Madden calling them ‘stripper gymnasts’ really improved the public mood.

So. I get that parents might be surprised at seeing Michelle Shimmy and her gang on family television, especially because of the association pole dancing has with the sex industry. On the other side of the coin we have dancers standing up for something they love, who are getting tired of people making snap judgements on something which is moving away from it’s association with the sex industry. You can see the video of the performance here. Check it out and see what side you fall on!

Michelle

I’m sure you’ve been waiting with bated breath about what I think, and I bet you can’t predict what side of the coin I’m on. 😉 Well, here are my two cents:

  • If you look at the video, they’re not actually stripping. They’re not even dancing, really. There’s no twerking, booty-popping, or slut-dropping. It’s more a series of gymnastics and acrobatics on a pole.
  • The outfits they wore were chosen by The Voice Australia, and were leotards rather than anything seductive.
  • Any kids watching might not have picked up on all the sexual associations with pole dancing based on that performance. But they could well have picked up on the uproar and reaction, which sends slightly different but still important message to them about how we view dance, pop, women and television.

 

Ok, so maybe that was three cents. Taking my own bias into consideration, I think that when presented with something that challenges you, it’s helpful not to jump to the first reaction/conclusion, but to actually consider what’s in front of you. Read what Michelle Shimmy, whose classes I’ve attended, has to say about it.

 

Which is a more legitimate form of dance?

Which is a more legitimate form of dance? Does the addition of a pole really make this inappropriate?

I said in the last pole post that I know pole is not to everyone’s taste. But calling these dancers strippers is not helpful or necessarily constructive, and suggests that the performance was probably viewed through the veil of already-established opinion rather than with an open mind. There is definitely a sexy side to pole dance, which would not be appropriate for family television, but I don’t think that what we saw on The Voice Australia was it.

 

Anyway, I guess the point is that it should be ok for one thing to evolve into something else. Part of that process is to rock the boat of what’s currently accepted, and feeling threatened by something’s sexual associations has been going on for centuries. But it would be nice for the dancers to be judged on their own merit in that performance, and whether what they actually did was appropriate. Otherwise how can any art form develop and evolve?  Now we look back and laugh at people’s contempt for Elvis and his controversial dance moves, but at the time they were considered a threat to America’s security (no joke. Check out his Wikipedia page). And remember Rose from Downton Abbey, causing Mary all sorts of grief when when she insisted on frequenting a jazz cafe? My how times change.

 

Ellie B

The Path to Pole

I know this is a running blog and all, but it occurred to me that I mention very little about my other favourite fitness: the dance of the pole. Or pole dancing as most normal people call it. So as well as running, over the next few weeks I’ll do some posts on pole to shed some light on this sport.

 

My love affair with pole dancing began in March 2007 when I was a fresh-faced young professional finally earning my own money. I had been a student for what felt like forever, and now with (a little) money to burn I was loving being able to spend it on what I wanted.

 

One of the girls in my office decided that we should all do an 8-week beginner pole course – what better thing to spend my new money on than a frivolous new activity? So we all trooped to the studio filled with anticipation, excitement and a little fear. ‘You know you’re probably going to meet some strippers’ one friend said to me – which wiped the smile off my face. To be honest I wasn’t too sure how I felt about that. At 24, I was very naive and over the next few years the whole world would open up before me.

 

However, I reckon my initial attitude is what a  lot of people feel towards the pole trend: curiosity, mixed with apprehension about entering the dark side. In 2007 it was just getting popular in Sydney, and it wasn’t yet the main-stream activity it is now.

 

In our very first class we learned two moves: the Kate Moss and the Vanessa spin, and by the end of the class I knew I was in love. The swing around the pole, the way you needed strength and grace (I’d work on the latter over the next few years), and the feeling that it was still a bit of a sub-culture made it all the more fun. However, I tended to keep this new love affair secret from most people because I was worried about their reaction.

POle

As the weeks turned into month I started ticking landmarks off. I remember the first time I went upside down, the first time I went upside down whilst spinning, and the first time I did a headroll without whipping my eye with my hair (although it was a while before I was able to make the headroll look any good).

 

The school I went to in Sydney has a structure of 8 week terms, during which you learn a routine to be performed on the eighth week to any friends and family you wanted to invite. It was a very safe crowd, and the atmosphere was definitely more towards supporting family in a local theatre production than… whatever you might think it would be like.

