Poledance Olympiad -  LA Weekly - December 2011

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Trademark Lucite heels, cheeky schoolgirl pigtails and silk 70’s hot pink disco shorts  exposing admirable curves, the petite dancer is a textbook picture of urban eroticism.

Nimble, feminine and impressively toned she grips the towering pole, launching her taught muscular frame with astounding athleticism. She follows with mid air splits, more twirls and acrobatics, spinning in a complete arc, not once, twice, but  three times with exacting finesse ..

Silent against a barrage of catcalls and the haunting tones of The Dresden’ Dolls’, “Missed Me,”  the routine finally ends, the crowd in rapture - yet not even a crumpled stray dollar bill litters the stage.

No its not another recession weary night at Spearmint Rhino, falling flat at the hands of the 99 percent, but the final round of the third Annual Californian Pole dance Championships held at Hollywood’s Highlands nightspot back on September 25 this year.

Unlike the average seedy strip joint steeped amidst the sprawling plains of the San Fernando valley, the  majestic venue featured all the trappings of a major sporting event. A panel of judges, a wholesome 7pm start time and an audience who showed their appreciations with applause and cheers rather than stuffing crumpled singles into outstretched g-strings.

The dancer, Nadia Sharif isn’t the average stripper struggling to finance future tattoo adornments or a recreational drug habit.  She holds down an impressive  day job as an electrical engineer specializing in robotics at petroleum behemoth  BP. By day she drafts intricate schematics of oil refineries. After work she’s devoted to a grueling schedule,  training for Pole dance competitions. “I don’t do it for money,” she says, “its just a leisure activity.”

Nadia personifies a new breed of people attracted to pole dancing. Over the last five years its become less about the strip club ethos, and more aligned to fitness  and competitive sport.  Further testament to Pole dancing’s legitimacy and mainstreaming is a global network of official organizations and federations. There’s also local, national and international competitions and even  some organizations lobbying for its inclusion in the 2016 Brazil Olympics.

Nadia says she started dancing in 2007 as a hobby, looking at it as an fitness alternative. “I fell in love with it as an art form after seeing some videos of dancer Felix Cain on YouTube. I set up a pole in my house with a rail from a closet and just started practicing the moves from the video.”

She then discovered a pole dance studio, advanced her skill level via lessons and started to take part in competitions. Nowadays she is both a teacher and competitor, recently landing a second place  in September’s championships.  The competition offered $1000 for first prize, $500 for second and $250 for third Still, competitions are all about kudos over prize money.”Top dancers really make their money by giving workshops  and doing appearance tours. They can make a lot through workshops, staging four or so a week and charging ten plus women $75 to attend,” Nadia reveals

Nadia says she has never danced in a strip club since taking up pole dancing. Yet most people react predictably when she confides her favorite hobby . “When I tell people I compete in pole dance competitions, they usually assume Im in strip clubs, though the competitions are like any niche sport.”

She also doesn’t perceive it to be in any way seedy or taboo. “It really is just like Salsa or Cha Cha. Its about being strong and sexy,” she says

Unlike others who just practice on a pole, Nadia is a serious athlete, with cross training  sessions five nights a week . This includes acrobatics, break dancing capoera and  yoga. Six weeks in advance of competition she will step up her training to exceed five times per week. 

As a sport, the proliferation of competitive pole dancing  has seen a growing number of studios in Los Angeles. Some of LA’s top contenders, include B Spun, Evolve, Beauty In Motion, Allure Studios, Goddess and Anjel Dust studios  (www.AnjelDust.com).
Anjel Dust ( AKA Glyness)  is an instructor who runs Sherman oaks based pole dance studio Anjel Dust Productions. She’s also  the key organizer behind the Californian Pole Dance Championships and has been dancing for  more than 10 years.

Much like the average martial arts studio she offers classes in Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced categories, with class sizes averaging around five to ten people. An individual lesson can cost around $25- 35 dollars or a budget package of lessons for  around $150 per month. “The type of people we get in our classes is increasingly diverse,” Anjel says.

 “From people in their late teens to valley housewives in their mid forties.” Nowadays there are very few who are training to perform in a strip club, its all about fitness or competitions. There is no longer the stigma, I think pole dancing is being seen more as an art form.”
Talece Wood is the founder of Pole Dance Magazine Online and another exponent of pole dancing’s artistry. A former elementary school teacher,  she  established an interest in 2007 after seeing a spot on television that highlighted  it as an exercise alternative
“LA is now the center of pole dancing scene in the US,” Talece says.”It has a dominant presence and is the real trend setter. Its attracting people from all walks of life for both men and women. It was initially something taboo, though is now more about gymnastics than sleaze.”

Talece says the UK based International Pole Sports federation is the key body lobbying for pole dancing’s acceptance  in the forthcoming 2016 Brazil Olympics.  she also claims  there will be a pole dancing demonstration as part of  the opening ceremony at next years Olympics in London.

Back on home turf, Anne Marie heads up media relations for the San Fernando Valley based  Pole Fitness Association. Having danced since 2002  she’s one of the rare few involved in competitive pole dance scene who actually still performs in strip clubs, namely the iconic Jumbo’s Clown Room.  Anne Marie also teaches pole dance classes and spends up to thirty hours a week on a pole.
Anne Marie says she started to practice pole moves after her shifts at the Speamint Rhino between two and  five AM when poledance studios were virtually  unheard of.  “I think as the economy got worse over the last five years stripping changed, it got more dirty,  and girls were willing to do more than just dance. I decided I wanted less to do with that side of things.“

Nowadays  Anne Marie only gives lap dances to women, and sees pole dancing as a wholesome pastime.” This sport will be huge during the next ten years. Its great for building self esteem, women get feel sexy, gain confidence and lose a few pounds.”