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Pole dance is a form of performance art, historically associated with strip clubs, which combines dance and acrobatics centered around a vertical pole. This art form has recently gained popularity as a form of fitness and mainstream entertainment, practised by many enthusiasts in gyms and in dedicated dance studios. A wide range of amateur and professional competitions are held in many countries around the world.
Since the mid 2000s, promoters of pole dance fitness competitions have been trying to change peoples' perception of pole dance and to promote it as a non-sexual form of dance and acrobatics. Pole dance has furthermore been influenced by Chinese pole, a form of acrobatics that is performed in cabaret, circus and stage performances in a non-erotic environment. Competitive pole dance competitions are by and large performed in a non-prurient fashion which combines a range of dance styles and/or gymnastics.
Pole dance requires significant strength, flexibility and endurance. In a commercial pseudo-erotic setting, however, pole dance is often performed less gymnastically and is used more as a prop in striptease, go-go or lap dancing, with the performer simply holding the pole or moving around it without performing acrobatics. Pole dance proper involves athletic moves such as climbs, spins, and body inversions using the limbs to grip. Upper body and core strength are required to attain proficiency, and rigorous training is necessary.
Pole dance is now regarded as a form of exercise which can be used as both an aerobic and anaerobic workout. Recognized schools and qualifications are now commonplace.
The use of a pole for exercise has been traced back at least eight hundred years to the traditional Indian sport of mallakhamb, which utilizes principles of endurance and strength using a wooden pole, wider in diameter than a modern standard pole. The Chinese pole, originating in India, uses two poles on which men would perform "gravity defying tricks" as they leap from pole to pole, at approximately twenty feet in the air.
In the 1920s, traveling circuses and sideshows would utilize pole dancing with a pole in the middle of a tent. Eventually the pole dancing moved from tents to bars, and combined with burlesque dance. Since the 1980s, the dance pole has increasingly been incorporated into striptease routines, and Go-Go or lap dancing, first in Canada and then in the United States. In the 1990s, pole dancing commenced to be taught as an art and use in fitness exercises. Since then, pole dancing classes have become a popular form of recreational and competitive sport. K.T. Coates, a famed competitive pole dancer, and the International Pole Dancing Federation, are currently promoting a campaign to include competitive pole dance in the Olympics in 2016. Numerous competitions exist, including the World Pole Sport Championship, U.S. Pole Federation Championship, and the International Pole Masters Cup Championship.
Pole dancing has gained popularity as a form of exercise with increased awareness of the benefits to general strength and fitness. These forms of exercise increases core and general body strength by using the body itself as resistance, while toning the body as a whole. A typical pole dance exercise regimen in class begins with strength training, dance-based moves, squats, push-ups, and sit-ups and gradually works its way up to the spins, climbs and inversions which are the métier of the exercise. Pole dancing is also generally reported by its schools to be empowering for women in terms of building self-confidence, in terms of which its erotic components are still the subject of some controversy.
Although some will compare pole dancing to Mallakhamb, an Indian men's sport with no erotic component, many will disagree that they are the same lineage of "pole dance."
A growing number of men are incorporating pole dancing into their fitness programmes. In Australia, the UK and the US, dance studios are beginning to offer classes just for men. And in China, 2007's National Pole Dancing competition was won by a man. Dance instructor Zhang Peng, 23, beat a host of women dancers to the top prize.
Pole dancing, which has been featured on Desperate Housewives and The View, like other exercise trends has its share of celebrity following. Jennifer Love Hewitt had a short pole stint dancing in an episode of "Ghost Whisperer". Actress Sheila Kelley was so taken with the sport, which she learned whilst preparing for her role in Dancing at the Blue Iguana, that she launched her own pole-based exercise programme.
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