Why you should care

Because if you have arms, legs, hands, great coordination, upper body strength, a sense of balance and a willingness to wear a thong on stage, you’ve still GOT A CHANCE!

The lights dim. The music, which will inevitably later be described as “pulsing,” begins to the collected hoots and hollers of attendees. The lone brass pole glistens stage center, lit by a single spotlight.

And emerging from the wings is the ultimate zig when you were expecting a zag: Patryk Rybarski. Pole dancer extraordinaire. And he’s glad to meet
you.

When we ask our go-to expert on Polish pole-arts performed by Poles in Poland (sorry), Krzysztof Lubka, creative director at Grupa Tanca Wspolczesnego Kiosk Ruchu, in Poland, to elaborate on the finer points of what Rybarski is doing, he laughs and says, “Jazz and modern dance is difficult — if you’re trying to get it right and do it well, anyway. Adding a pole only seems to make it more so. And while I worry about it becoming more gymnastic and less art, Rybarski’s presentation and product is nicely balanced.”

Actual dancer and habitué of past musicals in Poland — Singin’ in the Rain, Cats, The Phantom of the Opera — Rybarski has joined the growing ranks of men drawn to the business end of the pole. Well, modestly growing. Selling the activity as “fitness” rather than dance helped one club in Kent, England, increase its male membership from one guy just three years ago to a robust 20 men currently joining its 160 women members. There were 21 male competitors at the 2013 International Pole Championships, and there are presently upward of 20 competitive venues where men who, absent any irony, call themselves “pole artists” can also strut their stuff. Still, the math can be tricky.

Male pole dancing’s antecedents go back to India as far back as the year 1135.

Because while the numbers of men dancing are enough that in the last few years people have proclaimed an onslaught of male dancers, there’s still a dearth of people lining up to see their feats. And by “people” we really mean “men.” It appears that this new form of competition isn’t likely to pull men off of NASCAR and MMA anytime soon.

“Well, the identification with this as erotic entertainment is hard to get away from,” says female pole dancer Lisa Marie, who started in men’s clubs and then moved on to the relatively desexualized competitive world of pole dancing. “And the idea of men doing something seen as traditionally feminine might strike some as … confusing.”

Which it shouldn’t, since its antecedents go back to India as far back as the year 1135, when Mallakhamb, pole work on thick wooden poles, was a fitness activity used to train wrestlers. It’s a practice that still sees active involvement today. And in recent times, Chinese acrobats, Cirque de Soleil and a number of other commercial, non-strip venues have given men the opportunity (minus high heels and lap dances) to perform difficult and sometimes dangerous pole maneuvers.


But that’s not what made you look.

No, the spectacle of men making other men uncomfortable with an overtly sexual display misunderstood as being reserved for womenfolk — that’s what made you look. And when you do, you start seeing pole-dancing for what it is: If you strip away the specter of sex work and the prurient attractions of the canned fantasy industry, it is artful, hard work performed by entertainers under circumstances that are often quite trying. You see, whether you’re 16 feet up a pole or dealing with 16 drunks, it’s all trying.

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