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Pole dancing in Singapore is nothing like its sleazy past, okay?

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Tell the average Singaporean “pole dancing” and visions of women gyrating around the pole under dim lights might come to mind. But despite its past stripper associations, pole dance today looks completely different.

Just walk into a pole dance studio in Singapore. Fitness classes are held at all times of day, with an abundance of natural light, and not a neon sign board in sight. You won’t find just dodgy men who refuse to make eye contact, either. Instead, you’d see people of all shapes and sizes working up a sweat, doing gravity-defying tricks around the pole.

Look closer — he or she might be your PMEB colleague, neighbour or that friend who’s always saying they don’t have a shred of natural athleticism.

I myself stumbled into the world of pole dancing, and it was nothing like what it seemed on the surface and everything more.

Misconceptions of pole dancing

Me as I poled on after 8 weeks. | Photo: ach

As I made progress on the pole and posted some photos on the ‘gram, friends came up to me with all sorts of questions and misconceptions. Here are some which I’ll gladly debunk.

It’s not really a workout

Before pole, while I did the odd run or ClassPass gym sessions, I didn’t have a consistent exercise routine. That was until my girlfriends invited me on a pole trial session. I got hooked on this deceptively simple workout.

As I attended the trial, and then, a full 8-week course, I came to a realisation — pole is a lot harder than it looks, requiring everything from strength, flexibility and stamina.

For example, when my partner tagged along with me to watch a performance, he was awed by the acrobatics my fellow dancers executed. “That looks like a lot of core strength,” he exclaimed when one dancer went upside down in mid-air by pulling herself up with her bare hands.

Looking at impressive classmates

As I poled on, my own fitness improved by leaps and bounds. Before, I couldn’t do a push-up properly. Folks have said I look like a crippled worm even with my knees on the floor. But me today could do a “guy style” push-up in semi-correct form after learning to climb a pole and even inverting upside down on it. Best part is: I even saw my ab lines emerging beneath my previous belly consisting of bubble tea and late-night snacks.

Fun fact: 30 minutes of HIIT burns around 300 calories. That’s one Old Chang Kee curry puff. And advanced pole choreography can burn over 400 calories per session, so it’s far more than casually bobbing around the pole.

Pole dancing, unlike many types of exercise, also doesn’t feel like a chore. The musicality makes it feel like an artistic expression, and the ongoing challenge of mustering new tricks fuels me to continue working out even when I don’t feel like it, a.k.a everyday.

It’s a female-only sport

Wrong. For first mentions of “pole-related” sports, the honour goes to Chinese Pole in the 20th century and the Indian pole — or Mallakhamb ‑ that happened 800 years ago. Surprise, surprise: these were actually male-dominated, and were celebrated feats of athleticism.

In modern day times, you also have male pole dancers. Like at PXD Pole Studio, where pole dance champion and instructor Louis Sue performs tricks with power and has even appeared on Asia’s Got Talent. 

Pole dance champion Louis Sue | Image credit: @louis_pxdpolesg

Though the activity is still dominated by ladies in Singapore, more and more men are spinning up a storm, so don’t limit pole dancing to the sphere of a certain type of woman. Because honestly, whether you’re male or female, young or bold, slim or curvaceous, the pole doesn’t discriminate.

It’s so slutty

J. Lo mastering the pole dance for the movie Hustlers | Credits: Hustlers YouTube
Credits: Hustlers YouTube

Pole dance did evolve from the burlesque clubs and movies like Hustlers (wew, Jennifer Lopez) solidify it in the minds of many as a dance that’s hotter than scalding xiao long bao.

Even that sexy pole dance scene in Hustlers had tons of hard work behind it.

But today, there are also other styles like lyrical, urban dance, and even rock. Some studios even teach choreographies to the latest K-pop MVs (*cues Blackpink’s “How you like that”*).

As for the skimpy pole attire that raises eyebrows, the reason for that is hardly sexy — safety. More bare skin simply means added friction when it touches the pole. If you were clad in full on pants, the soft texture of your clothes could cause you to slip and fall off the pole like butter.

In some tricks, all of your body weight rests on your bare arm, thigh or legs, so you better make sure friction is your BFF.

Friction is everything when you’re upside down on the pole.

Of course, the more sensual form of pole dance has drawn flak for being overly provocative. But to folks who are wary of the judgement of others, you can choose to wear slightly more covered wear and go for less exotic forms of pole — after all, the more lyrical forms parallel gymnastics in terms of vibes and attire — and nobody is slut shaming the Olympic teams, are they?

You’re also not alone. Many ladies are often shy and apprehensive about revealing their belly fat or cellulite in their first few classes. However, as class progresses, they experience an almost phoenix-like transformation and focus more on what their body can do for them in terms of strength and endurance.

If you fearlessly embrace your sensuality, kudos to you for standing proud and for ignoring the slut shaming and naysayers!

Pro tip: If you are uncomfortable showing what you learnt in class on social media, make use of your “Close Friends” list on IG and limit it to a curated list. And maybe don’t include your boss.

Tips for trying out pole dance for the first time

If you, like me once, are poised on the precipice of a pole dance journey of your own, don’t worry about not being good enough or not having any dance or fitness background. We all had to start somewhere — and more often, the harshest judgments arise from ourselves!

Moreover, the pole community is highly supportive. Often, my classmates are the ones “spotting” me to make sure I don’t fall on the floor, or clap for me when I finally pull off a new pole trick. That’s even the case for perfect strangers — who knows, they might just turn into your friends along the way!

Another stumbling block: other people’s judgement. However, I realised this might be more in your head than you think — pole dance has become a mainstream fitness trend and is no longer just associated with seedy nightclubs.

Rather, more and more people are starting to see its artistry and strength in Singapore. As for those who are really judgemental, we have these words for them – thank you, next 😉

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