Playing with my pole
POGI FROM A PARALLEL UNIVERSE - RJ Ledesma (The Philippine Star) - March 22, 2016 - 10:00am

Power yoga. Rock climbing. Boxing.

All good, but nothing builds a chiseled upper body for men like climbing up a non-lubricated pole while wearing shorts that almost reveal the shape of your dignity.

Just ask Duds Igancio, the resident male pole-dancing instructor of Polecats Manila. Along with his fellow pole-dancing instructor, Kayleen Ortiz, I polled them about the evolution of pole dancing from its — ahem — gentleman’s club days to “performance art,” the upper-body workout you get from pole dancing, and how men can pole dance without their own poles getting in the way.  

RJ LEDESMA: I understand that pole dancing is actually an ancient practice — a practice almost as old as the Dirty Old Men (DOM) who lurk around my column. 

POLECATS: There are two possible ancient origins for pole dancing. One is of Chinese origin, where they use a long pole that sways because of the length and they do exhibitions on the pole that are very acrobatic, such as jumping from one pole to another.

(DOM representative: Parang exhibitionism ba yan?)  

The other origin could be Indian. There is mallakhamb (a traditional Indian sport) that is like gymnastics where the performers use a shorter but wider pole.  

(DOM representative: That’s what she—)

Please shut up before I confiscate your dentures.

And you have to perform a certain set of tricks on the pole to be evaluated.

So how did these ancient pole-dancing traditions find their way into gentleman’s clubs? (Or so I’ve heard.)

During the time when traveling circuses were popular (in the US), there were (hawkers) who performed tricks on the poles that were holding up the tent to draw the attention of the crowd and sell them tickets. They mostly used women to attract the carnival goers into the tent. I guess some people wanted to see the girls more than the circus, so it became a market of its own, and it broke away (and ended up in those clubs).

(DOM representative: What a wonderful fairytale story.)

When pole dancing broke into the Philippines, it was still considered an, ahem, sensual art. How did it evolve into a fitness craze?

When we started with pole dancing, the connotation associated with it was that it was parang sexy and pagiling-giling.

(DOM representative: Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

We talked about how pole dancing could be more than just the usual bump and grind, so that’s when we started Polecats. We developed our own syllabus and teaching methods and started teaching classes. That’s how the fitness aspect of pole dancing started in the country.

(DOM representative: I don’t know about you, but my pole has always been fit.)

That’s it, take away his oxygen tank.

So we were the first aerial arts and pole-dancing school in the country.

I take it the pole ride from sensual performance to fitness routine wasn’t that smooth?

Siyempre the road towards making it accepted and not bastusin wasn’t easy. We did public performances to show people how different (pole dancing) could be from their initial expectation. But, at the start, people just threw money at us. 

(DOM representative: Sorry about that.)

People would shout from the audience “Kiss naman kayo!” But we just soldiered on until the crowds eventually got better and it was accepted a little bit more. Over time, our following grew so we needed a bigger studio for Polecats. 

So now you actually pole dance professionally?

Yes, we teach classes, we do gigs. And we have teachers who are certified to teach pole dancing! We’re also incorporated safety and first aid into teacher training because some students may get disoriented on the pole while doing crazy things and then fall down.

(No Girlfriend Since Birth [NGSB] representative: So: do not do crazy things with your pole. Got it.)

So is the type of pole dancing that you perform more Chinese, more Indian or more Quezon Avenue?

(Laughs) It’s a mishmash of all styles! You can’t avoid incorporating a little bit of sexiness into the performance, but we try not to make it a focal point. We want to show that (the performance) is hard, but we can make it look easy. When we perform, we do a lot of acrobatic things that focus on doubles.

(NGSB representative: Wow, acrobatic doubles on poles!)

We do things with our partners where we lift each other’s bodies to create nice shapes. Sometimes we even use spinning poles. We want people to be attracted to (pole dancing) because it is a very physical (performance).

Are there any practical applications to pole dancing? Are you guys also volunteer firefighters?

(Laughs) There are a lot of practical applications because you become really strong! Pole dancing doesn’t offer much in the way of cardio, but there’s a lot of strength building, especially with the upper body because you’re carrying your body weight on two arms and sometimes even on one arm (while hanging from the pole)! You’ll be able to lift another person. And you can make hakot grocery bags with one arm. (Laughs)

Maybe I should send yaya for pole dancing. You’ve got all them muscles but you guys aren’t build like weightlifters?  

It’s also because pole dancing is a type of cross-training where you balance strength and flexibility, so you don’t end up looking bulky.

(DOM representative: Strong and long, that’s how it should be.)

Just how much clothing is optional in pole dancing? Worried pink parts want to know.

You need your skin to stick to the pole, that’s why you need to wear short shorts and the least amount of clothing. The more skin exposed, the better.

DOM representative: I agree.

But don’t you get skin burn while sliding down that pole?

It’s a part of the practice. You get a lot of bruises and burns on the skin. But some people become addicted to it, and they see the bruises as battle scars.

So they’re addicted like it’s wrong. But why don’t you just lubricate the pole to keep from burning or bruising?

(DOM representative: That’s great advice for life as well.)

You’re not allowed to put any moisturizers on your body or on the pole. The main grip aid you can use is powder, similar to what they use in gymnastic bars. 

Do you need to wax?

It’s not required. And you get a free waxing sometimes when you slip on the pole.

(DOM representative: I don’t like getting my pole waxed either.)

Is audience participation allowed?

None, it’s better we do it and they just watch. (Laughs)

(DOM representative: Party poopers…)

I can understand how it’s relatively easy to convince women to try out pole dancing. But how about for the men?  

Some men are hesitant to try out pole dancing because they think they might do hair flips, make kembot (that’s “twerking” for you millennials) or wear short shorts. 

(DOM representative: And what’s wrong men wearing short shorts?) 

With male pole dancing, we have a different curriculum from the ladies where we borrow from the Chinese pole-dancing tradition. That’s because there are some body limitations so they can’t do the same tricks as the ladies. 

In other words, our poles can get in the way of the performance.

(Laughs) That’s why we have a teaching cue for our male students where we tell them they need to pick a side so they don’t slam their crotches on the pole. 

And render their poles to be merely aesthetic in nature.

Unlike female pole dancers, male performers don’t use their thighs and legs too much to do tricks. They rely more on upper-body strength for their tricks. Unlike women, we don’t really have men spread their legs that much on the pole.

(RJ’s Yaya: Why? It’s okay with me.)

What typically happens in a male dancing class?

The class is mostly upright.

(DOM representative: Really, what are the other positions you do in class? I’m interested to join if my nurse can put me in the right position.)

We don’t (ask the students) to invert in the first class. We teach them the Chinese style of pole dancing where they use a lot of feet and hands. We also help them understand contact points and picking a side of the pole, teach them how to stick on the pole using their skin and to do some climbs and spins. We want them to develop their strength before we flip them over.

Oh, well, I guess my kembot moves will have to wait for another time.

(RJ’s Yaya: Why? It’s okay with me.)

* * * 

For comments, suggestions or an non-lubricated pole, email ledesma.rj@gmail.com or visit www.rjledesma.com. Follow @rjled on Twitter and @rjled610 on Instagram.

 Check out Polecats at https://www.facebook.com/PolecatsManila.

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