The Journal of Sport and Exercise Studies/Business, Politics and Sport 2011/Is Pole Dancing an Olympic Sport?
In recent years the popularity of pole dancing classes has sky rocketed, from celebrities such as Carmen Electra and Eva Longoria learning this art form, to classes in your local area offering this fitness revolution to your girl next door. There is no doubt that the popularity of Pole Dancing classes is on the increase, and is becoming a flourishing business in the fitness industry worldwide, offering fun and variety into any fitness routine. Very few people would know that there is a World Pole Sport Federation, which implements rules and regulations for running championships, and also talking of taking the sport to the Olympics.
With rising obesity levels in both children and adults, councils are banning studios from offering this type of fitness, due to the inappropriateness of the activity, but will allow fully naked lap dancing bars open (Barrett 2008), claiming children are already exposed to so many sexual images and there are many ways of keeping children fit other than pole dancing. This paper will discuss the increase in fitness professionals offering pole dancing for fitness around Australian and in Canberra, and the subsequent businesses that stem from these studios, such as apparel, equipment and pole dancing championships.
Because pole dancing is not recognised as a sport it raises questions over the legitimacy of competitions. Discussed in this paper will be some recent political issues, relating to race, gender, age and the public stigma that surrounds pole dancing and ultimately cause the US Embassy to refuse entry into the US to three Russian pole dancers competing in a competition (Pole Spin 2011).
It will also look into the requirements to become an Olympic sport, whether or not pole dancing should become the next Olympic sport.
- 1 Introduction
- 2 History of Pole Dancing
- 3 The Business of Pole Dancing for Fitness
- 4 Politics of the Pole
- 5 To be, or not to be, an Olympic Sport?
- 6 Conclusion
- 7 References
Imagine living next door to an Olympic Gold medalist, the same girl you used to swing around the clothes line with when you were growing up. For the past 6 years she has been working and training hard to reach the pinnacle in sport, Olympic gold. Imagine the joy and celebration in your street, when hosting a street party to watch her clinch the gold medal for Australia. Now I tell you the girl next door just became the first gold medalist at an Olympic competition in Pole Dancing.
History of Pole Dancing
Pole for fitness is not new
There are a number of examples of 'pole dancing' dating as far back as the 12th century such as, Chinese Pole a visual circus act, and Mallakhamb, a traditional Indian male sport, which requires gymnasts to perform tricks in concert on a vertical rope or pole.
While there were references to Mallakhamb in the 12th century, the sport did not become visible in practice until the 19th century, when it was revived by Balambhatta Dada Deodhar, a fitness instructor Traditional Indian Sports. It was introduced as a supporting exercise for wrestlers. Now 29 states in India compete at a national level.
It's thought the current pole dancing fitness craze has developed from both these art forms.
Pole Fitness v Pole Dancing
Although pole fitness has been around for hundreds of years, the pole dancing we're familiar with started in the 1920's in traveling fairs, entertaining small crowds in tents. The girls would dance suggestively around the tent pole.
Four different types of Pole have evolved.
- Strictly fitness pole, taught in studios, and involves no heels, no costumes, and is more like a gym circuit.
- Circus pole, is highly acrobatic, on purpose built poles, as seen in Cirque du Soleil.
- Dance based pole, involves acrobatic moves combined with ‘conventional dance’ moves such as Latin, jazz, hip-hop.
- Traditional sensual pole dancing (Australian Pole Dance 2011).
The Business of Pole Dancing for Fitness
Pole Dancing for Fitness in Canberra, Australia
The Australian Capital Pole Championships (2011) take place in November 2011 and offers the opportunity for professional and amateur men and women to compete and win prize money. The professional division is where instructors perform and have the chance to be entered into the semi finals of the International Pole Championships. The competition is judged by international performers.
