The Gothenburg Museum of Art had a huge rotating sculpture of a girl pole dancing at the entrance. This was the other nice surprise during my trip to Gothenburg. I should’ve stood next to it to show how big it was. I think this is one of the indicators that pole dancing is really becoming mainstream. The fact that this sculpture was placed at the entrance of an art museum challenges the perception of pole dancing being “low brow” art performance. Academically, from the angle of cultural studies, the dichotomy of low brow vs. high brow has pretty much been dismantled, as almost any form of art and cultural activity can be studied and is worthy of analysis. But pole dancing has a stigma of being a crass and sexually provoking performance. That side of the spectrum does exist, but the sexual and gender politics of pole dancing in modern life are much more complex to conveniently label it as such.
I learned a lot about pole dancing while doing online research on aerial. I don’t know if pole dancing is normally categorized as circus or aerial performance, but there are a lot of similarities between pole dancing and aerial performance as you need to engage upper body muscles to lift yourself up in the air. Plus, the amazing Felix Cane (twice pole world champion) performs for Cirque du Soleil, showing that pole dancing can be incorporated into circus performances.
Personally I’ve tried pole only once, and it was during our university’s Fresher’s week when the student clubs come out to promote. A guy (yes, a guy) from the pole dancing club showed me how to do a move locking your left armpit on the pole, placing the right arm lower on the pole to lift yourself up horizontally. (I’m not familiar with pole dancing moves at all, so if you know what this move is called do drop me a line.) I thought to myself: hey, I do aerial, I have a pretty strong upper body, this should be a piece of cake.
I was wrong. Even though I did manage to lift myself off the ground, I couldn’t do it horizontally. This is when I realised that even though you’re using the same muscles groups, due to the difference in equipment you probably have to engage them in slightly different ways.
I used to think… and forgive me for having thought so, that pole was easier because the pole is solid and therefore it seemed that you have more to grip on. I know, I know, I was WRONG. The more I read about it and the more videos I watched (that’s how I came across Felix Cane, Jenyne Butterfly, Natasha Wang and other super women), my perception towards pole dancing changed completely. There is a sexual aspect to pole dancing, but to over-emphasise it is to overlook the training and hard work these performers put into it. Performing pole outdoors in the summer is also a big challenge. I watched an interview where a performer from Taiwan (temperatures can get as high as 35 degrees in the summer) said the pole heats up so much, sometimes she can smell her skin burning slightly from the friction on the pole.
I also learned about the danger of pole when I became friends with a certified pole fitness instructor. She wore tracksuits to a gig rehearsal that had flashing lights… looking back she has no idea why she wore tracksuits to rehearse. She missed her grip when she got distracted by the lights, and the fall resulted in 13 stitches on her face. After three months of rest she got back on the pole and continued to teach and perform. Now she also trains on the silks and rope.
How can you not love aerial when you meet people like these?