Watch out, men on poles
It's not just the ladies who heat up the dance floor with pole dancing.
By Shree Ann Mathavan
THE body is muscular, athletic, not quite that of a typical pole dancer.
But he can certainly pole dance.
Mr Jose Cerda, 23, swung deftly around a pole to a hip-hop beat during the inaugural Asian Pole Summit 2008 at The Arena in Clarke Quay on Thursday.
And he wasn't the only guy to do it. Viva Vertical Hunks, an all-male quartet from Kuala Lumpur, also twirled their way to thunderous applause from the hundred or so who came to watch the event.
But guys? Pole dancing?
Why not, asked Mr Cerda.
'I've done a bit of everything else, but never pole, so it was really exciting to pick it up,' said the dance instructor from Jitterbugs Singapore, which organised the event. 'I've really enjoyed it.'
Mr Cerda is among a growing number of men around the world who are injecting a dose of testosterone into a dance form usually associated with women.
In Australia, the UK and the US, dance studios are beginning to offer pole-dancing classes just for men.
And in China, last year's National Pole Dancing competition was won by a man. Dance instructor Zhang Peng, 23, beat a host of women dancers to the top prize.
But it looks like there aren't many male pole dancers here.
'I guess it's not yet respected among men,' said Mr Cerda.
'Or they tend to make assumptions about your sexuality.'
The affable dance instructor, who teaches hip-hop, jazz and break dance, has been dancing since he was 15 years old.
He took up pole dancing after seeing his colleagues at Jitterbugs performing it.
And after training thrice a week in private classes with Ms Linna Tan, 33, principal pole dance instructor at Jitterbugs, he managed to pull off his first public pole dance at the event on Thursday.
Despite the bumps, bruises and falls off the pole, he's now a pole convert and intends to keep at it 'for as long as I possibly can'.
Mr Cerda, who now weighs 70kg, credits the exercise for losing 6kg since he took up the dance form.
For Viva Vertical Hunks - made up of Adam Tan, 17; Yen Chua, 25; Johnathan Ong, 17, and Jon Ti, 18, - the motivation was picking up a female-dominated dance form.
While Mr Chua, who works for a bank, admitted they had their share of detractors who say the dance form isn't for men, he felt the only way to change such views was to get the critics to watch their performances.
'When they watch us, they change their perspective almost instantly,' said Mr Chua, who picked up pole dancing this year. 'In a way, it's education.'
While most local dance studios The New Paper on Sunday spoke to didn't have pole dancing classes for men, Jitterbugs Singapore offers ad-hoc dance workshops for men.
Ms Fen Tonge, 36, its chief financial officer, said the studio has had classes for about 10 men in the one year since it started offering pole dancing. Groove Dance School and SensUal Joy Lifestyle Studio offer pole dance courses for women, but not men.
Said Groove's director, who wanted to be known only as Miss Fi: 'We strongly feel that this should still be reserved for ladies simply because it's a great course for fitness, empowerment. Plus, part of the X-factor is that it's a course for women by women.'
However, she added that a course exclusively for men could be considered.
Although more men are starting to take up the dance form, it remains to be seen if audiences will appreciate the sight of the masculine form executing moves like the carousel and the corkscrew on the pole.
Mr Matt Hobbs, 33, in the aviation industry, is one of the few who appreciated the male dancers' performance on Thursday.
He said: 'It's very impressive, I didn't know men could pole dance.'
He joked: 'If I had muscles like Jose, it would certainly be worth trying.'
Miss Ava Lim, a sales executive in her late 20s, said: 'Having guys on the pole who are muscular and well-built is really sexy.'
However, it was clear that not all men were convinced. Mr Rajne Sharma, 25, a British trader, made a beeline for the bar every time the male performers came on just to avoid watching them.
He said: 'I don't think you should ever have guys pole dancing, that's just wrong. Pole dancing is meant for women.'
Age is no barrier
JUDGING by the performers at the Asia Pacific Pole Dancing Competition on Thursday, pole dancing may no longer be exclusively for young women.
While the younger women competed in the solo and team events, there were performances not only by men, but also a trio of pole-dancing mothers who are all over 50 years old.
Calling themselves the Ladybirds, Ms Tan Li Leng, 51, an agency head at NTUC Income, Mrs Annie Kwan, 52, co-owner of a jewellery business and Madam Meiyin Ong, 50, a hotel manager, gave the younger dancers a run for their money.
Said the outspoken Ms Tan: 'Some of my friends think it's sleazy but it isn't like that at all.
'Pole performances like these help to show the public that it's a lot about fitness, technique and strength.'
Their performance in sexy red cheongsams drew enthusiastic applause as did the youngest performers - a trio of girls, aged 8 to 10.
When it comes to pole dancing, Ms June Joy Leng, 29, of the exclusively female SensUal Joy Lifestyle Studio, thinks it doesn't matter whether one is young or old, man or woman.
She said: 'If the calling is strong why not? Pole dancing can be very vigorous and acrobatic, so it's not for everyone.
'But if you are physically able and can get past the sleazy pole dancing stereotype, I see no reason why anyone should be stopped from doing it.'
This story was first published in The New Paper on Nov 30, 2008.
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