There are a number of fitness studios in Canberra that offer pole dancing classes. One such studio is Fitsistas (2011) located in Braddon, Canberra.Fitsistas (2011) is the only studio in Canberra to employ qualified fitness instructors. Fitsistas (2011) is the ACT 2010 Personal Training Business of the year, and is the only pole dance studio in Australia to operate under the Fitness Industry Code of Practice (2011). They offer a variety of classes from beginners to advanced.
The pole dancing industry is not limited to studios offering classes. The companies that supply these studios with their poles are now selling to the general public, so people can practice at home. These companies sell other essentials like liquid chalk for grip on the pole. An Australian company Pole Physics offers a range of beauty products to help with grip. Much like any other sport, pole dancing has its own merchandise with stores offering pole dancing apparel
Pole Dancing for Fitness around the world
Over 50 Countries participate in pole dancing, whether it be offering classes or hosting championships. There is also the International Pole Dance Fitness Association that aims to promote pole dancing as a new form of fitness, and regulate and organise the World Championships.
Politics of the Pole
Definition of Politics
Politics is present in all aspects of our lives and is not limited to the art and science of government of the state. The Oxford Dictionary of Politics points out that "To say that an area of activity, like sport, the arts, or family life is not part of politics, or is ‘nothing to do with politics’, is to make a particular kind of political point about it, principally that it is not to be discussed on whatever is currently regarded as the political agenda."
When I mention pole dancing what's the first image that comes to mind? A seedy night club? Scantily clad girls with dollar bills being thrown at them?
Imagine this “sport” being taught to 7 year old girls and even offered as a school sport. Would you be outraged? Of course you would ... but what if your images are based on prejudice that influences your politics of the personal? (Sage 2010).
Sexuality, Fitness or Empowerment?
I signed up for pole dancing classes early in 2011. I wanted something that would challenge me. I heard that pole dancing was excellent strength training. Being a tomboy growing up playing rugby league and basketball, I was well out of my comfort zone. I had never done an ounce of dance or gymnastics when I was a child.
The morning after my first session, I could hardly move, I had discovered parts of my body I never knew I had, not to mention the bruises were worse than after any rugby match. But funnily enough I went back term after term. There is something about the thrill of completing a trick that you once thought impossible. Much like the thrill of riding that perfect wave.
I can notice the change pole dancing has had on my body. It's probably the best and most enjoyable core workout I have done. I have built definition and tone in my arms and back in a short period of time. Pole has given me confidence too. I have now moved up a level. I focus on putting moves together, and learning to invert on the pole.
Breaking the Stereotype
Recently Matty competed in Budapest in the double category for the World Pole Sport Fitness Championships. Matty, a nursing student, competed with Michelle Shimmy, a corporate lawyer turned pole dance instructor. The pair managed to clinch third spot, an amazing feat for any Aussie in the sporting world. Matty would like to see more male pole dancers as “It's such a great way to get strong and flexible. Being able to pull yourself up and hold your own body weight - there's nothing more masculine than that!(Keys 2011).
People with Disabilities
You may also be lead to believe that pole dancing does not cater for people with disabilities. The International Pole Championships includes a disabled division in its competitions. Eri Kamimoto from Japan who was born deaf, but still able to perform to music took out top place.
Race and Religion
Recently a British pole dancing instructor caused a stir in the media when she was invited to teach pole dancing in Saudi Arabia. Ironically, Saudi Arabia has no history of strip clubs, so pole dancing actually suffers less stereotyping than it does in the west (Pole Exercise 2011). The family that took part in the private lessons saw pole dancing more as a form of exercise.
When Governments Intervene
At a local level some councils in the United Kingdom have banned pole dancing classes at a time when obesity levels are increasing governments at all levels should be encouraging all forms of physical activity. Pole dancing is not recognised as a sport in Australia and this creates some economic difficulties for some studios when they're treated the same as large gym businesses (Elder 2011).
