Just over a year ago my best friend told me she would be trying out pole dancing as a hobby. It quickly became evident that this hobby was turning into a passion of hers and witnessing her overall growth as a result of it was inspiring to me.
Upon visiting her pole dancing studio and seeing her fellow amazing, strong and talented young women do their thing, I realised what a true artform this discipline is but how it is unfortunately still so stigmatised.
Curious to find out more, W24 chatted to Kathy Lee, founder of The Pole Project in Cape Town about all things pole and we were rather delighted to learn about her remarkable journey from corporate lawyer to pole dancer and studio owner.
"I started my pole journey as an overworked corporate lawyer, who took up pole dancing as a hobby and a form of exercise to escape from the humdrum of a rather stressful life and to flex my creative muscles," Kathy says.
"I was working in another large corporate firm and had hopes for a better work life balance in SA [after relocating from London]. When that didn’t materialise I saw the potential growth in opening my own pole studio in Cape Town. I decided that it was time for a change."
When she opened the pole dance studio it was the next adventure she wanted to explore as she wanted to share her love for this discipline.
"The combination of athletic skill and artistic expression makes it incomparable to any other form of dance or sport, and the mental and physical transformation one goes through with pole dancing never ceases to amaze me," she says.
Kathy believes that the reason pole dancing is so incredibly positive for so many people is because you are constantly challenging yourself and surprising yourself.
"You end up doing things with your body that you didn’t believe you were ever capable of, and this shift in thinking transfers to all aspects of life. You realise that pole dancing is not just a form of exercise or dance… it’s movement. Movement that feels good for your body, mind and soul," she says.
Kathy dispels some misconceptions about pole dancing
Myth: It’s always sexual.
"Pole dancing dates back to the 12th century in India and was originally practiced mostly by men, not women. The same goes for the “Chinese pole” used in circuses, dating back 1000 years ago. It migrated over to the U.S. when exotic dancers from the middle East would perform as part of the travelling circus. The sexual aspect of it was introduced when dancers would try to entice viewers to come see their shows by dancing erotically. It wasn’t until the 1980s that pole dancing became synonymous with bars and strip clubs," Kathy says.
"Today, while the exotic and sensual side of pole dancing still very much exists, it’s evolved into various genres and subdivisions. Want something more athletic? Do a fitness-focused pole dancing class. Looking for a workout that involves dance? There are classes that teach beautifully choreographed routines focusing on dance movements on and around the pole. Looking for something that can help you embrace your sexuality? There’s that, too!"
Myth: I’m not strong enough to start.
Kathy says, "That’s like saying “I’m too unfit to go to the gym”. You don’t have to be strong for pole dancing, you get strong from pole dancing!"
Myth: I’m not flexible enough.
"While being flexible certainly does help, again it is not a necessity to start pole dancing. Because pole dancing requires agility and dexterity for the manipulation of your body into various positions, it also helps you to build on your flexibility. You will also find that most pole dancers complement their pole training with regular stretch classes," she says.
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THE FUTURE OF POLE DANCING
Pole has been breaking into the fitness mainstream over the last decade. "There is nothing more telling of this transition than the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) awarding observer status to the International Pole Sports Federation (IPSF) in October 2017. Observer status is the first step international federations must achieve before becoming full GAISF members, which serves as a great boost for any sport hoping to one day land in the Olympics," Kathy shares.
"I think that pole becoming an Olympic category would be incredible for the future of pole, for obvious reasons. The more mainstream any activity becomes, the better the public’s understanding of what we do. But I would also like to see more public recognition and acceptance of not just the sporty side of pole, but also the other styles of pole – in particular, artistic and exotic."
Generally speaking, many of us still fight stereotypes, and still find ourselves justifying our passions to skeptics. Kathy doesn't believe society will ever stop associating pole with its strip club origins.However, she would like society to recognise and respect that this origin is only one element of its heritage, understand that pole has evolved to what it is today, and appreciate it for everything it has to offer i.e. female empowerment, athletic artistry, and the mind-blowing, superhuman strength of its performers.
"I think a lot of people have the conception that pole dancing is only for young, skinny women, or that only strippers or women desperately seeking to please men did it. Then you try it and realise that there is no stereotypical pole dancer. There are mums, college students, doctors, actors, accountants, personal trainers, and any other profession under the sun. Of all ages, cultures, ethnicities, shapes and sizes. And ask any pole dancer about what they love about pole dancing, and one of the first things they will say is 'community'," Kathy says.
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"Because what we do is still considered taboo by many, there is a unique closeness that bonds us together. Also, because we all know how challenging (and painful!) pole dancing can be, we support each other. We go crazy when someone finally nails a trick for the first time, we like and share each other’s videos, and we watch each other perform."
For those who want to take up the practice but might not feel sexy or empowered to do so, Kathy has this to say: "You will probably feel awkward, terrified, and a little out of place. But this is how everyone else in the room will also be feeling. You will feel challenged. Stimulated. Sore in muscles you never activated before. Bruised. But maybe you’ll have fun. Maybe this is what you need. Maybe you will build the closest friendships with the women around you. Maybe it will change your life. It certainly did change mine."
Would you try pole dancing? Let us know here.
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