Pole dance is a form of performance art, historically associated with strip clubs and night clubs, which combines dance and acrobatics centered on a vertical burlesque pole. This art form has recently gained popularity as a form of fitness and mainstream entertainment, practised by many enthusiasts in gyms and in dedicated dance studios. A wide range of amateur and professional competitions are held in many countries around the world.
Since the mid 2000s, promoters of pole dance fitness competitions have been trying to change peoples’ perception of pole dance and to promote it as a non-sexual form of dance and acrobatics. Pole dance has furthermore been influenced by Chinese pole, a form of acrobatics that is most notably performed in circus. Competitive pole dance competitions are by and large performed in a non-prurient fashion which combines a range of dance styles and/or gymnastics.
Pole dance requires significant strength, flexibility and endurance. Pole dance proper involves athletic moves such as climbs, spins, and body inversions using the limbs to grip. Upper body and core strength are required to attain proficiency, and rigorous training is necessary.
The use of pole for exercise has been traced back at least eight hundred years to the traditional Indian sport of mallakhamb, which utilizes principles of endurance and strength using a wooden pole, wider in diameter than a modern standard pole. The Chinese pole, originating in India, uses two poles on which men would perform “gravity defying tricks” as they leap from pole to pole, at approximately twenty feet in the air.
In the 1920s, traveling circuses and sideshows would utilize pole dancing with a pole in the middle of a tent. Eventually the pole dancing moved from tents to bars, and combined with burlesque dance. The earliest recorded pole dance was in 1968 with a performance by Belle Jangles at Mugwump Strip Club in Oregon.  Since the 1980s, the dance pole has increasingly been incorporated into striptease routines, and Go-Go or lap dancing, first in Canada and then in the United States. In the 1990s, pole dancing commenced to be taught as an art and use in fitness exercises. Since then, pole dancing classes have become a popular form of recreational and competitive sport. K.T. Coates, a famed competitive pole dancer, and the International Pole Sport Federation, are currently promoting a campaign to include competitive pole dance in the Olympics in 2016. Numerous competitions exist, including the World Pole Sport Championship, U.S. Pole Federation Championship, and the International Pole Masters Cup Championship.
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The standard dance pole typically consists of a hollow steel or brass pole with a circular cross section, running from floor to ceiling. Affixing at the ceiling gives more stability, but is not always realized, especially at night clubs with higher ceilings or at transportable devices. In the United States, the diameter is usually 5 cm (2 inches), allowing it to be gripped comfortably with one hand. In Asia, the diameter is usually 4.5 cm or less..
Another common pole is the spinning pole; as its name suggests, it is similar to a standard static dance pole but spins using ball bearings. The purpose of this pole is to create better momentum and higher rates of speed to have a greater dramatic effect.
Home versions are available which may be used for practice or aerobic exercise. Materials of which poles are made include polished stainless steel, chromed steel, brass, powder coating, and titanium coating. Poles can also be made of acrylic glass which allows use of "glow poles" with LED lighting effects. Each material surface has different gripping properties. Polished steel is one of the slickest materials, which provides for a faster, more fluid dance, and is great for spins; brass poles provide more friction, allowing for an easier hold during inverts and poses and creating a slow, sensual dance style. Products such as chalk, "Dry Hands" or "iTac" may be used to help "stick" to the pole.
Poles can be held in place by using threading to brace them against a ceiling joist. There are also poles that do not require construction and can be set up using tension. Stationary, rotating, and switchable versions are available.
There are now poles available for use in clubs that provide visual effects. These poles are made with clear plastics and contain water, glitter, and special reflective materials which stand out when used in conjunction with strobe lighting, as well as lighting hidden in their base joists. However, these poles are not favorable to a dancer wanting to achieve better pole tricks, as they bend slightly and have a tendency to create a friction burn when slid down with any sort of speed.
Pole dance as exercise
Pole dancing has gained popularity as a form of exercise with increased awareness of the benefits to general strength and fitness. These forms of exercise increases core and general body strength by using the body itself as resistance, while toning the body as a whole. A typical pole dance exercise regimen in class begins with strength training, dance-based moves, squats, push-ups, and sit-ups and gradually works its way up to the spins, climbs and inversions which are the métier of the exercise.> Pole dancing is also generally reported by its schools to be empowering for women in terms of building self-confidence, in terms of which its erotic components are still the subject of some controversy. Some feminists argue that sexualized dancing of this kind cannot be seen as empowering because the choice to participate is not made in freedom from constraining power structures, especially given the performative aspect of many classes.
Although some will compare pole dancing to Mallakhamb, an Indian men's sport with no erotic component, many will disagree that they are the same lineage of "pole dance."
A growing number of men are incorporating pole dancing into their fitness programmes. In Australia, the UK and the US, dance studios are beginning to offer classes just for men. And in China, 2007's National Pole Dancing competition was won by a man. Dance instructor Zhang Peng, 23, beat a host of women dancers to the top prize.
Pole dance competitions
Pole dance competitions began in the United States with the Deja Vu chain of strip clubs in 1991 with an event called the Po'Lympics which was held annually throughout the decade. These competitions led to the creation of numerous other competitions that followed, both in the strip club industry and fitness.
A wide range of amateur and professional competitions are held in many countries around the world. They are strictly non-nude and focus on pole dance as an athletic and artistic form of dance and fitness. The first "Miss Pole Dance World" competition was held in November 2005 in Amsterdam and Elena Gibson from the UK won the championship. The following day Elena was disqualified by the organizer John Benner amongst much controversy and the title went to the runner up Reiko Suemune from Japan.
A group of advocates even pushed for pole dance to be represented as a test event in the 2012 London Olympics. However, since this is a relatively new trend, there is no standardized scoring for competitions and technique descriptions vary among clubs in different regions.
In Australia, "Miss Pole Dance Australia" was started in 2005. Felix Cane took home the first prize in the latest 2010 (named Miss Pole Dance 2011—for the coming year) competition. The first US Pole Dance Federation (USPDF) Championship was held on March 19, 2009, first place was taken by Jenyne Butterfly. The 2010 winner of "Miss Pole Dance Canada" was Crystal Lai, who went on to win the People's Choice Award at the worlds.
World Pole Sport & Fitness 2009 (World Pole Dance) is a competition opened to all nationalities and all continents. The 2009 event in Jamaica was won by Cane, and she successfully defended her title in the 2010 Swiss event. For 2011 the event took place in Budapest and was won by Belarusan Alesia Vazmitsel.
Pole dance in the media
Pole dancing, which has been featured on Desperate Housewives and The View, like other exercise trends has its share of celebrity following. Jennifer Love Hewitt had a short pole dancing stint in an episode of "Ghost Whisperer". Actress Sheila Kelley was so taken with the sport, which she learned whilst preparing for her role in Dancing at the Blue Iguana, that she launched her own pole-based exercise programme.
Pole dance has its own media, the magazines Free Spin, Pole Spin and Vertical.
In the video game Bayonetta the titular character use pole dancing in means to advance to the next area or combat her foes. In the ending credit to the game, she is seen dancing on the pole. If you get a platinum award you'll hear her say "I should have been a pole dancer".
Pole dancing has been incorporated in the performances of some K-Pop Idols. Ga-In of the Brown Eyed Girls included a few shots of her pole dancing in the music video of her 2012 solo single 피어나 (Bloom). Girl group After School used pole dancing extensively as part of the dance routine for their 2013 song 첫사랑 (First Love).
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