There is a bar in New York City that my girlfriends and I frequent that has floor to ceiling stripper poles for us to play on. We love to flip upside down, spin and try to out-do each other. Not too long ago, a drunken frat boy seemed to be so inspired by our friendly competition that he took to the pole himself doing an impressive "flagpole" move. A flagpole requires intense midsection/core muscles and is difficult for most women to do. As impressive as this guy was, his friends walked away embarrassed, women laughed, and the manager told him to stay off the pole because men are "not allowed." It's kind of an unspoken guideline that the general public prefers a woman letting loose on a pole instead of a guy in the crowd awkwardly showing off his upper body strength.
This is a common mind-set in the world of pole fitness as well, despite the increasingly positive image of pole dance as a mainstream form of exercise and expression. Typical fitness activities are open to males and females to participate, and while pole dance is known as a feminine sport, there are some organizations that are working to make it more male-friendly.
YouTube has become a hub for pole dancers to share their videos while learning from other users' videos. I was navigating through some vids a couple of years ago and I came across PoleDanceFan. PoleDanceFan is Joel Lessing - a Midwestern family man who posts videos of himself performing amazing pole tricks in his basement. I wasn't sure what to make of PoleDanceFan at the time, because a man performing fluidly on a pole was a completely foreign concept to me, and something I didn't consider much of afterwards until recently. I revisited Lessing's page to find that his views and subscribers has drastically increased, and there are more male pole dancers coming out of the woodwork on YouTube.
Apparently there is enough of an increase in pole dancing men that competition organizers are seeing a need to accommodate. In October 2009, the Mr. Pole Fitness competition made its debut in the UK. Mr. Pole Fitness is one of the only pole dance competitions created specifically for men only. Creator Adam Jay, a pole fitness instructor based out of London, is aware of the steady increase in male students and wanted to inspire even more men to get involved. Jay says the Mr. Pole Fitness event generated positive interest and there are plans for a 2010 competition.
This week in Tokyo is the International Pole Dance Fitness Championship, which was only open to women in the past and now has a newly formed men's division. The IPDFC has six male finalists on its roster including Seattle's Robert S. Orr III. Orr has been pole dancing for over a decade and is self-taught due to the lack of studios established in the '90s, and the current pole dance studios do not allow men to take classes. As an answer to this dilemma, he opened his own studio several years ago called Free Movement Zone which is the only studio in the Pacific Northwest to offer co-ed classes. Orr has experienced some discrimination within the pole dance community and is loyal to those organizations that do welcome him. This year will be his third year of traveling to Canada to participate in workshops with an International Pole Camp. American pole dance organizations have been the least responsive to his requests to participate in competitions, classes and performances. Excluding men from pole studio classes is known to be a standard practice; however, many national co-ed gyms offer pole classes and they tend not to discriminate. Some health clubs, such as Crunch fitness, have male pole dance instructors regularly scheduled at some locations.
Watching men perform on the pole may not be for everyone. As I was discussing this topic with friends, the majority of both men and women were not turned on by the idea of watching a man work the pole. I personally am not a fan of a man who tries to imitate the sensual moves of a woman, but I do appreciate a man who demonstrates a masculine gymnastic style suggestive of what I might see in Cirque du Soleil - which does appeal to the masses.