It isn’t something that we are proud of but it is a fact that pole dancing has been a feature of gentlemen’s clubs and girlie bars, abetting an industry that has objectified and demeaned women for the pleasure of men.
A little over a decade ago, however, pole dancing began reinventing itself as a form of fitness after some people came to recognise how physically demanding it is to pole dance. And, when removed from the salacious environment of strip clubs, pole dancing – or rather the athleticism involved to execute it – does indeed provide the means to hone and maintain the body at the highest levels of fitness.
Katie Coates, president of the International Pole Sports Federation, subsequently lobbied for pole dancing to be recognised as a sport in 2006. She succeeded, but did not stop there. In 2019, pole dancing officially became an Olympic sport.
Turn Of Events
This was why I found myself trying to convince the AUGUSTMAN team to give pole dancing a shot. I wanted to find out for myself what it really takes to pole dance. More pertinently, I wanted to know how effective it is in helping men to achieve their fitness goals. I wasn’t sure if the guys would go for it though. Most men still associate it with exotic dancers and risqué undertakings.
To my surprise, some of them were rather intrigued and game to attend a trial class at Slap Dance Studio (SDS).
“It looks fun. And I really want to know how it can benefit my body,” said Bryan Ho, our fashion intern. Bryan plays basketball on most weekends and maintains a decent physique by occasionally working out at the gym. Other than that, he hardly engages in other forms of physical activity. He conceded that collecting and returning clothes and accessories for photo shoots don’t count as weightlifting.
Our other intern Basil Sim was also uncharacteristically enthusiastic about giving it a shot. For someone who spends much of his time playing computer games and the occasional soccer match, and the rest of it at church, pole dancing didn’t seem like something he would be open to do, or so I thought.
“I can be interested in anything that makes me stronger or helps me learn something new outside the gym,” Basil said, seemingly oblivious to the negative image that pole dancing has had in the past. So it was decided then, and we registered for the trial class with SDS.
At Slap Dance Studio, the AUGUSTMAN team was joined by Ryan Chen, a professional trainer who agreed to help us assess the benefits of pole dancing. A few SDS students also attended the session with us.
With clean white walls, parquet floors and natural light, the space appeared more zen than I had expected. It would look exactly like a yoga studio if you took away the metal poles and a shoe rack of “hooker” heels located by the entrance.
“Are we supposed to be wearing those?” I asked, pointing at the rack of impossibly high women’s platform shoes.
“You could, but I don’t think we have the right sizes,” Jasmine Han replied with a wink and a laugh. The co-founder of SDS proceeded to assert that pole dancing is regarded as a sport at the studio, and that the shoes are retained as a fun element in some classes, for students who see exotic dancing as a form of female empowerment. She also introduced the instructors Jacques Lim and Angelene Wong.
As it wasn’t their first time, the SDS students were naturally more fluid in executing the movements led by Wong. But our boys weren’t too shoddy for absolute beginners. Basil and writer Lester Tan displayed their agility as they climbed the pole and attempted poses. Because of his sweaty palms, Bryan had some difficulty holding some of the poses, but otherwise did well too. Chen succeeded with all the poses, but not without perspiring buckets in spite of the strong air conditioning in the studio. He found it that strenuous.
Lim, who took over the lesson, directed us to perfect our form with a final burst of energy. After that, everyone heaved a sigh of relief and fell into a heap from sheer exhaustion.
A Student’s Perspective
We were quite impressed with Ong Teng Sin, one of SDS’ regular students. While others were struggling, he flipped around the pole with ease. “Prior to this, I’d done weightlifting, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and obstacle course races,” he explained.
“I find pole dancing to be something that’s completely different though,” said the dental surgeon who has been pole dancing for about a year. He initially tried it out of curiosity and never expected to fall in love with the sport the way that he did.
“Gender is not an issue at all when it comes to fitness. Having tried a whole bunch of workouts as I’ve shared earlier, I realised that they’re generally static and boring. Pole dancing is a lot more dynamic and it challenges the body by engaging forgotten muscles. On top of flexibility, pole dancing has also helped me to improve on my athleticism, grace and agility. I could probably try other dance classes, but this one speaks to me,” he said.
Dance Dance Evolution
It seems like many other men are also adopting a similar mindset as Ong. Lim, who has been pole dancing for close to nine years, revealed that the numbers, although small, is growing.
“When pole dancing was introduced in the fitness scene, it was rare to find men in studios, especially in Singapore. Based on my observation, the population of male clients in the circle has gone up by five to eight per cent,” shared Lim.
“I’m glad that the numbers are growing,” added Han. “Not because it indicates that the business is doing well, but because it shows that Singaporean men today are not as narrow-minded as compared to five or 10 years ago. The fitness scene is growing rapidly and everyone is finding new things to do. I feel that this has somehow encouraged everyone to think out of the box.”
“The only thing that can be disappointing is that men usually just tap and go. Whatever class it is that they’ve tried, be it pole dancing or HIIT, they tend move on without truly committing or even giving it a proper chance,” Lim shared his observation. “Of course, those who truly feel for the sport, such as [Ong], will be inclined to perfect the craft. But that’s up to the individual.”
After the class, our pole dance virgins revealed that they enjoyed the session more than they had expected to, and would likely return for more. For Bryan and Basil, the appeal was in the fun factor. Chen relished the challenge. “It’s a fantastic way to train because you’re improving on your strength while getting a good full body workout. It’s like calisthenics with a touch of grace. I’ve been coaching for almost a decade, yet this class taught me that my body is capable of doing so much more,” he said. But how can men ease pole dancing into their fitness routine? “I think pole dancing can be a good supplement to gym workouts,” he suggested. “It’s actually rather fun.”
Slap Dance Studio is at 144 Robinson Road, 17-02 Robinson Square; slap.sg