New York City will play host this weekend to the annual championship of what some may be surprised to know is a competitive sport ... pole dancing.
Twenty women will compete in the U.S. Pole Dance Federation's Fourth Annual Championship this Saturday. The competition will be held at the Symphony Space performing arts center on the Upper West Side.
And interest in the sport — yes, sport — of competitive pole dancing is rapidly growing. All 740 seats for the pro-division event, priced between $50 and $95, are sold out already. It's a testament to the sport's growing momentum at the professional level, as it continues to overcome the stigma of being associated merely with seedy strip clubs and drunken bachelor parties.
"At first, it was a challenge to get family and friends behind it," Brynlyn Loomis, a competitor in the pro division who has been pole dancing for six years, told Metro. "Guys would joke, 'Oh, I’ll give you a pole to swing on.' Now, people tell me their moms take classes."
Loomis said not one of the twenty women competing this year work as strippers in gentleman's clubs. Instead, the competitors are either other types of dancers who are looking to broaden their skill sets or they are pole-dancing instructors. Others are simply everyday women who got into it for fitness or as a hobby, she said.
"You can't imagine how challenging it is until you try it," she said. "You need to be a well-rounded athlete, similar to gymnastics or figure skating, and you must match flexibility with strength."
Wendy Traskos, co-founder of the U.S. Pole Dance Federation, said New York has been the perfect, open-minded venue for the championship.
"New Yorkers are more perceptive to what art is, so we can really reach out past the pole dancing community here," she said, adding that the competition is watched by a female-dominant audience.
"The men are with people who are there to support the competitors — husbands, boyfriends, brothers," she said. "There are probably a few men who figure it's cheaper than a strip club, but it's mostly women."
The rules of competitive pole dancing
Competitors must be women over the age of 18. Those who compete at the pro level have had to qualify by first competing at the amateur level. The competition has three judges, each of them women with professional dance backgrounds.
Pole dancers must first compete in a 90-second compulsory routine, which includes floor work, spins and splits. For this portion, they wear fitness attire designed by the competition's sponsor, Mika Yoga Wear.
Competitors are then judged on an optional round, where they perform three to five minutes of their personal choreography. For this round, competitors may choose their own costumes, though Loomis said it's best to be scantily clad. She said that's more for practical reasons instead of amping up the sex appeal.
"It's logistics," she explained. "You need as much skin as possible exposed to hold onto the pole."
The overall first place winner will receive $5,000 and a trip to Australia ("the mecca of pole dancing," according to Traskos) to guest perform in another competition. The second overall winner will get $2,000. The competitors who place first in the compulsory and optional routines will each win $1,000.
Next up: The Olympics?
Though some members of the pole dancing community have pushed for the sport at the Olympic level, Traskos said it is not the focus of the U.S. Pole Dance Federation.
"We like the uniqueness of showcasing women's sensuality with athleticism, and we don’t want to be ashamed of that," she told Metro. "[At the Olympic level], it will turn into teenagers doing acrobatics on the pole."