"No thongs required"

Pole dancing is becoming the latest fitness craze worldwide. But what is it? An erotic dance or a sport?

When people think of pole dancing, the immediate image that comes to mind is that of an exotic busty blond strapping her half naked body around a pole. When people think of pole dancing, they associate it with the city nightlife and sleazy bars. What they do not associate it with is women of any shape or age doing acrobatics on a pole in the middle of the day.
That is however what happens every day at Zea Lann’s Polz Apart fitness club, based in Poole, as pole dancing becomes increasingly popular everywhere.
Zea, who is also a trained dancer in ballet and modern jazz, founder of Polz Apart, insists she never intended to start a company of her own. But what started off as her teaching a couple of her friends how to pole dance in her living room became recurrent busy and loud nights with an increasing number of students. As it was becoming too loud for her four daughters and her husband, she decided to re-mortgage the house and build a studio in the garden. It was an instant hit, and as more and more women found out that pole dancing was a bit more than just a sexy dance, Zea saw more and more students booking classes.

Zea Lann doing an invert in her Ferndown studio

Pole fitness

“To start off with I had three students, and now we have about three hundred and fifty” Zea says, during a break in rehearsals for an upcoming show at her Ferndown studio. In fact, the business has been so popular Zea has had to open four different studios in Ferndown, Parkstone, Wareham and at Bournemouth University. But why has pole dancing become so popular when just years ago it was frowned upon.
An answer to that question might just be those few words printed on every flyer Zea hands out to promote her company “Fun, and no high heels or thongs in sight”. Reading this instantly dissipates any fear students have of being depicted as strippers and they are relieved they don’t have to surrender to the pole dancer cliché. Jane Tran, one of the six instructors at Polz Apart insists that pole dancing is not about sexy dances at all.
“We’re trying to promote the fitness factor, that’s why in our classes we wear trainers, we don’t wear high heels, we don’t do it in our thongs because we are not a strip club, we are a fitness based club”, Jane, 32, insists. She goes on to say that this sport is for everyone, and the club boasts students raging from 16 years old to an impressive 62 years old.

Not all about seduction

Surprisingly enough, when students are asked why they chose pole dancing as a hobby, none of them answer “to seduce a man”. Tony Taylor, a 21 year old finance services student from Bournemouth University, says she chose this sport “ because I already did yoga and went to the gym so wanted to try something a bit different”.
Instructor Jane Tran herself wanted to lose some weight after her second pregnancy, and after trying out belly dancing, line dancing and yoga, all of which she didn’t like, tried pole dancing and was “completely hooked”.
When Zea Lann and Jane are asked what their partners think of their activity, they laugh it off. Zea says it gets boring : “When you first start you’re shit, and by the time you get good they’re so fed up with you going “oh my god you have to see this new move” it becomes all the same really”. She even adds her husband wasn’t too impressed with the couple of black eyes she gave him while trying on new moves on the pole.
Jane’s partner on the other hand thought, like most people, that he was going to get the royal treatment with a sultry routine. But when she started performing, he didn’t quite get what he was expecting : “when I did perform for him and did an invert he was like oh my god what are you doing, be careful!” she laughs.

Jane Tran doing the butterfly in the Parkstone studio

Pole Olympics

He indeed would have been rightly worried at seeing petite Jane swing herself upside down on the pole. Most students who take up pole dancing do not in fact realise how much exercise and technique is required.
“I was surprised by how much fitness was involved”, confirms Toni Taylor, who started taking classes last September. Because pole dancers need to emphasize their upper body strengh and flexibility to work around the pole, Jane gets irritated when her hobby is compared to lap dancing: “Dancing and pole fitness are two different elements”.
She interrupts the interview as boss Zea enters the Parkstone studio to criticise how other pole dancing clubs do not teach lessons appropriately. “They don’t use the pole!” cries Jane “they just do sexy moves around it”, and she goes on to demonstrate exaggerated leg and bum moves. It is a recurrent conversation amongst the pole dancing community that stripping is wrongly associated to what they do. Though the dance acquired its seedy image when it became popular in strip clubs in Canada in the 1980s, it is believed it took its origins in the 12th Century dance May Pole, which represented innocence and fertility. In recent years however it has evolved into an art form that involves much agility and athleticism. It has even now been introduced by The Cirque du Soleil as a Chinese pole act performed by a single male acrobat. To most of the pole dancing community pole dancing remains a fitness based sport, and a worldwide movement has even started to make pole dancing a discipline in the 2012 London Olympics.

Male pole dancing

The discipline is being so much dissociated from sex that even men are taking classes, following the likes of Jude Law, who tried out pole dancing with co-star Natalie Portman on the set of Closer. Several pole dancing clubs are springing up in the country and worldwide, offering male pole dancing lessons which they describe as the “latest craze in men’s fitness”. It is not of course taught in a seductive way, and men, who generally have more upper body strength then women, enjoy the challenges of climbing up the pole and doing aerial manoeuvres. When Zea Lann and her team inaugurated her studio in Bournemouth University, her husband and a few male friends themselves took a spin on the poles. Zea however admits she prefers men to stick to more masculine sports as pole dancing is “too feminine” for them, and it might take a bit of time for women to get accustomed to the idea of male pole dancers.But while some barriers such as gender might not be broken just yet, pole dancing is fast becoming a hobby and sport accessible to everyone, disregarding weight, age or looks. And when Jane is asked why she loves to teach it, she replies “It’s not just about pole dancing it’s about building people’s confidence, making new friends, getting people together. Pole dancing is definitely for everyone”.

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