By Si Thu Tun
Through the windows of a corner unit of a big shopping mall in Beijing, many women can be seen pole dancing inside. Pole dancing is now increasingly considered a type of sport in China. Today, many pole dancing studios and classes can be found in almost every major city in China.
Sport or Entertainment?
When Westerners hear the term “pole dancing,” they usually think of skimpily dressed girls sliding down poles in a night club or bar. But as a discipline, pole dancing is one of the best activities for physical fitness and health. It combines aerobatics, gymnastics and ballet. Perhaps the women best known for pole dancing became so attractive because of the activity. Before engaging in actual pole dancing, practitioners must gradually build up strength and endurance to ensure they can grip the pole while maintaining smooth spins.
Pole dancing first emerged in North America and later spread to Australia and Russia. Even in some developed countries, pole dancing is still not recognized as a formal type of dance. It took some time for people to change their perceptions of pole dancing, and eventually it has become more widely accepted. The same situation is happening in China. Among certain age groups in China, pole dancing isn’t considered a form of sport or exercise. However, for many young women eager to experience a new freedom and express femininity while getting in shape, pole dancing has become an attractive escape from the cubicle life that so many live.
China’s Pole Dancing King
An episode of the 1.3 Billion series of China Global Television Network (CGTN) is devoted to the biography of China’s most famous pole dancer, Sun Jian. Sun taught himself and became a professional pole dancer. He has claimed many titles and international medals over the years. Previously, he was a construction worker earning a meager salary. He spent all his free time at an internet café where he found out about pole dancing and decided to try it. His worksite happened to have many poles that could be used. He tried many times but failed and injured himself seriously. After three months of intensive practice, he won a gold medal in a competition in Guangzhou.
Before winning the gold, he overcame major resistance from his family, especially from his father who considered the activity a disgrace to the family and required Sun to return home. However, Sun still insisted on the new hobby, which eventually led to great success. Currently, Sun Jian operates a chain of pole dancing studios across the country filled with dancers ranging from age 9 to 50. But he thinks pole dancing can be practiced until 80.
Bodynation is a pole dancing studio based in Beijing. It was cofounded by Jennifer and Lily, two mothers in their midthirties. As they were pursuing their passion, it transformed into a business. Usually, pole dancing classes are costly as are accessories such as apparel. Nevertheless, more classes and professional trainers are still needed to meet the high demand in China.
Jennifer, who attended college in Canada, started pole dancing before living in North America. Over time, her pole dancing skills improved so dramatically that her friends encouraged her to become an instructor. She became the first in China to receive pole dance instructor certification. The students poured in so fast that she decided to open her own studio with her close friend Lilly soon after returning from abroad.
“This is high-intensity training for all muscle groups,” beams Jennifer. “And at the same time, it’s a form of dance. So, many girls feel free to do what they want—some beautiful pole moves, some charming stretches and smooth lines—the whole activity is about creativity and possibilities.”
Lilly doesn’t teach classes but frequents the studio to attend classes on pole dancing and aerial yoga, which the studio also offers.
“This industry is new, and many people are just starting to realize that pole dancing isn’t just for strip clubs,” laughs Lilly. “It’s very healthy and athletic. Not only does it get you in better shape, it makes you much stronger. It’s easy to fall in love with this kind of dancing. So many women are quick to give it a try after seeing what we’re doing.”
“One of my friends has been practicing for three years,” reports Xiaotong, an HR employee of China Report Press. “When she introduced me to this sport, I was very interested. At least I thought I could try it to see how hard it was. Then, I just fell into it. I got really addicted. It helps you build muscle and maintain a very positive attitude about life. I think it’s a very healthy and active sport.”
China now has its own national pole dancing team and hosts local and international pole dancing competitions. Some Southeast Asian countries still cling to philosophies that women should hide in traditional lifestyles. It will be something to behold when they too eventually embrace pole dancing as a mainstream activity.