Know Your Flow: The Good Sh*t Guide to Pole Passions
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because being smarter about sexy is better for all involved.
By Eugene S. Robinson
You ever see a cow and wonder whether or not it is a cow? Probably not. But mix in an eight-inch heel, bodysuit and a 12-foot chrome pole, and everyone thinks they know pole dancing. Like it’s that thing that Jennifer Lopez did in Hustlers, last year’s award-winning flick about thieving, revenge-minded strippers, right?
Well, yes, and not even close.
Jennifer Lopez did play a thieving, revenge-minded stripper who happened to be a pole dancer, but pole dancing is deep, deep, much deeper than anyone in Hollywood is likely to give it credit for.
Well, we could go into its antecedents in both India and Germany, the push to make it an Olympic event and all of the strength, suppleness, skill and grace it takes to pull it off well. But those always smell like attempts to answer those who would dismiss it and strippers (a la Chris Rock’s once-upon-a-time dictum to keep your daughters “off the pole.”)
The reality is strippers do pole dance. But so do chemists, engineers, lawyers, physicists, accountants, men, teenagers and bikers. And if you actually talk to pole dancers, you’d quickly figure out that it’s not just a hobby but everything from therapy to obsession.
Which is to say: not at all about just lazing around a pole looking saucy. In fact, for those with eyes to see, there have emerged six distinctly different categories of pole dancing and which you prefer has as much to do with your personality type as your physical one.
So you want to pole dance? Or just sound like one of the cool kids who knows a few things about a few things? Then take a walk with us while we pimp a primer on the essential tentpoles of pole dancing.
Free, But Not Cheap: The Joys of Free Dance
“I first found pole dance when I was studying abroad in Seoul, South Korea, in 2013.” Max Nguyen is slight but muscled. Like a Navy SEAL. Who can dance. Nguyen was originally looking for a hip-hop dance studio but stumbled into pole dancing at a time when he felt lost. With no previous fitness or dance background, he started competing in 2017. By
2019, he was both crushing and killing it in the free dance category, where what you do on the pole and the floor near the pole is heavily free form and influenced by traditional dance.
“I find incredible beauty in it [free dance] and its ephemeral nature — how the energies of the world around you and your body as a medium of magic are able to alchemize something that can only exist once and only once. It’s a dance that truly expresses what the soul feels in that very moment. It is pure bliss.”
Oh. The Drama
The Dramatic category is much less about the difficulty of tricks on the pole, which can often be shoulder-rippingly difficult, and more about the dancer’s ability to execute a serious, emotional and artistic take on a piece of music. And it’s the musical aspect that attracted Swiss business owner Dana Schorr, whose recent run prior to her first pregnancy saw her taking a raft of first places before turning pro. “I love Dramatic because the music is so powerful, and I love telling stories with my routines.” And doing moves that would kill the rest of us, apparently.
Exotic Not Erotic. Well, OK, Erotic Too
The Exotic category comes closest to what the average person probably thinks of when they think “pole dancing.” The category is a celebration of both sensual movements and concepts. Heels are not required but more than welcome, and moves in this category are quite comfortably called things like “slink,” “hip roll” and the “body wave.” Deceptively difficult and for the dancer the onus is on making it seem much less so.
“I choose Exotic to be my category because what’s not to love about it?” Mimi Midnight is a UI/UX designer by day and a gold medalist in the Exotic category the rest of the time. “It’s kinda taboo and kinda exciting. It’s also a sexy sport … maybe the only sexy sport. Heel work is also only just becoming a thing and people are discovering so many different ways to use their heels for artistic expression.”
So take that, beach volleyball.
Let It Go, Let Yourself Low Flow
You get kind of hinky about heights? No? Well you’ve probably never been up atop a 12-to-14-foot pole. Most people might die if they trip and fall wrong. So for those prone to paranoia, there’s the Floorwork and Low Flow category which, as the name suggests, leans heavy on the space around the pole and nothing on the actual pole higher than the dancer’s raised hands.
“My first competition ever, I shook my butt to Queen’s ‘Fat Bottom Girls’ — I thought, as the only fat girl there, I was so clever — and shook my butt all over the place,” said Ms. Vegas, a school teacher who, despite the name, currently makes her home in Miami and has been playing pole for over 11 years.
“I was so excited when Low Flow came out. As someone who’s best upside-down tricks are always on or near the floor, I knew it would be my jam. I feel very comfortable low.”
We Are the Champions!
If you see someone pushing the premise that pole dancing should be an Olympic sport, they are more than likely a fan of the Championship category which, despite the name, is less about being an actual champion at it and more about the sheer number of tricks the dancer can pull off. It’s technique, artistry and the real killer: difficulty.
“It’s the category that best fit me because of my contemporary dance background and love of sad piano ballads,” says Polly Ma, who recently crowned a raft of first-place finishes at the lower levels of competition with a first-place finish in Level 5. Where do dancers go from Level 5? They go pro.
“At first, I was extremely intimidated by the Championship category,” Ma says. “But my strength is having a strong technical background, and that flowed into my pole tricks. Plus, the most interesting pieces to watch are the ones that are cohesive and emphasize musicality and emotion, rather than just a bunch of tricks strung together.”
This is IT. Unadulterated fun, the Entertainment category is probably the only category that can routinely include, wait for it, jokes! Costumes and comedy, what else could you want? “It’s the perfect platform for theatrical expression and zany storytelling,” says Susie, a UX/UI graphic and product designer. “There’s an unequivocal thrill to performing it.”