Pole Dancing: The new fitness craze with a not so sordid history.

anna butterflyPole dancing is widely known for its links with the sex industry. Its fitness benefits have led to an increase in the sport’s popularity, despite the stigmas it carries.


Contrary to popular belief, the origin of pole dancing dates back to the twelfth century with both Chinese Pole, and Pole Mallakhamb. The former was traditionally performed on rubber poles of up to ten feet in hight.

Credit: Kalpesh Jadhav

A Pole Mallakhamb performance. Credit: Kalpesh Jadhav

Vibrant full-body costumes were also  worn by the acrobats and circus professionals.

Pole Mallakhamb is a more male dominated sport, phrase literally translating to ‘pole wrestler’.


Men usually wearing only underwear, run up the wooden pole and perform somersaults and strength-based moves.

In recent years, there has been an increase in awareness of the sport aspect of pole dancing, with national and international competitions being held around the world every year. One of such events is the International Pole And Aerial Tournament.

Kat Bailey and Danielle Haynes are a pole dancing duo from Nottingham. They perform ‘doubles pole’ together, which combines even more strength and acrobatic skill than regular pole dancing, and a strong trust between partners.

The pair just returned from Beijing after being winning the Double’s Category at the 2015 IPAAT event. Kat discusses how seriously the sport is taken in China, and the lengths that some performers went to, in order to win.

“There is a lot of politics surrounding pole in China, and unfortunately there was a sabotage of the competition. The sound system went, music was sped up, props were stolen, and we do feel a little cheated, under the circumstances.”

The stigmas surrounding pole dancing are present due to a misunderstanding of the sport. Although it can be performed in a more sensual style, it requires a lot more skill than stripping, which is another thing altogether.

Emma Shirley is both a professional stripper and a pole fitness instructor, and she sees the ways in which strippers are stereotyped on a daily basis.

“Strippers are real people too, I think people forget that sometimes. People look down upon it because they associate stripping with exploitation which mostly isn’t the case.”

Emma has been teaching pole fitness for three years, and in that time, she has seen girls take up the sport for a variety of different reasons.

“Some of my students wanted to try something fun, something different; and something that tones your body. But I know that, all of them, whether they would admit it or not,  like the idea that it might make them a bit more sexy.”

Anna Iron X

Anna Mason’s ‘Iron X’ – A signature move in advanced pole dancing

One of Emma’s pole fitness students is Anna Mason, who is currently living in Spain and training for a Spanish national pole dancing competition, in the professional category.


The founder of the International Pole Dancing Fitness Association, Ania Przeplasko, has been fighting, amongst many others, for pole fitness or pole dancing to be included in the Olympics.

As media coverage of the sport increases through shows such as Britain’s Got Talent, there might just be hope for pole dancing to be recognised as a genuine, Olympic-worthy sport, rather than just a sultry striptease.

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