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Is it art? – A closer look at pole dancing

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Is pole dancing recognised as a performing art? Does it deserve to be? Guest writer Livian Lin, a pole dancer herself, gets the opinion of three professional performers.

A graduate of both the Queensland Dance School of Excellence and the University of Technology Syndey, Travis Scott started dancing burlesque and cabaret in clubs shortly after graduating before moving onto pole dancing. He experimented with drag, and the athletic and exotic forms of pole dancing, pushing the boundaries at every stage.

According to Scott, “When I display the athletic side, people are in shock.” Shocked at the strength, power and control pole dancing requires. And yet it still carries the stigma associated with cheap thrills in seedy clubs.

“When I display the athletic side, people are in shock.” Photo credit – Travis Scott

“But when I pole in drag, they get confused” he adds, describing how the pole offers room to explore and express oneself but again misconceptions cloud this fact. “I have to push the boundaries, make an impact and stretch the limit,” Scott explains. “That is all I can do, personally”.

Scott asserts that pole dancing is in fact one of the performing arts and has been for a long time (think Cirque de Soleil and Chinese acrobats). He also sees some positive change in the way it’s viewed by the greater public; “The pole dancing community is constantly moving forward and across borders. We see many more performances and on a grander scale but largely contained within the pole dance circle and we could do with more support”.

If things are challenging on the international stage, it gets harder in Malaysia.

“Yes, pole dancing is a performing art,” echoes Shan Nana Liew resolutely. Nana Liew has been pole dancing for more than 10 years and recently took over ownership of Viva Vertical Malaysia, the first pole dancing school in the country. Is pole dancing more mainstream than when she first started?

“Yes, it’s a performing art.” – Shan Nana Liew. Photo credit – Viva Vertical

It’s a struggle, she admits, because the school’s performances are under heavy restrictions. “We are not allowed to perform in public, all performances must be within closed doors and we are not allowed to advertise. We rely on word of mouth,” Nana Liew explained. These restrictions make it harder to break the misconceptions. “If you don’t see the hard work, you only see it as exotic dancing.”

Without the burden of stigma, aerial arts have found the acceptance that still eludes pole dancing.

Interestingly, aerial arts have become popular in Malaysia and more easily gained public acceptance. Like pole dancing, aerial arts look sexy and require strength but as Nana Liew comments, pole dancers are, “stuck with the sex stigma.” She muses that perhaps these two art forms are seen differently because aerial arts is associated with acrobatics and the circus, while pole dancing is associated with… well, we’ve already said it.

That it is still practiced in bars doesn’t help… but should it even matter?

Kitt Woo, an instructor at Viva Vertical and a competitive pole dancer was a freestyle dancer in clubs and found that the stigma continued when she moved to pole dancing. Kitt points out that the pole dancers in Thailand’s bars have talent but are sadly not appreciated for this skill.

Kitt too strongly believes that pole dancing is a performing art: “Sometimes it is easier to gain mainstream support by playing up the athletic (rather than the aesthetic) part.”

“Sometimes it is easier to gain mainstream support by playing up the athletic (rather than the aesthetic) part.”

“I envy the countries that see pole dancing as, if not a performing arts, at least a gymnastic sports. There are classes for children and competitions for people of various ages. I am amazed and in awe.” However, Kitt does not believe it likely that Malaysia will accept pole dancing until it is accepted globally.

She adds, “There is growing support from the art community like the DPAC (Damansara Performing Arts Center) but we still have to fund our own performances.” She notes that it always costs them but, “we still keep doing it to bring pole dancing to the masses”.

This dancer’s advice? Hang in there. The pole is slippery and the view bleak, but there are always lights on every stage.

What else requires skill, training, talent, creativity and an audience, but is rarely seen as a performing art? And is this omission just? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.

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Livian Lin
Livian Lin

Livian Lin wishes she could write while hanging upside down; “I swear it gave me newfound perspective of things.”