The newsletter to fuel — and thrill — your mind. Read for deep dives into the unmissable ideas and topics shaping our world.
Oct 05, 2022
Aarifa Bhinderwala’s Instagram account is filled with images of her hanging, spinning, sitting upside down, doing 180-degree splits and sliding down the pole with faultless grace. Pole dancing — as a concept — isn’t alien to India, home to an ancient sport called Mallakhamb, in which gymnasts performed aerial yoga with a vertical wooden pole or rope. More recently, however, pole dancing in India has been associated with smoky bars and women in G-strings. Now, that’s changing.
–with reporting by Kalpana Sunder from Chennai, India
Once the calendar flips to October, the ghouls come out to play, PSLs make a comeback – and just like that the weather shifts to a crisp breeze having you say “sneakers please!”
If you’re searching for cute, crazy-comfy kicks to show off this autumn season, then surfer-loved brand, Cariuma, has got you covered. Crafted from consciously-sourced materials, and featuring a memory foam insole, perfectly weighted rubber sole, and a classic cap-toe design, the OCA Low Canvas and Suede options will provide you with a crazy-comfy, stylish look all season long.
Grab yourself a pair with our exclusive code, OZYOCT, which scores you 15% off on any sneaker you choose.
With gyms closed in India during the pandemic, people looked to new forms of exercise at home. Many also looked for a new routine as life grew monotonous. Some Indians who had picked up pole dancing abroad tried to continue it by learning through online classes and posting videos of themselves that soon started attracting the interest of fitness enthusiasts nationwide.
Bhinderwala, 33, is India’s pioneering pole dancer. She took to the sport in 2016 when she was visiting her sister in Perth, Australia, and signed up for a course in pole dancing. She continued after returning home and eventually started teaching in Mumbai. Bhinderwala has been profiled in the Netflix series “The Creative Indians.” She has taught thousands of students and runs her own studio in Mumbai called Pole Burnt.
“I did not have any formal background or training in dance or sports, and it was pole dancing which introduced me to movement,” she told OZY. The best part about pole dancing, she says, is its versatility. Each person can treat it as it suits them — as a workout, a sport or as dance. “It builds body confidence and makes you understand that it’s not just about body shape but what your body is capable of,” she said.
Anusha Swamy, 31, a choreographer based in Chennai, a southern Indian city better known for its traditional forms of dance and music, started classical dancing when she was six. As a film choreographer, she has since been exposed to other styles. It was on a holiday to Australia that she, too, signed up for a pole dancing workshop to see “what she could or could not do with her body,” she told OZY.
Swamy loved it and, on returning to India, installed a pole at home. (Available in various heights and weighing around 44 pounds, poles are designed for easy home installation.) She began practicing — just as the pandemic was starting.
“Since I was anyway stuck at home, I improved my skills slowly and found that it gave me confidence and better control of my body and mind,” she said.
Did you know that 82% of Americans read online reviews before buying something new?! If you’re thinking ‘duh…same,’ meet Cariuma’s best-selling and incredibly stylish Canvas and Suede sneakers.
With over a dozen various color options, these are the perfect kicks to transition into the cooler months (and are some of OZY’s faves). Plus, they’ve been featured on fan-favorite websites like People, InStyle, Good Morning America, GQ, and more, and they’re going to go fast…again.
Now, we can’t promise they’ll be there when you’re ready to check them out, so hurry on over and use your personal, exclusive code, OZYOCT to snag you 15% off at checkout.
For many people in India’s patriarchal society, pole dancing is associated with sleazy bars. And because bare skin is necessary for generating enough friction to grip the pole, the sport can attract attention to athletes’ bodies, rather than to their skills.
“I knew that, culturally, many Indians were not comfortable with wearing skimpy clothes to practice,” Swamy said. So she worked with a group of friends to create a silicon-coated pole that allows people to gain better grip even while wearing more clothes than pole dancing typically allows. She started using the new pole last year in her workshops. It “made many women more comfortable, as they could wear the clothes they wanted,” she said. “Our workshops attracted a good mix of men, women and even kids!”
Indeed, Bhinderwala too has found a growing interest in pole dancing among Indian men. Having run classes with both women and men, she has observed a difference: “Though men are stronger generally and can muscle up, compared to women, in my classes the women far outperformed men as far as technique goes.”
Suraj Das, 31, a New Delhi advertising professional who took to pole dancing, says that although pole dancing is viewed as a feminine preserve, he finds it a graceful art that develops core strength and flexibility.
Still, Bhinderwala keeps most of her classes restricted to women, “as it affords them a safer space where they can perform without inhibitions,” she said.
Pole dancing combines cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength and flexibility. It helps one lose inhibitions and builds endurance, according to dancers. And Bhinderwala said pole dancing also boosts self-esteem and is, in many ways, therapeutic.
According to Swamy, every person who has joined her sessions has “reported that their mental health was much better after the pole dancing workshop.” She described pole dancing as meditative. “When you are on that pole, you are thinking only about your moves.”
Nupur Chaudhuri, a 36-year-old athlete and pole instructor in the western city of Pune, got interested in pole dancing after watching dancers in a club. She used to drive an hour to Mumbai to learn pole dancing and later made it to “India’s Got Talent,” a popular reality show. “Poling is an exercise that uses every muscle of your body, as that is the level of engagement needed to lift your body weight and then twist it into different shapes and positions,” she said.
Dr. Sushma Shetty, a 47-year-old breast cancer survivor who took to pole dancing at Bhinderwala’s studio in Mumbai, calls it a completely meditative exercise that puts you in the moment. “It gives me a sense of achievement,” she said. “As a shy person I was initially apprehensive about trying it; now I just look forward to my classes.”
A good instructor, though, is key, said Chaudhuri. “You also have to prep your body adequately, otherwise you can injure yourself. Bruises and burns from friction are common,” she said.
Chaudhuri’s talent has been met with a largely positive response. “In fact, the messages that I get from men are not sleazy, but often praising my strength and asking if they can also learn pole dancing,” she said.
But that’s not everyone’s experience. A student of pole dancing in Chennai, who did not want to be named, said that she still got “that look” from people when she said she was learning the sport. “It’s a good thing that these unconventional forms of exercise are going mainstream — only then will social conditioning change,” she said.
To some, it already is changing.
Priyanka Jijina, 33, started attending Bhinderwala’s classes after seeing her images on Instagram. Jijina said that she loves the all-women’s classes where she does not have to look over her shoulder to see if anyone is watching her or judging her. “We have all age groups from college students and mums and from all walks of life,” she said. “It’s a very positive environment where we push each other and praise each other’s achievements, and the focus is on getting our moves right.”
The word “positive” gets repeated frequently, when speaking with Indian pole dancers.
“I think our society has evolved — I have only got a positive response when I have shared the news that I am learning pole dancing,” said Shetty. “Even my conservative parents are happy for me.”
What forms of exercise boost your spirits in body and mind? Would you ever try pole dancing?
Want to get the drop on the new and the next? Starting 10/10, OZY’s Daily Dose becomes The Drop. New Name. New Look. Bold Content.
OZY is a diverse, global and forward-looking media and entertainment company focused on “the New and the Next.” OZY creates space for fresh perspectives, and offers new takes on everything from news and culture to technology, business, learning and entertainment.