The first records about exercises on a pole date back to 12th century India, when mallakhamb, a pole gymnastics, appeared as a form of training for wrestlers. The influence of Chinese pole dance, circus acrobatics derived from mallakhamb, played a large role in developing the current athletic form of pole dance, removing the connotations of the pole as a facet of night clubs.
Acrobatic pole dance has been gaining popularity as a sport and fitness activity around the world in the last ten years and the pole itself is now regarded to as a gymnastic apparatus. In Ukraine the notion "pole dance" includes pole sport, pole fitness, pole art and pole exotic, and their elements intertwine upon a personal choice or a school approach. The first pole dance school in Ukraine appeared only five years ago, but now there are more than 100 schools and each year their number increases. Supporting organizations have also been established, including the Ukrainian Pole Dance Sport Federation, the Ukrainian Association of Pole Dance and Fitness, the Kyiv Pole Dance Federation. Througout the year they organize and hold numerous contests and championship events around the country. Pole dance is developing rapidly, particularly in terms of acrobatic complexity. At the same time, anyone can practice it at any level of difficulty, and this is what makes it so popular.
This trending excercise requires a lot of efforts to master, it is beautiful but not vulgar and definitely does not intend any erotic implication. It is sport, art and dance - all in one. It has all the characteristics of sport: there are physical strength, balance and equilibrium, coordination and vestibular system excercises. The risks of injury are very low, much lower than in other sports of a similar kind. This fact makes exercising on a pole optimal from a medical point of view.
A few years ago a campaign was initiated by the International Pole Sports Federation to make it an Olympic sport. But before becoming an Olympic sport it has to be first officially recognized as a sport. In the former USSR it was officially recognized as a sport only in Kyrgyzstan. Attempts to register it as such in Ukraine have been impeded by beaurocracy and a lack of unity between the growing number of schools and the absence of unified standards: the same elements are named in a different way in different schools, new elements constantly appear. According to Olga Polishchuk, the founder of "Free Lady", the first pole dance school in Ukraine and the founder of the Ukrainian Association of Pole Dance and Fitness, standardization would be one of the benefits of official recognizing pole dance as sport. Not only would there be unified standards for elements, but also qualification requirements and licensing for instructors. There would also be systematized championships.
While this means additional responsibility for those in the sport, she says, it will be beneficial for the development of pole dance in Ukraine as a strong and artistic sport and may help to overcome the biased public perception of it. While there are no unified standards, there are the same strict rules when it comes to the costumes of contestants, as well as their moves: there should be no intended eroticism. If the rules are violated, a person is disqualified from a contest or championship. It is important to note, that the costumes for training are required to open a lot of skin - it is needed for clinging with a pole.
Pole dance classes attract men and women from very different ages, occupations and backgrounds (bankers, doctors, programmers, government employees, students). Some male participants consider it an alternative to a weight lifting; they say it develops the muscular system without creating excessive muscular weight. Women find it is beneficial for their physical fitness, and many said it also helps them to realize an increased sense of femininity and self-confidence. Many note that it boosts their self-confidence. In light of the conservative Soviet past, when a number of (often unreasonable) limitations became deeply embedded in the people's mentality, getting involved with pole dance - an activity "with a reputation" - and practicing it solely for fitness can be considered for many women an attempt to liberate themselves from the latent subconscious soviet mentality and move towards overcoming certain female complexes associated with it.
The parents, whose children study pole dance, acknowledge sometimes facing unfavorable attitudes from people, but they believe that it is nothing more than a type of gymnastics and a very good physical development.
Every sport goes through the sensibility of people to innovations and the initial denial of novelty. It is especially relevant for entirely new types of sports. But innovations always lead to progressiveness and trending. As the Head of the Commission on development of infrastructure of non-Olympic sports of the Sports Committee of Ukraine Yuri Zozulia says, the more people engage in sports, the better it is for the health of the nation as a whole. As he notes, due to the aging of population in Ukraine, by 2025 there will be 140 retired people for every 100 working people and only about 30% of working people will be healthy, while 70% will require medical assistance. No economic system can endure such scenario. Efforts must be made to improve the health of Ukraine’s working citizens.
Bias-driven stereotypes must not prevail over rationality: the form of sport is irrelevant, especially when the health and productivity of a nation is at stake. In the modern world sport has to compete with serious, unhealthy temptations, so it would be important to support not only conventional, traditional sports, which rarely attract the attention of young people, but also trending new sports which have much wider appeal. Pole dance is only one of them, but it is also the most controversial one, due to its public perception. The world is constantly changing, and, as Mr. Zozulia notes, healthy changes in living habits can lead to improvement of a nation and it would be reasonable to make use of these changes. When the advantages are taken into consideration, it's irrational to be constricted by stereotypes.
Therefore the interesting phenomenon of pole dance as a sport deserves more attention than it is given now.
© Zoya Shu, 2013