By Karina Gerry and Kian McKoy
A bouncy pop beat filled the brightly lit dance studio at Be Wild Fitness in Lake Ronkonkoma, NY, as a foreign-accented student, clad in all-black workout gear diligently wiped down her pole to practice her routine for the studio’s first anniversary showcase on Nov. 10. She opted to remain anonymous like many other students, as the topic of pole dancing can be embarrassing because of the association to strippers and strip clubs. However, as the Be Wild Fitness showcase approaches, the students are changing this perspective on Long Island, with weekly pole fitness classes.
Pole dancers can be considered athletes solely based on the physical demands of the activity, Alexander Carrington, a fitness coach said. Pole dancing or pole is not about strippers or strip clubs.
“We are having a student and instructor showcase where students have put together routines, and they’ll be showcasing them for family, friends and fellow Be Wild students,” Jacky Weiner, owner and instructor at the studio said.
Pole has grown into a high-level competitive sport worldwide, with athletes from all over vying to take home the gold at the Pole Sport World Championship, Nov. 17 in Fort Lauderdale, hosted by the Pole Sport & Art World Federation.
“It takes more core, shoulder, leg and wrist strength than you can imagine,” Theana Antoniou, a pole student at Be Wild Fitness said. “It’s basically vertical gymnastics that results in many bruises and honestly, painful pinches and pressure points.”
The athleticism it takes to master pole is one of the factors driving a recent push to have pole dancing recognized in the Olympics according to The Global Association of International Sports Federation (GAISF) guidelines.
GAISF officially named pole as a provisionally recognized sport and granted the activity’s international governing federation “observer status” – the first step to becoming an Olympic sport.
“Prior to pole I played volleyball and ran track…It’s very much a sport if not more so…[dancers] set goals for themselves and they put their body through rigorous training to achieve those goals,” Weiner said.
As pole athletes strive for Olympic status, gaining positive public opinion continues to be a challenge.
“I find it ironic and saddening that one of the frequent daggers thrown at pole’s Olympic viability is the “appropriateness” of our art and sport,” Lara Michaels, the 2017 United States Pole Dance Champion said. “It seems clear to me that when an entire organization can turn a blind eye to hundreds of victims of sexual abuse over decades, that it’s not the apparatus or method of athletic performance that is the problem.”
People who practice pole whether it’s to compete or for exercise, often face backlash when the public becomes of aware of their participation in the activity. This past August, Kandice Mason, a sixth-grade teacher from North Carolina was suspended from her job after a video was found on her private Facebook account. Weiner said this case has made some of her students cautious when it comes to the classes.
“There are people who remain censored about it for professional reasons,” Weiner said. “I do have students who ask people to respect their privacy and not post public pictures of them doing [pole].”
Women empowerment groups such as CommUnity Empowerment Services, a community organization working to deconstruct rape culture, maintain that pole dancing is a way to empower women and a great outlet for creative expression.
“[Pole dancing] shows that women are feeling more free to express themselves in ways that used to be deemed as inappropriate,” Dena Spanos, creator of CommUnity Empowerment Services said. “Progress is subjective, but I definitely believe this is a huge step in the right direction for women’s empowerment.”
Looking at pole from a purely fitness standpoint, the health benefits are hard to miss.
“Pole dancing involves aerobic exercise which helps to strengthen the respiratory and cardiovascular systems,” Mark Miller, certified personal trainer and co-owner of MonkFit, said “Aerobic exercise is also important for the release of feel-good hormones which could combat stress, anxiety and depression like endorphins, endocannabinoids and epinephrine.”
Experienced pole dancers are bona fide athletes with incredible core and upper body strength comparable to that of a gymnast, Miller said.
Pole remains a top choice for creative expression and confidence building from participants.
“Pole dancing is just like any other form of artistic expression,” Weiner said. “My goal for the studio is to not only provide women and men alike a safe space to feel confident and own their strength in a very intimate environment but also I’d love to push students who are capable and interested to do competitions.”
Ahead of their anniversary showcase this weekend, Be Wild will still host their weekly classes and even offers a discount for first time attendees.