Since 2006, IPSF President KT Coates has been trying to get the public to view pole dancing as an Olympic sport. In August 2016, IPSF submitted an application to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for official recognition.
In February, the organization met with the IOC, who confirmed it was “on the right track as a governing body of pole.” The IOC also deemed pole dance to be an appealing sport for youth and people of all different backgrounds, IPSF says.
But the initial feedback does not promise anything. The road to becoming IOC-recognized is arduous—sometimes even decades long. However, if the timeline of pole dance proves anything, it’s that little victories along the way matter.
Some believe in order for pole dancing to be successful in the Olympics, any sensual undertones need to be removed.
“I don’t really feel like [pole dancing] is going to be in the Olympics because of the stereotype. Unless it started off with males. If they brought in a men’s division on an apparatus but made it very diluted” the sport could have a better chance, Josiah “Badazz” Grant says.
“It would have to be very robotic, especially if females did it as well. It would just be very different and controlled because of society.”
But perhaps that doesn’t need to happen if enough people become familiar with pole dance beforehand. That’s why Annemarie Davies says UPA has become such a visual platform, so anyone can view pole athletes in action and support their endeavors. That’s also why she’s working on a documentary about the sport called Fistful of Steel, which should be completed by late 2018. (Hear more of Davies thoughts about UPA, the documentary, and where pole is headed in the future in our second interview below.)
ANNEMARIE DAVIES, FOUNDER AND CEO OF UNITED POLE ARTISTS. PHOTOS BY NINA REED AND 2014 SEXY BACK LONDON SHOWCASE, OBTAINED BY AND USED WITH PERMISSION FROM ANNEMARIE DAVIES, ALONG WITH VIDEOS.
“The ultimate goal with the pole dance industry is to get other companies outside of our industry interested because they have the most money,” Davies says. “Inside of our little industry we’re limited, and outside we’re limitless, so we need to get as many people watching things and doing things to grow our numbers.”
Victoria Holt is one aerialist who’s optimistic about outside brands backing pole dance as they have for sports like tennis or ballet.
“I hope to one day see ads like Nike having a pole dancer in them,” Holt says. “I don’t see why that can’t happen.”
Pole fitness has certainly become more standardized since its 1998 inception, but some who have witnessed it develop from its formative years to now believe there’s still room for advancement.
“I still think the pole world has areas of growth as far as their standardization with movement goes, and I know a lot of great organizations are trying to do that right now,” Shannon Gee says.
Plenty of training programs exist for potential pole-dance instructors, but some, like XPERT Pole & Aerial, are more accredited than others, and they’re not required to follow all of the same procedures. One might guess that if a teacher is improperly prepared to spot a frightened student who is inverted eight feet above the ground, the result could be ugly.
POLE DANCE FOR SOCIAL CHANGE
While the pole dance community can continue to make moves to develop inwardly, the sport’s overall future will rely heavily on society, and whether it can come to grips with its roots while recognizing its potential.
Some pole dancers, like Davies, find the fight to destigmatize the sport to be draining, but they keep at it because, to them, it’s much more than a self-serving effort.
“I don’t know if people really understand, but pole dancing is doing so much to affect social change,” Davies says. “It’s very in your face, it’s very empowering, it’s very much women saying, ‘I’m taking this for me now, and f*** you, I don’t care what you think,’ and that is creating social change. So I stick with it because I know that pole dancing is changing the world and will continue to do so.”
Some may forever dismiss pole dancing as an attention-seeking practice void of artistry and talent, but the growing pole community is proof that groups of all kinds are thinking otherwise. And if any sort of movement can shed light on the stripping industry—which is so easily disrespected and misunderstood—or encourage gender fluidity, sexual empowerment, positive body image and strength, then is it really something to shrug off? Or is it worth a second spin?