Once hidden in risqué clubs, pole dancing has transcended to high class fitness studios in recent years and now, it’s officially recognised as a sport.
The Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) has granted the International Pole Sports Federation (IPSF) “observer status”, meaning it is now recognised as a competitive, sporting body.
The move also means Hertfordshire-based Katie Coates, founder of the IPSF, has moved one step closer to her goal of seeing pole dancing included in the Olympics.
According to The Times, Coates has been campaigning for pole dancing to receive sporting recognition since 2006 and has already met with the International Olympic Committee, describing “encouraging” results.
But not everyone has welcomed the news. While advocates of pole dancing say it is a physically demanding pastime deserving of sporting recognition, others say its break into the mainstream further normalises the objectification of women.
We asked two women on either side of the debate to share their views.
For: ‘Pole dancing takes skill and strength.’
“I started pole dancing 17 years ago. A friend of mine was working in a strip club and she quit her job. Within six weeks of her leaving the club we noticed quite a big change in her shape physically. She’d put on a bit of weight, she wasn’t as toned, and I questioned her about what she was doing in the club that was keeping her fit. She showed me some of her pole dancing moves and I was like: ‘wow, that’s amazing.’ The two of us set up some classes to teach pole dancing to anyone and everyone.
“Pole dancing makes me feel incredibly empowered. It boosts me physically and mentally. You get to exceed your own expectations: you look at a move and think ‘I’ll never be able to do that’, but then you do achieve it and move onto the next move. The goalposts keep moving but the rewards are amazing.
“I welcome the move to class pole dancing as a sport because anything that gives it more recognition is wonderful. I think people sometimes look at pole dancers and think anyone could do it, but actually, pole can be really, really hard. Even with basic level routines, it’s a real challenge to make them look fluid and effortless.
“Like many aerial arts, pole often involves lifting your whole body weight. You’re inverting, turning yourself upside down, putting your hips above your head. You’re linking moves and learning new routines, getting your heart rate up and having a cardio workout in the process. If pole dancing was included in the Olympics it would bring the sport to a wider audience and perhaps help people appreciate the art, the skill and the strength of it.
“I don’t think pole dancing objectifies women. Most people who pole dance choose to do it for themselves. People are free to make their own choices and I teach men, women and kids. Teachers allow each individual to embrace their own style, it’s the opposite of objectifying, it’s empowering. It’s giving people the opportunity to be themselves.
“We see a lot of people getting into pole with a lack of confidence, but if they can discover that confidence and experience a sense of achievement in class, they can utilise it outside of class. In this day and age, anything that helps people physically and mentally has to be a good thing.”
Against: ‘Pole dancing is at its core, sexist.’
Caitlin Roper, spokesperson for Collective Shout, a women’s rights initiative dedicated to ending the objectification of women and sexualisation of girls.
“While some advocate legitimising pole dancing as a sport, it’s impossible to separate pole dancing from its association with the sex industry. Despite this, it is increasingly being marketed as a fun, sexy way of getting fit, with a number of studios even offering classes for kids (read: girls).
“The natural progression as these girls become young women includes lap dancing and strip classes. This is the mainstreaming of sex industry practices. Sure, pole dancing may be great for fitness, but do we really need to look to the sex industry for fitness endeavours?
“Pole dancing is at its core sexist. It is an activity typically performed in strip clubs by nearly naked women for the enjoyment of fully-clothed men. Women are reduced to sexual entertainment, to objects for men’s gratification.
“Proponents of pole-dancing argue it promotes sexual expression and empowerment, but sexualising women and girls does not advance the status of women, nor is it the means to any meaningful power. If pole dancing was truly empowering, we would see men lining up to have a go.
“I don’t doubt some women enjoy pole dancing. The fact that some women choose to participate does not make it ‘feminist’ or good for women. Legitimising pole dancing only serves to reinforce women’s second-class status.
“A piece on Men’s Fitness reveals how many men perceive pole dancing as a means of sexual entertainment for their benefit, saying: ‘…the verdict from the IOC on its future will be sure to have many people on the edge of their seats… and possibly unable to get up from them.’
“As Ryan Gosling’s character pointed out in Crazy, Stupid, Love: ‘The war between the sexes is over. We won the second women started doing pole dancing for exercise.’”
What do you think? Should pole dancing become an Olympic sport? Tweet your thoughts to @huffpolifestyle.