Pole dancing as a modern sport connects the world of dance—jazz, ballet and cabaret—with acrobatic exercise. The pole serves as the base to perform different acrobatic acts of varying levels of difficulty. Regular exercise clothes are worn, not the sexy revealing garb many imagine, with the stomach exposed in order to allow for friction with the pole and to prevent slipping.
The athletic benefits are abound—they include developing strength, stamina, flexibility, coordination, and rhythm. Many women also report an improvement in their self-confidence, their physical feeling, and their femininity. In Israel, classes and private studios are taking the country by storm.
Elisa Palsakova, 26, opened her own private studio two years ago. She has been dancing and exercising since she was 5 years old—everything from acrobatics to ballet. In the last decade, she made aliyah from Moscow. She studied dance instruction and became certified as a personal trainer upon moving to Israel, and when she discovered pole dancing, she fell in love with it. She recently won first place in the International Pole Dance Fitness Association (IPDFA) competitions in Moscow and currently sits on panels of judges in competitions all over the word. She feels it is a great honor to sit amongst the world’s top athletes.
Another Israeli champion is Neta Lee Levy, 31, who won first place in the European championships in Holland. Levy has always participated in sports, and she currently studies at the Circus School in Israel, where she learned the trapeze. There, she began to teach herself pole dancing and developed her technique. Levy is the first person in Israel to perform in street festivals using a pole—as a performer, not a stripper. She opened a studio in Tel Aviv and describes the women who come there and exercise as women who are seeking to boost their self-confidence and sensuality.
The Combat Soldier
Alex Brodeski, 21, is a combat fitness instructor in the army who trains in Palsakova’s studio. “It is a physical activity that is different and challenging for the body using muscles that are not usually developed in other exercise classes,” he explains.
He says that the soldiers he trains know that he pole dances, and admits that he gets teased. “But they are jealous that I practice with girls and ask to come observe classes. I tell them that they can’t observe, they must participate, but they get cold feet.”
Boaz, 33, began training following his first visit to a strip club with his girlfriend. “I saw women dancing on poles and I was in shock at their acrobatic abilities. I wanted to learn the acrobatics. After three months of training, it improved my body image and self-image. My arm muscles are stronger and my stability improved. Yes, it is a sexy dance, but other forms of dance are sexy, too. I am not embarrassed by it.”
Bracha (name changed) usually wears a long skirt and a head covering and works in an ultra-Orthodox college. She is a religious woman, 53 years old, a wife and mother of three. But in the past year and a half, multiple times a week, she has been changing her conservative clothes into short exercise clothes. Along with her 17-year-old daughter Anat, she attends classes in Palsakova’s studio.
“When my daughter told me that she wants to learn pole dancing, I told her that she can only if I chaperone as her bodyguard because who knows who participates in such things. Once I entered the studio, I knew that I wanted to participate as well,” Bracha says.
In terms of dealing with revealing clothing, Bracha started with a t-shirt but says “it was difficult for me to do certain moves, so I started wearing a tank top and shorts.”
Bracha explains that it isn’t easy for her to pole dance with men in the room, but says she won’t quit for that reason. “If there are very sexy exercises, I do them minimally because I am here for the acrobatics and not the dance,” she says. Anat adds that they stand on opposite sides of the room from the men, and because the men are much older, it doesn’t bother her.
Bracha says her husband “understands that for us it is only a sport.”
“He is fine with it, but prefers that we keep it a secret from the community because we are religious,” she says.
“I beat him in hand wrestling, and we bought a pole for the house and he has already tried to swing on it,” Anat says of her father.
Bracha doesn’t tell most of her friends about her hobby “because I don’t want them to think bad things about me.” Anat says, “Some of my friends don’t talk to me anymore because of it, others are jealous but wouldn’t dare try, and others don’t even know.”
Bracha adds, “sometimes religious friends are surprised by my body so I tell them I simply ‘do sports’ without getting into detail.”
An Olympic sport?
Several organizations around the world are trying to recognize the sport, holding regional and worldwide competitions that judge the competitors on strength, flexibility and artistic expression. Points are given to competitors according to the level of difficulty, technique, choreography and stage presence. The smallest mistake in body movement may disqualify a competitor.
The British organization Vertical Dance even recently requested that the Olympic Committee recognize the sport as an official competing sport in the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Whether or not their efforts will be successful remains to be seen, but for Israelis—regardless of background—pole dancing is in.
This article was translated by JointMedia News Service from the Hebrew edition of Israel Hayom.