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Sunday May 19, 2013

Pole survivor

Pole dancing has a reputation of being a sleazy activity, but since the mid 2000s, the dance form has emerged as a legitimate fitness routine that proves to be quite a he-man workout!

TALK of pole dancing often revolves around images of scantily-clad women who routinely wind and grind their bodies to loud, thumping music.

While it has inherited a sleazy image from its days of being a popular form of strip club entertainment, the dance form has since emerged as a legitimate dance and fitness routine from the mid 2000s.

Pole dance is a form of performance arts that combines gymnastics and dance. A large part of it involves maneuvering oneself around a solid, vertical pole.

Today, it is practised by many dance enthusiasts in gyms and in dedicated dance studios around the globe.

To the gawking layman, pole dancers may appear to be no more than a bunch of feisty hard-bodied honeys noted for their blazing sex appeal. In reality, these women are a select breed of highly-skilled athletes who can likely kick your behind, easily.

Pole dancing makes an excellent aerobic and anaerobic workout that requires significant strength, flexibility and endurance to perform. Athletic and power-packed moves such as climbs, spins and body inversions using the limbs to grip make up some of its basic movements. Upper body and core strength are required to attain proficiency and mastery in the sports. Obviously, one has to train long and very hard for it.

Bruises that resemble “leopard prints” are typical markings on a pole dancer’s body.

I was both nervous and excited before my first pole dancing adventure at Bobbi’s Pole Studio in Kuala Lumpur.

You see, I have never been quite adept at choreography (I am actually very “kayu”), and my colleague (and fellow fitness columnist/dance guru) Revathi has been poking fun at my lack of coordination skills for like, forever!

So walking into the dimly-lit dance studio, and a pole dancing studio packed with super-hot dance enthusiasts, no less, did make me feel like a bumbling neanderthal.

True enough, it turned out to be a complete fish-out-of-water experience.

One would think that a regular weight-training regime would have prepared me with sufficient physical strength to work a pole. I did manage to hoist myself up, all right, but when asked to perform a “spin”, I swear, I was so awkward and ungraceful that I must have looked like I was clinging onto the pole for dear life, rather than dancing with it.

At one point, I spun the pole so hard while gripping onto it, I actually got a little dizzy.

On top of that, the cold hard metal scraping against my bare legs felt like sandpaper.

So it was really quite amazing to watch Porshe, the sturdy guest instructor of the night, bust out her dance routine with such ease.

Porche, who is the Miss Pole Dance Australia 2013 winner, worked the pole like it was second nature, climbing, spinning and gliding off it, all with the grace of a ballerina, but with the strength of a seasoned weight-lifter!

She even had time to pose atop the pole, where this writer had been struggling to stay up mid-way. And she did it all in sky-high heels!

The studio’s director and instructor Maple Loo explains that besides helping one get into tip-top shape, pole dancing helps to promote a sense of confidence and liberation in her students. It also allows women to unleash their inner seductress, she adds.

“Which woman doesn’t want to feel sexy, right?” she asks.

Loo, a successful businesswoman and a restauranteur, was one of the pioneers to open a pole dancing studio, a franchise from Australia. Many will also recognise her as the stylist judge on 8TV’s Showdown 2010.

She has been performing since she was 13 years of age and now calls pole dancing her current “obsession”.

Her foray into the dance form began some seven years ago, soon after she received word from a Burmese monk that she would someday be flying and would be the first in Malaysia to do so. Next thing she knew, she came across a Singaporean pole-dancing programme on air. Intrigued, she took a trip down to Singapore for her first pole dancing class.

Loo was immediately hooked. She even bought a pole back and started practising at home. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Today, Bobbi Pole Studios has approximately 300 students. Fees are RM550 per person per term (for eight classes in two months) and students are aged between 18 and 53. Loo plans to open a second studio in the near future as the response to pole dancing fitness has been overwhelming.

While it has been traditionally practised by women, pole dancing is not strictly for females, says Loo. But sorry guys, classes at Bobbi’s are currently for women only.

Loo adds that contrary to popular belief, most of her students are working professionals who have taken up pole dancing as a hobby.

“A lot of them are actually bankers. Some do it to surprise their husbands or their boyfriends, while some just enjoy doing it for themselves.”

After awhile, and in spite of my earlier reservations, I actually found myself moving to the rhythm and was even shaking my tush at the end of it.

Who knows? Maybe if I stick to the pole long enough, I might actually turn into a sizzling hard-bodied honey myself (Hey, one can dream), or even consider a pole dancing career... I can be the pole!

For more information on Bobbi’s Pole studio, check out bobbispolestudio.com.au or facebook.com/pages/Bobbis-Pole-Studio-Malaysia.

> Fiona Ho is a certified personal trainer and a fitness enthusiast with a penchant for lifting heavy objects. She continues to hit the weights despite being told that she is looking manlier by the day.


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