Slices of Japanese business, politics and life
Stripped-down pole dancing
Ever thought about taking a fitness pole dancing class? I certainly hadn’t, and I was getting cold feet as I made my way into the Art Flow Tokyo dance studio. (corrects name of studio in original post)
I’m a free-weights guy, I thought; isn’t this pole dancing stuff for women? Is it too late to back out before I make a fool out of myself?
But I went ahead – and the class was a lot tougher than I expected, more gymnastics than dance. And pretty fun, too.
Pole dancing has been climbing in popularity among fitness enthusiasts as an alternative to mainstream workouts like aerobics and yoga, and in my debut lesson I could see why: it’s a serious full-body workout that combines cardio and strength movements to help fight fat and build muscle.
“During one class, you’re doing at least three sets of different kinds of classes,” says Ania Przeplasko, who founded the International Pole Dance Fitness Association in 2007 to promote the exercise and who was sitting in on this day’s class.
“It’s a major workout in terms of burning calories,” says Przeplasko, whose association is holding this year’s International Pole Dance Fitness Championship in Tokyo on Dec. 3.
(Click on the video above that I took of Przeplasko to see a demonstration of some of the basics)
The intermediate-level class had three other students, all 20-something women dressed in typical gym attire of T-shirt and shorts; none of the high heels or racy outfits that I’ve come to associate with the more erotic side of the dance.
Our instructor led us through a comprehensive warm-up of basic flexibility and bodyweight exercises for about 20 minutes. I grimaced at the tightness in my back as I struggled with stretches that the others were doing with ease. Familiar moves like push ups and abdominal exercises came as a welcome relief after the stretching.
The second phase involved learning basic pole positions with an emphasis on developing strength, using not just one’s upper body but really focusing on the core muscles. I felt silly doing a spin called the “Peter Pan” but have to admit it was fun trying to get the movement down.
In the final segment of the 75-minute class, the students put everything together into a mini-routine, which also served as the major cardio section of the workout.
What struck me the most was the athletisism involved, with the instructor and the more advanced students pulling off some spins and upside-down flips that would have landed me in hospital.
“Pole dancing in the past two years has developed so quickly in this very acrobatic way,” says Przeplasko, noting that the growing number of male participants has played a role in the sport’s shift towards fitness-oriented performance.
“Three years ago anyone could do pole dancing, but now the advanced level is way above what the typical person can do. So in five years, I think it’ll be like full-on, fantastic gymnastic shows based on pole dancing.”