Pole dancing has got a fresh new image, with fitness classes and circus-style shows. Stuart Anderson went to find out why it’s so popular.
Once confined to tacky nightspots, the art of pole dancing has moved into the mainstream.
The activity is now enjoyed by thousands of people across the Portsmouth area, drawn to the workout it involves and the challenges it presents.
Natalie Sabiston Cripps, of Paulsgrove, remembers how much the image of pole dancing has changed since she started 10 years ago.
‘Back then it was tough. Lots of people kept it a secret that they were doing it for fitness in their spare time.’
The 28-year-old says things are much different today.
‘I think everyone knows someone who does pole fitness.’
Natalie says she took up pole dancing on a whim after leaving college.
‘I wanted to try something new, so I found somewhere that did pole classes in Southampton.’
She says she took to it ‘like a duck to water’ and was passing on her skills to beginners within six months.
After a year, she had become an instructor and later established a pole dancing school in Havant before relocating to a larger studio in Leigh Park called Tiger Tone.
Classes offered vary from ‘stretch and flex’ and ‘junior cheerleading’ to ‘tiger tots circus’ and the ‘mummy and baby pole-dancing group’.
Natalie says it appeals to people of all ages.
‘For pole dancing there really is no cap. I’ve taught people in their late 60s and early 70s.
‘The tiger tots is like gym for tots but with a slightly more circus element. They can do that as young as they can walk.
‘The biggest challenge is getting people to feel confident that they are capable of doing it. Most people feel that they can’t so they wouldn’t try, but everyone has to start somewhere.’
And it’s not just women who are getting into pole dancing.
Natalie says that as well as the 200 women who take classes regularly at her studio, there is a small, but dedicated group of men who do it too.
‘Don’t get me wrong, it’s mostly women,’ she says. ‘But the men who do it love it.’
Natalie explains that it’s not all just about dancing around a pole. The studio can also teach you how to perform tricks suspended in an elevated hoop and do ‘aerial silks’.
Natalie says: ‘You can make really pretty shapes with the silks.’
‘You can also do some pretty dramatic drops and rolls.’
Natalie and her dancers perform at private functions and have taken to the stage at the Southsea Show and The News’s Hair and Beauty Awards.
She has also been appointed the ‘resident aerialist’ at Solent Forts, and has taken part in three shows at the newly-reopened No Man’s Fort.
This year, she will also perform at the Victorious Festival and the Portsmouth Summer Show.
Her troupe are putting on two pole-dancing shows today at The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre in Havant which are open to the public.
Natalie says: It’s an aerial variety show.
‘All the performers are amateurs who attend classes at Tiger Tone.
‘It’s a chance for them to showcase what they’ve learned.’
At a glance
Performance: The studio’s annual show, called Cirque du Pole, takes place today at 2pm and 7.30pm at The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre in Havant. Tickets are £12.99.
Where: Tiger Tone’s studio is at Unit 3, Dunsbury Business Centre, Fulflood Road, Havant, PO9 5AX
When: Lessons take place throughout the week, see the website for details.
Contact: Phone 07840 383 488, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Abi Nerwood says she got a few funny looks when she took up pole dancing eight years ago.
The 26-year-old from Havant remembers: ‘People were quite taken aback when I told them that I did it. They thought it was something a bit seedy.
‘It had a massive stigma back then, and people didn’t really understand how it was fitness-related.’
Abi says she had always liked dancing and wanted to try something new, so went along to her first pole-dancing class with her sister.
‘I fell in love with it straight way.
‘I think people have started to realise how strong you have to be and fit you have to be in order to do it. It’s a lot harder than most gym classes and you need a different kind of strength.’
Katie Osborne doesn’t fit the normal image of a pole dancer when she steps out on stage in Tiger Tone’s show.
The 24-year-old from Havant wears a grey wig, cardigan and has a bit of a hobble.
Katie plays the part of Gladys, the pole-dancing granny who enjoys knitting on the weekends.
‘We just thought it would be funny, says Katie. ‘No-one expects grannies to pole dance.’
Katie says the comedic character is a crowdpleaser and makes her feel more confident when performing.
‘It makes me less nervous and takes the edge off it and the audience really like the humorous side of it.
‘People are surprised by the moves that we can do.’
Katie says she started pole dancing about five years ago and has been taking it more seriously since she started coming to Tiger Tone in 2013.
A break from the norm
With her huge wig and party outfit, Kelly Price looks ready to step into a 1970s disco.
The 33-year-old from Gosport takes on the retro persona for Tiger Tone’s shows and says it’s a nice break from her daily routine.
Kelly says: ‘I do an office job so it’s really nice to come down and meet everyone and have a good laugh.
‘I’ve made a lot of new friends.’
Kelly, who started coming to the studio two years ago, says she does routines with another dancer Carly Darwin, and also performs on aerial hoops.
‘I do prefer hoop, but because my pole dancer does pole I’ve been doig that a lot,’ she says.
‘We have a pole partner so we’re not on our own doing it, it’s less pressure.’
Pole dancing dates back centuries
You might not think it, but pole dancing has surprisingly venerable origins.
Poles have been used for sport and exercise for more than 800 years in China and an ancient Indian sport which was called Mallakhamb.
It was common for travelling circuses and sideshows to feature a pole-dancing routine, and in the 1960s the activity moved from the big top to the nightclub, and the activity merged with burlesque.
Natalie says: ‘The chrome poles that we see today obviously originated in the strip clubs.
‘I’d say pole fitness started 15 years ago.
‘There was a lady called Fawnia Dietrich who started teaching pole dancing for fitness.
‘It was unheard of at the time, and it grew outwardly from there.’
Natalie says pole dancers wear little because bare skin is needed to grip the pole.
‘She says minor injuries are common.
‘You get bruising, slight pulled muscles and the odd graze, but it’s nothing that people can’t handle.
‘The maximum pole height here is 4.5m and when you’re doing aerial silks you can go up to 8m.
‘We’ve got crash mats.
‘We don’t allow people to go up any higher than what they are capable of.
‘Obviously, when you’re 8m high and you get into some kind of trouble the instructors can’t help you.’
‘I’m confident at the top’
Pole dancing started off as a way for Suzanne Dooley to make new friends when she moved to the area from Oxford about two years ago.
Suzanne, 28, who lives in Fratton, says: ‘I thought it looked like a bit of fun.
‘I love the amount of work that goes into the competitions and the shows, and the amount you have to push yourself.’
Suzanne started performing with the hoops about six months ago and also does the aerial ribbons and silks.
She says performing high off the ground is an adrenaline rush.
‘I’m quite confident with going straight to the top, it gives you that extra element of fear.
‘There’s obviously an element of fear when you’re really high up and you’re thinking: can I actually hold that move?
‘I love the feeling afterwards when you actually manage to do it and don’t break your neck at the end.’
Everyone wants a go
For Kerry Martin, conquering a new challenge is where the fun lies with pole dancing.
Kerry, 28, from Fratton, says: ‘If I’m set a challenge, like performing a new move, it’s a lot of fun.
‘If I’m not strong or flexible enough then I have to work on that to achieve it.
‘It gives you more fun and motivation the further you go.’
Kerry says she has recently mastered the ‘iron x’, a move where you hold your body out completely horizontally from the pole.
She started pole dancing about five years ago.
‘I used to work at a hair salon and my old boss dragged me along to a class.’