 

Somewhere in between doing my first spin and probably my third week 8 performance, I realized that my hobby shouldn’t be kept hidden like an unwelcome lover. I had found a particular form of exercise that helped me view my body in a completely different way. Yeah, I know, I always talk ‘My Body’ as if it’s some kind of magical vessel that no one else has. But I don’t think I really appreciated what it could actually do until I started pole. I saw how it worked with me and not against, I learned how to trust my strength and my instincts, and I started to hold my head up higher when I walked because I owned it.

Pole1

With all this new-found confidence, I became more open about pole. It was funny how people reacted. My Dad was supportive in an I understand-I-think-but-please-god-let’s-not-talk-about-it-too-much kind of way (thanks Dad – it was the right kind of support from a Dad!). I got the impression that my wider family also preferred not to talk about it, which is fine. It’s not for everyone. And I kind of hope that my grandmother doesn’t know. Some people are immediately dismissive or critical without even knowing anything about it, and some people go and sign up for a class now they know someone who does it.

 

Most people are impressed, and really interested. Funnily enough, there’s a definite ‘type’ who went to the classes at Sydney: professional women, or quieter women, who enjoyed the idea that they had a darker side to them, that they were expressing themselves in ways that would shock the people they knew. I think that I fell into this category back in 2007, I enjoyed the feeling that people felt they had underestimated me.

 

And now, what category am I in? I’m in the old folks category: I know how hard I’ll have to work to learn the moves I want to do, and with everything else going on, I’m kind of choosing to chill out a bit. Which is kind of a bummer, but I still have my wish list….

Felix

 

So that’s the first pole post! Hope you enjoyed it. :)

 

Ellie B

 

 

Famous Last Words: Weekend Running & Pole

‘And no doubt the 18-miler tomorrow will give me the ass-kicking I missed this week’. Oh, how confidently I wrote that last week!

 

Consider my ass well and truly kicked. This distance is the furthest I’ve ran in training – and ever – but given that 16 miles wasn’t too bad, I was looking forward to it.

 

I chose a route that I’ve not run before, to get some variation, and very quickly I noticed that, mentally, this run was going to be harder than the others. It took a while to warm up, and my left leg was aching from a week in high heels the week before. By mile 6, I was heading out of Durham, and started towards the next town.

 

Running to a whole new town is kind of a big deal in my opinion. You actually leave your familiar surroundings and venture into a whole new postcode. I ran from DH1 to DL16. If you don’t know how exciting that is, then I can’t help you. 

This is the main route I took. See what a big deal it is to run to a different town?!

This is the main route I took. See what a big deal it is to run to a different town?!

You remember how far it is when you drive, and get some satisfaction in knowing that you’re relying on your two legs to take you there. The people are different, the landmarks are different, and the mentality is different. It took 2 hours and 35 minutes.

 

What I’m realising about this whole long distance thing is that I rarely get a stitch, or need to stop because I can’t catch my breath or anything. The challenge is in your head – you just have to keep going – and for me, in my adductors. They don’t really like going strong for 2 hours or more!

 

So, all you seasoned marathoners will be familiar with this. I came back from Saturday’s run feeling more intimidated by the distance, and more than a little bit tired. It was the first run that I think did kick my ass – so, you know, good prep for the day and all that.

 

Then the next day, instead of resting, I thought it would be a good idea to go to a pole workshop. Actually, I had been signed up for a while. It was with Bendy Kate, aka Miss Pole Dance UK. I thought it would be all stretchy and flexy, but instead we did handstands, pole flips and some other different moves.  Each guest teacher has their own style and moves, and I really liked Kate’s new variations to get upside down on the pole. I’ll post a video when it looks better than it currently does….

This is a move we worked on called Allegra. That is not me.

This is a move we worked on called Allegra. That is not me.

 

I love that stuff, but was just too knackered on Sunday! Plus in the warm up, we did running races, and I 100% completely face-planted. As well as ruining any credibility as a runner among my pole friends, I am now sporting a lovely yellow bruise on my chin and knee 😉

 

After such a busy weekend, it is a good thing that my mum has been here this week. What is it about being with your mum that makes you feel like you can eat whatever you want? On Monday we had KFC for lunch and Thai for dinner. Plus she bought us chocolates, which didn’t last long.

Showing Mum the finest Durham eateries. We started with KFC.

Showing Mum the finest Durham eateries. We started with KFC.

 

Ellie B