A post from Peach Lee Ray
So you’ve either read the title and thought ‘Oh, I totally know how crazy and hard-core pole is’, in which case I love you. Or, you’ve thought ‘Pole dancing? How is gyrating round a pole in 7-inch heels relevant for a weight lifting blog?’, and I wouldn’t blame you, especially considering some of us pole dancers really love to gyrate in 7 inch heels now and then (wink).
The fact of the matter is that behind the glitter and glamour of pole, there’s a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears that goes into training and becoming a top athlete. In fact, there are numerous similarities between pole dancing and weight lifting when it comes to the particular challenges we have to overcome, which is why I have written this guest post today.
Read on to find out the five main reasons pole dance should be respected as a hard-core strength sport.
#1 – The Bruises
One of the reasons you will usually see a pole dancer in no more than hot pants and a crop top is that many of the moves (aka ‘tricks’) we execute require skin-to-pole contact in order for us to grip – lest we slide off to our death. Although this allows us to make many pretty shapes, it also means that we are supporting our entire body weight 5 foot in the air by just the skin of a few contact points. This means just one thing – BRUISES. And I’m not talking about little baby bruises… these bruises tend to be big, varying in colours from a strange mushroom grey to a suspicious ‘my leg might actually be dying and falling off’ black. Oh, and to make matters worse, they are most commonly found in very tender areas such as: the inner thigh, behind the knee, the armpit (yummy), and the top of the feet (yes, that one’s my favourite). However, don’t think we pole dancers complain. In fact, pole dancers see these bruises as badges of honour, and we fondly nickname them our ‘pole kisses’.
#2 – The Callouses
As weight lifters you will be all too aware of the lovely callouses you get on your hands when you are training regularly. In pole we are very familiar with the delightful feeling of running your hands over yourself only to feel the rough flaking skin (and they say pole is sexy!). And because we cannot use moisturiser (again, you will slide off the pole to your death) our hands stay desert dry and cracking, even better!
Whilst the average poler will have maybe two or three callouses on each hand if they train a couple of times a week, it is not unusual to see a very dedicated pole dancer posting pictures of their butchered palms from training a particular move over and over in their bid to conquer the trick and add it to their repertoire.
#3 – The Injuries
The most common injuries sustained in pole dancing are very similar to that in weight lifting. Because there are a great deal of overhead strength-based moves, we commonly injure the mechanisms within and around the shoulder. Personally, my list of injuries in my 1-year poling experience thus far include a pulled abdominal muscle, hurting my calves on multiple occasions from blunt force trauma against the pole (I’m far too enthusiastic in some spins), and a more serious overuse injury to my shoulder which I’m still recovering from.
As with weight lifting, injuries to the rotator cuff are widespread amongst regular pole dancers, but you’re also likely to overstretch or tear the ligaments and tendons, develop impingement, or damage the subscapular if you do not practise proper technique. But do we let injuries stop us in our quest to be better athletes? No, we take off the longest two weeks of our lives, start training again far too early into the recovery period, and pray that we manage to muddle through (unless you are one of those sensible athletes who manage to rest for the entire 6 weeks, in which case I envy your patience.)
I even read a blog post recently from a very famous pole dancer (Maddie Sparkle) who was performing for weeks before she was finally diagnosed with a broken rib in her chest which was affecting her ability to breathe!
#4 – The Tricks
The tricks, oh, the tricks. From the basic fireman spin to the human flag, every pole trick has its own challenges in strength, technique and resilience. To be able to execute even the simplest of moves, you need to build solid upper body and core strength. You need to build mental strength, too.
Pole tricks require bravery, trust in yourself that you can support yourself without falling, and an ability to endure physical pain (because pole really, really hurts – we actually do ‘pain training’, or as I call it ‘never again training’). But when you nail a trick that you have been training for six months the high is so satisfactory that it makes all the work worth it – I imagine it is a similar feeling to the one weight lifters must get when they hit a PB.
#5 – The Dancing
So anyone can look at a human flag and think ‘Fuck me, that shit looks hard’ and understand that pole dance requires serious strength, but the less appreciated aspect of pole is in fact the dancing. Even within the pole community you will have people saying ‘I do pole FITNESS, not pole DANCE. I’m not like one of those strippers, what they do isn’t even hard! I do crazy tricks and all they do is hump the floor.’
If you ever hear someone say that, please knock them one on my behalf.
The dancing aspect of pole dance, whether that person dances in the style of a stripper, a ballerina, or a lyrical dancer, is probably the most challenging part I’ve found (especially as I have minimal dance background). Making the tricks look flowing, graceful and effortless is a skill in itself, and being able to execute impressive moves OFF the pole can prove even more challenging than the stuff you do ON it – especially if you are dancing in 7-inch heels.
Champion pole dancer Natasha Wang reportedly ran through one pole competition routine over 50 times in preparation for the event. If you want to dance well it requires just as many hours training as the tricks, unless of course you are happy just looking like a drunk baby giraffe– in which case style it out and do your own thing, I ain’t judging.
Hopefully the next time you happen to see someone twirling around upside down on a pole in a music video, movie or even on YouTube (I totally recommend you have a snoop around, I will include some videos below of my favourite dancers), you will remember the sheer strength required to support and move the body in those tricks you see, as well as the bruises, injuries, skin burns and pain that have gone into the years of training to get to that standard.
Also, for tasty biceps and abs, make sure you check out some pole dancers on Instagram because the muscles we get are insane eye candy (@peachleeray #shamelessplug).