Chris Rock has a joke about how his only goal as a father is to keep his daughter “off the pole.” So when a friend of mine began pole dancing as exercise I became curious. Many African-American women have turned to the pole for fitness and careers — not as strippers but as pole exercise instructors, choreographers, and performers.
“I have been pole dancing for a year and a half now. I find that it is an amazing combination of exercise and art,” says Makeda Smith, owner of public relations agency Jazzmyne PR. She tells us she started dancing as a form of exercise. “As a publicist working in the [stressful] entertainment industry, it affords me a great opportunity to unwind and relax on very deep levels. As exercise, it pushes me in ways I never thought imaginable. As an art form, it keeps me feeling youthful, vibrant and in tune with the full essence of my femininity.”
We talked to two pole instructors to find out more. Kelly Yvonne, one of the leading choreographers in the pole dance and fitness industry, owns two businesses, Girl Next Door — a pole dance soirée — and The Choreography House pole dance studio. In 2012 she was named “Choreographer of the Year” by the International Pole Dance Fitness Association.
L.A.-based Phoenix Kazree, a former gymnast and trained dancer, is the 2011 California Pole Dance Champion, the 2011 Pole Dancing Universe Amateur Champion, and the two-time second place winner of the 2011 and 2012 American Pole Fitness Championships. When she’s not performing and competing internationally, she choreographs, and trains other pole dancers.
Madame Noire: Why is pole fitness good exercise?
Kelly Yvonne: It combines the best parts of an effective workout regime into one activity: weight training and cardio fitness.
Phoenix Kazree: First of all, pole is fun. The only way to be successful in any exercise program is if you enjoy it. That is the only way to be consistent. It doesn’t matter how good any exercise is for you. If you don’t continue to do it.
MN: What are the benefits?
KY: The weight training challenges your muscles to develop in a variety of ways. Over time, this developed strength provides opportunities to execute more difficult movement and this process is repeated over the course of your pole fitness training. Similarly, the cardio fitness component of the exercise allows your body to burn calories and fat. The combined result of pole fitness is weight loss and a toned physique.
PZ: Pole builds strength, stamina, and flexibility. Those are only the physical benefits. Many polers, including myself, find it therapeutic for the mind, body, and soul.
MN: Do you think there is still a misconception about pole dancing?
KY: I think there is still a misconception because it is so closely associated with unapologetic displays of female sexuality. Sexuality is not something that is explored in the public or academic arena on the same level that technology, science, entertainment and other subjects are. In addition, female sexuality is often viewed as taboo. As a result, the same misconceptions are still attached to pole dancing despite the fitness, artistic and entertainment avenues it explores.
PZ: However, I do think more people are beginning to understand that there can be athleticism and artistry involved. But, there are still polers who keep it secret from their spouses, friends, family, and coworkers.