SINGAPORE: For freelance writer Wayne Rée, his love affair with pole dancing began five months ago when he was persuaded by friends to try a session at Milan Pole Dancing Studio.
Trial sessions soon became regular ones, as he discovered that pole dancing can be an enjoyable way to keep fit. “It actually started because my friend was doing pole,” said the 35-year-old. “She was having lots of fun and asked a few of us to join her for a few lessons.”
There was no turning back for Rée, who has turned his vague interest into a full-on hobby. “There was a trial period then for Milan, where there was like three lessons in one week. So I thought: ‘Okay, I’ll just try the three lessons and tell people that I’ve tried pole dancing.’
“That was five months ago, and I soon found myself coming back every month.”
A key barrier that he needed to overcome in his pursuit of this fitness activity was psychological rather than physical, because pole dancing is often seen as only for women.
Even now, many months after he started getting involved, he has concerns about how his hobby will be perceived, and had to think long and hard about whether to be interviewed about it: “I know there will be a lot of people, including friends or family who would laugh or make jokes and it will be annoying, because pole to me is a form of exercise and a sport and I don’t see why it should be given a certain stigma to it.”
It’s the physical benefit which keeps him coming back: “What’s rewarding for me is that I’m now way fitter than I’ve ever been in a long time, and I can get even fitter.
“I’ve also noticed quite a bit of difference in terms of confidence level, as I feel more confident about myself now.”
Some of his friends have asked if he has taken up pole fitness as a way of getting to know more women. “I’ve actually been asked this a lot of times, where people would ask: ‘Won’t you be distracted by all the hot girls in class?’ And my usual response would be: ‘Man, if you’re taking the class seriously you’d be way too tired to be distracted by anything.’ When you’re in class, you’d be too focused to think about anything else.”
AT LEAST TWO MALE STUDENTS PER CLASS
Pole dancing instructor Denjz Ng is one of the rare few males in his profession. The 28-year-old first got into it through his wife, Eunice Sim.
“I came from a fitness background. Fitness, yoga and wellness were my areas of expertise. It was only much later that I picked up pole,” said Ng. “(My wife) was the pioneer batch for pole. In the beginning, I wasn’t into pole so much. It was only in the later years that I became pretty good and it was because of my wife that I really got into it.”
According to Ng, more men are taking up the activity at a slow but steady pace.
“It’s still a small number compared to the ladies, but there’s definitely an increase compared to the past. There are now something like two male students per class, as compared to zero in the past.”
Vanessa Garnell, an instructor at Slap Dance Studio, has also observed an increase in men taking up the activity. “As pole dancing gained popularity, people have noticed how athletic it really is. It’s an art that requires strength and flexibility in order to pull of some of the tricks.”
She added: “You’ll usually see a lot of women in pole dance classes but over the years we have men calling in and asking about classes. And now we have a few men in our classes as well. Some studios even have an all-male class.”
It is not as easy as it looks, said Noel Yeo, a student from Slap Dance Studio. “Like most forms of dance, pole is very physically challenging. It takes strength, flexibility and involves movements, grips and holds that are not common in everyday life.”
Said Yeo, who works as a photographer. “The great thing is that strength and flexibility can be built, and the techniques can be taught by experienced instructors. Doing pole makes it very clear what your body’s limitations are, and what areas need work.”
“But every so often, you surprise yourself by being able to do something you never thought possible, and those are the moments that we live for,” he added.
GROWTH IN POPULARITY
Pole dancing began taking off in Singapore about 10 years ago, and there are now about 8 studios in total, according to Milan Pole Dance Studio co-founder Tracy Mak.
“Initially, there were just two or three studios which were running pole classes. In the last four to five years, there has been a second wave of studios that have opened as the sport is beginning to get picked up,” said Mak. “People are enjoying the confidence it brings and also the impact they see on their bodies, plus the community it builds.”
She added: “It’s been around for quite some time now, and it’s a growing community. I would say easily there are about two thousand people in Singapore who does pole as a hobby.”
Slap Studios instructor Garnell believes pole dancing’s novelty is a reason for the growth in numbers over the years. “I think people are more open to pole as a form of exercise. It’s getting more popular as an alternative to gym or other forms of workout and we have students ranging from their 20s to their 50s.”
“We started off with one studio and now are lucky to have two. Other studios have also been popping up so yes, the pole community is definitely growing.”
STIGMA ATTACHED TO POLE DANCING
Even though it has been around for about a decade in Singapore, there is still a negative perception about pole dancing, conceded Milan Studio’s Mak.
“There will always be a stigma, and some men will always say to the women students: ‘Can I be the pole?’ and we will roll our eyes.”
In the early days, even the female students were hesitant about taking part in an activity associated with eroticism, said Mak. “Some of us would even hide our marks and bruises we sometimes get from pole in the early days, as we were shy about it. The stigma will always be there, but now, perception has improved so much.”
As for men who take up pole fitness as an activity, male student Rée said people should be more mature: “On the stigma, in one word, I’d say it’s stupid. First, it ties in to this idea of toxic masculinity where if you’re not the John Wayne ideal of a macho man you’re seen as something less.”
He added: “The other aspect is that pole is something commonly associated with women. There’s this idea that anything a woman does is lesser than that as a man. I think the stigma comes from these two things and it would take a while to change, but it’s nice to see it changing slowly.”