Since its boom in the noughties pole classes have popped up all over Glasgow, ranging in location from night clubs to community centres. This surge in popularity has pole trainers locking horns with patriarchs and feminists alike. While many participants deem the activity a sport, there are still those who class it as erotic dance.
The problem lies in varied expectation, as Dr Samantha Holland found in her 2010 study, some women liked pole ‘dancing’ for its feminine image, while others preferred pole training for its opposition to gender roles depicting women as weak. This, she explained, led to a division between dancers and acrobats.
Holland said: “In the same way that a high church has incense and robes, the strippery classes have high heels and feather boas; and just as a low church would eschew too many statues, the exercise classes have bare feet and refute comparisons with lap dancing.”
Yet, of the two it seems the ‘lower church’ trend is leading, with 73 per cent of Holland’s survey saying they took classes to improve their fitness, while only 61 per cent did so to feel sexy. Further to this, 85 per cent of the 140 polers surveyed said they had no experience or intention of working in a strip club.
Interesting as the doctor’s statistics are, they are somewhat unbalanced, with only 3 of the polers surveyed being male. This inequality reflects another dispute among polers, as to the acceptance of men within the practice. Theorists often establish pole classes as being empowering to women, on the basis that they exclude men, creating all-female gyms. This view is expressed by Holland, as she said: “Classes are not subject to the male gaze because pole classes are, for the majority, all female.”
But this perception seems to be changing, as 23 -year-old dance instructor, Zhang Peng, proved when he won China’s 2007 National Pole Dancing competition.
Wolanski’s Pole & Aerial Fitness owner said: “Men are by nature stronger in the upper body so find a lot of the moves easier to perform than the females, but they do not do so well where pain threshold is concerned and the co-ordination for spins do not come so easily.”
Wolanski has been professionally training for over five years.
She said: “I was fortunate to represent Scotland at the World’s first Pole Cup in Brazil. Their government is backing the organisation and the event will now be held annually in different countries across the globe.”
Events such as this return pole fitness to its roots of Mallakhamb the traditional Indian sport, dating back to the 12th Century. It involves gymnastic moves being performed on a vertical wooden pole or rope.
Wolanski added: “People who automatically associate pole training with strip clubs should be aware that it never originated here. Pole originated from India as part of the Mallakhamb dance; then associated with the pagan festival. This was well before Western society created the strip club industry.”
“Even classes termed as pole dance are now unlikely to aid people who wish to join clubs. Classes can cause bruising and burns depending on what moves the individual is working on, something I can’t imagine managers at these clubs would want on their dancers.”
Bruises and burns seem inevitable in an exercise as high impact as pole fitness, something which would suggest it is not suitable for the young and elderly. But, never one to accept defeat, Wolanski disagrees.
“I can’t speak for all pole classes but my classes cater for all ages as there is no adult content. In fact juniors pick it up far easier as they don’t have the same fear factor as adults. Although, I don’t give certain moves to children as some techniques put a lot of pressure on elbow and knee joints.”
The ability to tailor work-outs to individuals’ needs enable people of any stamina or shape to practice pole fitness. While Wolanski says her class can practice in their tracksuits, more advanced moves require skin contact with the pole. The pros often strip down to their smalls, to allow grip with their stomach.
The idea of bearing all daunted student teacher Cara McKnight, as she joined Pole Physique on Argyle Street.
The 22-year-old from Dennistoun said: “I was so nervous I expected it to be a bunch of perfect-looking, stuck-up girls, but it’s not at all. There are girls of all shapes and sizes and everyone is made to feel welcome.”
She continued: “I would say my arms are a lot stronger now, as you’re holding your body weight, a lot of the moves tighten your tummy muscles too. It’s a good way to work out without realising you’re working out. Though I don’t think young girls should be doing it, as I guess it is a form of sexy dance.”
Despite dividing opinion there is no denying the growing popularity of pole classes, X – Pole statistics claim every 12 hours, somewhere in the world a pole studio is opened, or added to a business.
See Miriam’s pole fitness demonstration via her Facebook page.