Cezanne Carstens gets to grips with the pole.

Art form, fitness fad or sexy pastime? Pole dancing, or vertical dancing, gets serious on the Artscape stage. By DEBBIE HATHWAY

THERE’S a campaign under way for pole dancing to be included in the Olympics. Surprised?

Take it out of the exotic dance environment, which has its own connotations, and put it in a fitness studio to understand just how taxing pole dancing can be as a workout.

Pole dancing has a long history. The Western style has evolved through a fusion of Chinese pole work performed by circus acrobats, Indian pole or Mallakhamb, which was first used to train wrestlers, as well as exotic dances of various international influences.

International Pole Dance Fitness Association founder Ania Przeplasko, who is behind the campaign for pole dancing to be recognised as an Olympic sport, says that behind its current rise in popularity is its complete workout potential – it’s a combination of dance, jogging and weightlifting – and you don’t need a partner!

Samantha Austen, an instructor at Pole Dance Cape Town fitness studio, which presents its second annual Pole Dancing Showcase at Artscape Theatre on Saturday at 8.15pm, says it’s those qualities that attracted her.

A qualified dance teacher, Austen returned to SA two years ago after a stint working in London to realise that careers in professional dance or dance teaching had lost their appeal. “Then I heard about pole dancing, and thought I’d give it a try. After one session, I was hooked,” she says.

She’s not the only one. Around the world, women are joining classes to keep slim, get fit and feel sexy to boot. Celebrity pole-dancing fans include Jennifer Aniston, Britney Spears, Fergie and Kate Moss, and who can forget Demi Moore’s sexy pole-dancing performance in Striptease?

Harry Potter star Emma Watson is a new convert. She signed up for classes while working on her new film, The Bling Ring, after learning about the benefits of the sport for fitness, toning, strength, skill, stamina and fun.

Dancers work with their own body weight so they develop long, lean muscles, rather than bulk.

A source was quoted saying that Watson “never thought she would enjoy it, but she finds it quite liberating”.

Austen says to neutralise the sexy stigma, their students don’t perform in high heels. “As soon as you see a girl on a pole in heels, people’s perceptions change.

“For us, it’s about athletics, gymnastics, artistry… and personal achievement.”

Wendy Traskos, the co-founder of the US Pole Dancing Federation, argues that pole dancing is a form of expression for women.

She defines stripping as taking something off and “pole dancers don’t do that”.

They work out in outfits typically comprising tanks, sport bras and short stretchy shorts so that the exposed skin can help them grip the pole. Costumes for performance follow a similar theme, only more glitzy and glamourous.

The Pole Dancing Showcase provides an opportunity for their beginner, intermediate and advanced students to perform, as well as students from other studios in Cape Town, George, Johannesburg and Pretoria.

There’s also an aerial act on the bill and a performance by Tracey Simmonds, first runner-up at the International Pole Championship in Hong Kong in March this year.

Originally from London, Simmonds is a pole performer and instructor who now lives and works in SA while travelling internationally for performances and workshops.

Her style of pole performance and execution of pole tricks has been described as “strong, precise, elegant, imaginative and fluid”.

“Pole dancing requires the flexibility and agility of sport, and the grace, creativity and passion of dance,” says Austen. “Prepare to observe it in a new light.”

l Tickets are R150 to R195. To book, call Computicket at 0861 915 8000, or Artscape Dial-A-Seat at 021 421 7695.