by Cheryl Tan
They are in their 50s but the scantily clad trio twirled, swayed and wrapped their toned bodies around the poles as well as dancers half their age.
The red-hot mamas - Mrs Tan Lileng, Madam Ong Meiyin and Mrs Annie Kwan - call themselves The Ladybirds. They drew catcalls, cheers and loud hoots at Singapore's first pole dancing competition, the Asian Pole Summit 2008, on Thursday night.
The lithe Ladybirds were not actually competitors but the half-time show for the contest held at The Arena nightclub in Clarke Quay.
However, they grabbed pole position from the babe contestants, winning the respect of the crowd for their slinky moves.
'I wish my mother could pole dance like they can,' said Ms Liang Shu En, 23, who works in advertising.
The crowd were wowed by their moves and their short, bum-baring red cheongsam dresses had admirers goggle-eyed.
In fact, the less they wear, the better, said 51-year-old Mrs Tan, who took up pole dancing three years ago. She was keen to try a hobby that had shed its stripper image and was recognised as a strenuous workout.
The insurance head field distributor said: 'We rely on skin contact with the pole to complete our poses and avoid getting injured.' Skin adheres better to the metal poles than slippery clothing.
Enduring bruises, blisters and pole burns on their inner thighs from gripping and sliding around the pole, they practised at least twice a week for more than a month for their performance. Normally, they practise once a week when they attend classes at dance studio Jitterbugs Swingapore at Millenia Walk, along with other women ranging from young working professionals to those in their 40s.
But the blisters and bruises are worth it, they say. Madam Ong, 50, who took up the class nine months ago, said: 'I feel young again and my body is toned. I have a waist now.'
The boutique owner is so keen on learning more pole poses, she ordered a $900 pole from Britain and installed it in her office with added mirrors just so she could practise during her free time.
She even gets her 21-year-old only son, Glenn Wong, who is studying music in Britain, to critique videos of her routines. She sends them to him via e-mail after almost every practice.
'He tells me how to improve on my poses and how to hide my flaws,' she said with a laugh.
Her teammate and mother-of-two, Mrs Kwan, 52, got her 85-year-old mother worried that she was 'selling her body' when she started pole dancing three months ago. 'She understands now after I explained that it is just for exercise and keeping fit,' said the partner of a jewellery shop.
She added: 'I don't really care what other people say, just as long as my husband supports me.'
Husband Franklyn Kwan, 50, a Hong Kong restaurant owner, was away on business and could not be reached for a comment.
Thursday's competition - organised by Jitterbugs Swingapore - caps an increasing growth in popularity of pole dancing among women here as it moves from exotic dancing to the mainstream.
Dance studios such as Jitterbugs and Groove have experienced a nearly sixfold jump in people enrolling in their pole dance classes since offering them over a year ago. Those who join are usually career women in mid-management positions in their late 20s to early 40s, said the studios' spokesman.
During the contest, seven women in the solo category and two pairs in the team category cavorted their way around a pole for top prizes worth more than $3,200.
Ms Tasha Wong, 26, took top prize in the team category with teammate and engineer Fu Huiqin, 25. However, the IT specialist revealed that she has been keeping her hobby secret from her parents.
She said: 'They are pretty traditional and will probably think it is sleazy but now that I have won, I hope they will change their minds.'
It was, however, the catcalls and screams of support from her friends and family that helped banking executive Tan Siew Chen, 28, clinch the top spot in the solo category. She said: 'They boosted my confidence and kept me going.'
This article first appeared in The Straits Times on Nov 28, 2008.
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