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By Alessandra Izzo aka Ally Cat

katie coatesNews has just broken that Olympic Pole Dancing ambassador Katie Coates, through her passionate and relentless campaigning for the last decade, has managed to get pole dancing recognised as an “official” sport by the Global Association of International Sports Federation (GAISF). This takes us one step closer to acceptance as an Olympic sport, which has always been her endgame.

While this is wonderful news for many in the community, we are undoubtedly divided on this issue. My own personal views aside, I wanted to open a discussion on why many polers believe inclusion of pole dancing in the Olympics could have a negative impact on our sport, but also explore the flip side – why many are thrilled at the news.

To start with, let’s look at the arguments in favor of campaigning for inclusion in the Olympics.

These seem to revolve mainly around publicising and “legitimising” pole dancing. However this could be broken into a couple of discussions:

By “legitimising” the sport, we break down some of the barriers to entry that many may have, meaning more business for studios, who are the lifeblood of our community

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For me, this is the strongest argument in favour of the campaign. Leaving aside “winning medals” (which I think is possibly the least valuable argument in this discussion), when I speak to studio owners, the ever-present concern is getting new beginners in their doors.

Disregarding the fact that some would say there is an over-supply problem with studio numbers vs. local population, few would argue the fact that many of their potential target market do not consider pole “on their radar” because of their misinterpretation around what pole is.

While athletes on the Olympic stage may not be a true representation of pole, they do provide a very obvious alternative aesthetic to the typical “sexy” style that is still most commonly associated with pole dancing in the muggle world.

It is also true that “pole athletics” do not feature at all on the timetable of many studios, however making something “mainstream” would undoubtedly attract more numbers to try it out.

By putting pole on the Olympic stage, we would cease to experience the subtle (or not so subtle) judgments around the activity, which drive sensationalist stories such as the tired old “kids on pole” debates

kids on pole

 

While many of us don’t suffer from our friends and family’s judgment over our chosen passion, it’s clear that some of us still do. Almost every second day I see discussions in pole dancing chat groups about boyfriends, family, acquaintances and others influential in a poler’s social circles, having insulted or abused that poler simply because she has shared an image or video of herself pole dancing.

By offering a clear alternative perspective to the ingrained prejudices of society at large, we could vastly improve the poling experience of so many of our community members.

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Some of the perspectives put forward by people opposed to the Olympic dream include the following:

If there were a larger demand for pole classes, we could see places like large gym chains offering pole fitness

ymca gyms

There is no doubt truth in this concern, and probably the argument that speaks to me most in the “no” camp. Of course pole already exists in gyms, however at this point it is most commonly found in small boutique gyms where the pole area is run more like a pole studio, rather than part of the broader “group fitness” program.

The reason this could be problematic, for me mostly boils down to safety concerns. It’s no secret I am critical of pole teachers who don’t have relevant qualifications and the hard truth is that many non-qualified teacher exist now, even without expansion into places like your local YMCA.

However, at least with a dedicated pole studio the focus is more likely to be on creating a safe and fun learning environment. In the gym paradigm (where the approach is maximum turnover for minimal outlay), pole is more likely to be taught by existing gym instructors who are “trained” in a syllabus, without having an understanding of the unique mechanics behind pole and how that can so easily lend itself to injuries.

For me, safety is an absolute can of worms already – bringing others into the mix who have little to no foundation in the community seems like a recipe for disaster.

Besides this, learning pole from someone who doesn’t even do much pole would do very little to spark the passion in prospective students – which undermines the whole idea of getting more people to do it in the first place.

Our “underground” and “NON-MAINSTREAM” status is what made pole appealing in the first place

I have heard people say this and to be honest I think it’s a self-centred argument. Pole can be anything you want it to be, regardless of who around you is doing it, whether it’s “mainstream” or not.

“Pole Fitness” as it would appear in the Olympics wouldn’t accurately represent our sport and our art

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This is a legitimate argument, because it absolutely wouldn’t. The Olympics is no place for the kooky creativity of some Pole Theatre routines, or the glorious peacocking of Miss Pole Dance. While providing an alternative “athletic” vision might be appealing for some, others might find it boring, unattainable and/or alienating.