Pole dancing is not recognised internationally as a sport. This caused some problems for three Russian pole dancers that were invited to a pole dancing competition. Authorities assumed since the girls were traveling to the USA for a pole dancing competition they were strippers, and the competition was only a front for an illegal operation.
Kids on the Pole
Recently there was public outrage around the world when a British fitness studio started offering pole dancing classes to young girls and boys (Patrick 2011). Critics claim that girls are already subjected to too many sexual images, and there are other ways young children can get fit. Although councils have banned pole dancing studios they do licence fully nude lap dancing establishments (Barrett 2008). Supporters will tell you that it's an excellent core strength and overall fitness that is fun, and builds confidence, and the girls are not taught sexual moves.
While there are critics of children participating in pole dancing, there are some very successful young people involved in the sport. Pole dancing requires training, skill, and hard work to master (Pole Spin 2011). Children in playgrounds are natural pole dancers.
To be, or not to be, an Olympic Sport?
Requirements to become an Olympic sport
For a sport to be included into the Olympic program the International Olympic Committee (IOC) must determine whether the sport meets a range of criteria. The sport must be practiced globally and hold regular international competitions. The sport must have its own International Federation, that follows the Olympic Charter. The main issue is adhering to anti doping standards. The International Pole Dance Fitness Association holds numerous competitions throughout the year that has a number of athletes from all over the world compete.
While the IOC promotes sport for both men and women, there are two women only sports,namely rhythmic gymnastics and synchronized swimming. While many people would think pole dancing is only for women, I have shown that males compete on the world stage. There are many sports that meet the requirements for inclusion in the Olympics, but the IOC has capped the number of sports in Summer Olympics at 28 (Olympic Charter 2011).
Argument For Inclusion
If Rhythmic Gymnastics and Synchronized Swimming can do it.....
The aim of this paper is not to debate the merit of these Olympic sports but to show the similarities between the sports, and to eliminate the stigma attached to the sport of pole dancing.
Oona Kivela Routine Video Link
After watching Oona's routine you will see that these girls that compete at an elite level, are just as serious about their discipline as any other athlete. You can see that this form of pole dancing is truly a sport that takes an enormous amount of strength and control to execute moves. Whether or not you agree pole dancing should be in the Olympics; there is no denying the similarity between this performance and that of a gymnast or synchronized swimmer. You can see by Oona's reaction that she has dedicated herself to training and pushed through the burns, blisters and tears.
Argument Against Inclusion 
Lifestyle activities involve participation that strives to be unregulated and individualistic (Allison 2005). Participants of lifestyle sports would see their incorporation into the Olympics as selling out their alternative ideologies (Allison 2005). One snowboarder stated at the time of snowboarding’s inclusion into the Winter Olympics, “Success is measured in exhilaration not medals or money... How can we have a competition to measure who has the most fun?” (Allison 2005).
People would see the similarities with the rebellious culture of snowboarding and pole dancing. Many people participate in pole dancing for the fun of it, or the empowerment factor (Whitehead & Kurz 2009). If pole dancing was to be included it could lose its appeal as an alternative exercise.
It's hard to see how the IOC will be able to look beyond the stigma of pole dancing. The simple fact is, there will always be people that view pole dancing as an erotic dance that should be confined to strip clubs, not being beamed into our lounge rooms every four years.
By no means am I discrediting any Olympic sport. It takes an enormous amount of dedication, skill and strength to reach the pinnacle of any sport. It seems that we're easy to criticise unique sports that take an enormous amount of skill; skill most of would never have. Yet we easily praise people that kick a football, dribble a basketball, run around a track or swim 50 metres. Yes these athletes do it far better than any of us could dream, but we still reconginse their skills. Why is it we mock sports that most of us know we would never be able to do?
Whether you agree or disagree about the inclusion of pole dancing into the Olympics, I hope I have challenged you to question your original thoughts and stigma towards what is a flourishing business and increasingly becoming a popular fitness activity for men, women and children around the world.
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