A day after the last show of “Sweet Charity,” cast member Ciara Sotto-Oconer immediately flung herself onto a steel pole, swinging and hanging upside down, supporting her body weight with just a leg wrapped around it.
“I want to share it as a sport, not as sensual dancing. As a fitness activity, everybody should try it,” she said. “Pole dancing has been associated with gentlemen’s clubs and strip joints. I make sure I don’t do the pole act in a slutty way.”
The singer-actress had undergone a teacher training workshop at Movement Studio under a foreign teacher. With her ballet background, Sotto-Oconer was quick study. After two years of training, pole fitness has improved her stamina to meet the rigors of musical theater.
“I can sing and dance for longer hours without getting tired. My body has less fat. It’s leaner and stronger. When I did kickboxing, I could not lift my body weight. With pole fitness, I can do it.”
For cross training, bikram yoga aligns her spine and improves her flexibility to prepare her for the tricks on the pole.
“As a pole athlete she’s very graceful,” said international pole fitness champion and educator Evelyn Tan. “When Ciara performs more challenging stuff, she’s extremely fit. She can lift herself with just her arms on the pole. She has very good coordination and stability to hold her poses when she’s upside down.”
Tan, who is Malaysian, represents Viva Vertical, a leading Asian school that offers dance pole fitness instructor certification from the Arts Association of Asia and the International Pole Dance Fitness Association, governing bodies that provide guidelines in teaching this sport.
“Pole dancing is associated with sexy dance. I never use the term ‘pole dancing’ because, ultimately, we don’t really dance, which is an artistic expression. Although the pole act can be made into a dance, it’s an exercise. It’s like doing climbing drills, but instead of a rope, I use a pole. If I want to do pull-up drills, I use a vertical pole instead of the high bar,” said Tan.
She explained that pole fitness has categories. Acropole consists of acrobatics in a controlled manner on the pole. Exotic dancing incorporates different dance styles.
“You don’t focus on pulling up and conditioning. The emphasis is on posture, style, showmanship, fluidity of movements around the pole. Exotic doesn’t mean erotic.”
Pole fitness is performed on a vertical rod made of rubber, brass or stainless steel. Although the standard height in most studios is nine feet, more then 20 feet is ideal for competition or performance.
“Pole fitness is not the safest thing to do. Sometimes you’re inverted. One wrong move and you could slip and fall,” cautioned Tan. Hence, a teaching syllabus sets a benchmark for excellence in technique and enables students to learn the tricks progressively and safely.
The objective of the syllabus is to control the quality of teaching and to prevent injuries while training.
“You don’t push yourself beyond your limit or execute movements that could possibly harm you or others around you,” said Tan.
Beginners can wear gym leggings and tank tops, but as they progress, they will need less clothing.
“In the intermediate level, you are required to hold your body on the pole using your thighs and your armpit. They need to be exposed because the skin friction provides a better grip,” said Tan.
“You start with learning how to grasp the pole correctly. Then, you have to orientate yourself with holding onto something while you’re moving, which is not what you do in daily life. You learn weight shifting and placement. This creates more body awareness.”
Beginners also learn how to place their shoulders so that the back muscles support them.
“People think we use the arms more, but it’s more of the back muscles that are engaged in the pulling and lifting. In pole fitness, you have to lift yourself a lot. The core stabilizes certain movements and keeps your posture aligned. Our syllabus takes the whole body approach. We provide conditioning exercises in every single class so the students can have extra benefits,” said Tan.
Common injuries occur in the shoulder, wrists and elbows. There are warm-up exercises to strengthen the joints and muscles to prevent injuries. Students do squats, lunges, weight resistance with bottled water and push-ups, pull-ups and for cardiovascular conditioning, burpees, a combination of a push-up, a tuck and jump.
Ma. Myla “Lala” Dinglasan, the founder of Movement Dance Studio, got exposed to pole fitness at an American strip joint. She was amazed at seeing strippers who climbed to the top of the pole, loosened their grip, plunged toward the floor and ended with a split. Sometimes, they plummeted head first and stopped themselves right before they smacked the stage.
With the popularity of pole fitness in the country, Dinglasan wants to raise the standards by getting her teachers accredited so they can teach the international syllabus.
“Teachers must know the right technique and execution. They have to know how to do first aid. That way, we provide a safe environment for people to learn,” she said.
(Movement Dance Studios are located at Union Bank Plaza, Onyx St. cor Meralco Avenue, Pasig Cit, tel. 944-8075, 384-4974 or +63923-7050663 or 2/f, Three Salcedo Place Condominium, 123 Tordesillas St. Salcedo, Makati City, tel. 3926220)