Pole fitness is a combination of acrobatics, gymnastics – and the pole dancing you might recognise from a nightclub. The first schools for what was then called “exotic dance” opened in North America in the 1990s, but now pole fitness is popular worldwide. Earlier this year, photos of the Chinese national team rehearsing in the snow went viral, while finalists at the World Pole Dance Championships 2014 came from 14 countries, including Argentina, New Zealand, Russia, Brazil and Cyprus.
The winner of the event’s women’s singles category, Kate Czepulkowski (stage name Bendy Kate), is from Bristol, and the auditorium was full of her fans from pole clubs around the country. Pole fitness is one of the UK’s biggest new fitness trends and amateur classes are springing up everywhere, with at least 10 dedicated schools in London and many more in Manchester, Birmingham and Brighton.
Even Alan Carr is getting in on the act – on Friday’s instalment of his show Chatty Man he let Lindsay Lohan show him some moves, and then a body-double slipped in to do his routine for him.
Classes are often women-only, though more and more mixed classes are popping up and most competitions now include men’s categories. Controversially, junior classes for children as young as three are also on offer at many pole studios.
A typical class begins with stretches, followed by lifts and moves on the pole. Most first-timers can expect to barely lift themselves off the ground, while the most advanced moves seem to defy gravity – athletes grip the pole with a single foot or several fingers. The lifts and tricks tone muscles, while high-intensity choreographed routines provide a cardio workout.