Food for thought – would the increased coverage for pole caused by Olympic inclusion mean more people would spend the time finding out about the diversity of pole styles that exist? A YouTube search will never be short on providing a plethora of options!

 

The need to “legitimise” pole dancing could be seen as a cleansing of our strip club roots, which many may perceive as creating further stigma against strippers or stripper/exotic style pole

girl on pole

I have heard this as an argument, and again I’m not convinced by it. However, I can genuinely see both sides here.

I am indubitably in favor of exalting not just all styles, but all backgrounds of polers. As a former stripper and feminist, I consider the stigma around all forms of sex work and female sexual empowerment a relic of the misogynistic views and practices that have governed our society for millennia. It is both damaging and tiresome.

I believe discussions around “pole fitness” need to be very careful so as not to alienate or further stigmatise other forms of pole. Unfortunately the easy way around these discussions is for proponents of “pole fitness” to distance themselves from our stripper foremothers, and thus contribute to the problem.

I don’t believe the act of publicising “pole fitness” is in itself problematic, how it is handled would be the issue. Ultimately, it could be used as an opportunity to throw light on these discussions and actually help challenge these prejudices.

Ideally it would, but realistically it may not.

 

How about you?

What is your opinion? Do you think pole as an Olympic sport would be beneficial, or harmful to our community? If you feel strongly about this issue please comment below. I’m sure I haven’t covered all angles here, and maybe you disagree with some of the points I’ve made. Join the discussion!

 

About the Author

ALESSANDRA IZZO

AKA

ALLY CAT

ally apcAlly is a restless entrepreneur and passionate creative with a Piscean idealism and an aversion to authority. Having practiced as a Naturopath and Massage Therapist for 6 years, she abandoned clinic work in 2014 to spend more time doing what she loved most: working with her pole family at Bottoms Up! where she has taught since 2009, and instructing 80’s dance fitness under her own creation RAD Fitness

It didn’t take long before her creative juices led her to conjure up Pandemonium Events, and under this brand she has produced and co-ordinated ten pole, aerial and variety performance nights.

Besides teaching and producing, Ally loves being on stage. She competed in the Victorian Pole Championships in 2013 and then again in 2015 where she won the VPC Amateur division and went on to compete in the national finals. She also joined APDM Editor Jane Blair and their Bottoms Up! family in a Rocky Horror group performance at Encore! 2016 (nominated as a finalist for Best Group Performance at the Victorian Aerial Awards 2016) and competed in the Pro Comedy division of Pole Theatre in 2016 and 2017. She was also honoured to be awarded the 2016 Trailblazer of the Year award at the Victorian Aerial Awards. 

Having toyed with the idea of starting a pole magazine herself in 2011, Ally watched the growth of Australian Pole Dancers Magazine with much interest, contributing articles to the publication before formally becoming a partner in November 2015. She loves being part of APDM as she feels it is something that the entire pole community can use as a means of connecting with one another, learning from one another and growing together.

 

2 COMMENTS

  1. This is a really articulate and thought provoking article. It highlights many of the different and equally valid genres of pole. But at the end of the day market forces will prevail. There will probably always be people who want to specialise in athletic pole and people who prefer the erotic dance version. And both have their own following of spectators. Making pole an Olympic sport will bring it into people's sitting rooms and will bring more people into the market. Surely that is going to benefit everyone currently involved in the business?
    I am not trying to jump on your band waggon, Ally, but you might find this blog interesting
    http://www.activityretreats.com/blog/pole-as-an-olympic-sport-what-chance-has-the-uk
    It expresses another perspective on the whole Olympics debate.
    I think the age limit may have been reduced since I this was posted?

    • Hi Soozie, yes I agree with you. I wrote this article to explore both sides, but personally I think it's more likely to be positive than negative! Thanks for the article suggestion, it was interesting 🙂 xo

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