Get ready sports fans, pole dancers eye Olympics
For Japan’s Mai Sato, watching all those gold medals being
handed out in Vancouver is a bittersweet experience.
Sato knows the demands of being the best. In her world, blisters
are the rule, bruises a way of life. And the training – five hours
a day, five days a week.
The world champion in her sport, Sato is as athletic, dedicated
and competitive as the Olympians representing their nations. And
she thinks it’s high time her discipline, too, got some real
Still, pole dancing? In the Olympics?
Absolutely, say thousands of pole dancers and the rapidly
growing number of international and national federations
transforming what was once the exclusive property of strip clubs
and cheap bars into a respectable – and highly athletic –
“I could definitely see pole dancing in the Olympics,” said
Sato, who, a dancer since the age of three, out-twirled a bevy of
athletes from 11 countries at the second International Pole Dancing
Fitness Championships in Tokyo two months ago. “I would love to
win a gold medal.”
It’s admittedly a high bar.
Established sports such as squash and cricket have failed to
make the Olympic cut, baseball and softball were recently given the
ax, and the International Olympic Committee’s decision to end its
support of nonofficial, demonstration sports after the Summer Games
in 1992 has made gaining a foothold, the way judo and taekwondo
did, all that much harder.
Plus, pole dancing needs to first gain IOC recognition as a
sport – an uphill battle if ever there was one.
No matter, pole dance enthusiasts say.
Hong Kong-based Ania Przeplasko, the founder of the
International Pole Dancing Fitness Association, the sport’s
fledgling supervisory body, believes Olympic recognition is only a
matter of time and would be a victory for underappreciated sports
“There will be a day when the Olympics see pole dancing as a
sport,” she said. “The Olympic community needs to acknowledge the
number of people doing pole fitness now. We’re shooting for
That’s pretty ambitious.
It’s already too late for any new sports to be added to the
London Games. But the IOC decision to end its support of exhibition
sports after Barcelona has not completely closed the door on
Olympic hopefuls looking for a way to showcase their skills –
Beijing did it with the martial art wushu.
Pole dance advocates note that more unlikely sports have gotten
the IOC’s nod.
Tug of war, for example, was one of the early Olympic medal
contests. Equestrian events are in the Olympics, but who owns a
horse? Curling, which virtually no one pays any attention to in
non-Olympic years, has become one of the Winter Games’ biggest
darlings. Though they are not in the games, the IOC recognizes such
obscure sporting endeavors as boules, powerboating, bandy and
KT Coates, a leading pole dancer in Britain and director of
Vertical Dance, is leading the effort to make pole dancing a
“test” event in 2012 and foresees a more formal pitch in 2016,
when the Olympics go to Rio de Jeneiro.
“After a great deal of feedback from the pole dance community,
many of us have decided that it’s about time pole fitness is
recognized as a competitive sport, and what better way for
recognition than to be part of the 2012 Olympics held in London,”
Coates wrote in a petition she is readying for the London
“It has the wow factor,” she told The Associated Press in an
So far, the petition has about 4,000 signatures. Coates is
shooting for 5,000.
Iina Laatikainen, one of Finland’s top pole teachers, likens
pole dancing to skateboarding and snowboarding, two sports that
have gotten serious mainstream attention without completely
abandoning their rebellious roots.
“I think getting in the Olympics would be great for the
sport,” she said. “I actually see a lot of similarities in what
pole dancing is now for women with what skateboarding used to be
for men back in the day. Pole dancing is definitely on its way to
becoming a mainstream sport.”
But some pole dancers worry the sensual side of pole dancing,
and its counterculture undertones, would be destroyed in an effort
to clean it up for the Olympics. After all, would it really be the
same without stilettos, a boozy audience and a red-tinted
spotlight? And how do you score for sexiness?
Others fear old-school pole dancers would be eaten alive by
gymnasts, who could easily make the conversion from other
apparatuses, circus performers or Chinese acrobats, who have a long
tradition of performing aerial tricks.
“I don’t need to see pole dancing in the Olympics,” said Wendy
Traskos, co-founder of the U.S. Pole Dance Federation, which will
be hosting its annual U.S. championships next month. “I don’t
think this is necessarily the path that we need to take, as a
Traskos, a former competitive gymnast who lives in New York,
believes pole dancing needs to do more groundwork before it shoots
for the Olympics. In particular, scoring for competitions needs to
be standardized, she said, adding that the names of the techniques
vary among different clubs in different regions.
“I feel there are many small, tiny, steps that need to be taken
before this sport, or any sport, can get into the Olympics,” she
said. “We are on, like, tiny step 10 of 1,000.”
Nevertheless, she said pole dancers on the medal podium is not
as wild a dream as it might have seemed just five years ago.
“Now, when you talk about it you don’t hear ‘like a stripper’
anymore,” she said. “You hear things like, ‘Oh, my friend takes
classes for fitness’ or ‘Yes, I’ve seen it on Oprah.”’
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