Pole dancing, pole fitness, pole, vertical fitness, they’re all pretty much a synonymous activity. But the term you use to label it carries more social implications than you might think. From seedy strip club pole dancing to impressively choreographed routines of professional pole fitness, it has sort of grown up a bit, attempting to eradicate its stigmatized past.
As you are probably thinking, pole fitness can’t possibly be classed as a sport, can it? Well for me, a sport is an activity that requires a large amount of skill and physical expenditure to execute and is often practised in a competition format. So I’d probably argue yes.
There is a growing trend of women taking part in instructed classes in order to lose a few pounds. As you can probably imagine, classes such as these would require a lot of strength to pull off the moves. And despite considerable outrage from (arguably more prudish) members of society, partakers of pole fitness are petitioning for its inclusion as a discipline in the Olympics. It would be set to include categories such as men’s, women’s and even double’s (I’d like to see how that works!).
There is even an established governing body, the International Pole Sports Federation (IPSF) that regulates the standards of practise and promotes it as a deserving athletic sport. It also holds the World Pole Sports Championships where their regulations clearly outline (amongst other things) the type of costumes permitted and even provides diagrams of the ideal shorts length. Violation of any of these guidelines results in disqualification. It also states clothing is to be no shorter than the typical sports shorts worn for other competitive sports. Sounds trivial, doesn’t it?
But this is where some people’s issues with pole lie. I have found it interesting when hearing people’s outrage at the type of costumes the competitors wear. ‘They’re too short’ or, ‘You can see their bum’, are some of the typical comments. Yet watch some footage of a Gymnastics championship and there are plenty of short shorts and bums on full display. However this is already an accepted practice by society. People will happily watch gymnasts dressed in leotards prance around in the floor event with a pink ribbon, without batting a hypocritical eyelid. So, why should it be so different for pole fitness?
Another issue many people have with pole is to do with the immoral connotations it carries. Children as young as eight-years-old (and probably even younger) are now taking pole fitness classes too. Which to some is a worrying thought. Are we sexualising children and pressuring them to grow up faster than they should? Are they losing their innocent childhood?
In some ways, yes. But I would probably say there is more harm to be done on social media sites. Here kids are exploiting themselves through revealing selfies, for all the wrong reasons. Yet in this case, children taking part in pole classes in a safe environment are none the wiser to its seedy past. They are unaware of its social associations that are so firmly embedded in our minds.
Admittedly, there is something a little discerning about the idea of an eight-year-old swinging around a pole with her bum in the air in particularly short shorts. But that’s only because I’ve grown up with the knowledge of the context in which the activity was usually performed. In fact, pole fitness no longer entirely implies what we think. It has become a fun, health benefiting activity.
To some it may be a surprise that men are taking an increasing interest in pole fitness – and not for the reasons we could assume! As we have already mentioned it takes a great amount of strength to accomplish the challenging moves involved. It would prove a great workout.
But for me the most impressive factor about this is that it’s now open to more men than ever before. It is an admirable attempt at breaking the gender stereotypes that our society has been so deeply dependent on. And by gender I mean socially constructed behaviours, rather than biologically determined sex.
I believe that we ‘perform’ gender – we ‘perform’ the expected activities and we dress and act the way we think we’re supposed to for our gender preference. Girls wear make-up, boys play football. That kind of thing. These ideologies are learnt through many years of reinforcement that gender roles have to be a certain way. But my point is that these norms can surely be unlearned. Gender is not two isolated categories of maleness and femaleness, it is very much on a spectrum. People have the choice to place themselves at any point on the spectrum.
In a usually female dominated field, male pole fitness participants are forcing norms to be unlearned. This is a first, yet small step, to putting an end to gender stereotypes.
I myself have never tried pole. However I see no reason as to why I wouldn’t give it a go given the opportunity. The problem lies with our society is that we are creatures of habit, and we don’t like what we don’t understand. There is more of an issue with people’s attitudes as opposed to the activity itself. We should take a fresh look at it.
I firmly agree that pole fitness should be seen as a respected sport. I think it would be a great way to keep fit. And it think it should be carried out by all ages. Perhaps if we were a little less closed-minded, it would be easier for us to accept what is at first glance a controversial subject and grow to become a less judgemental society.