Long relegated to the sketchy confines of the gentlemen's club, the art of pole dancing is hoping to make its way out of the shadows . . . and into the Olympics.
As athletes from around the world converged in London for the XXX Summer Games, an unsung group of pole dancers gathered only miles from the 2012 Olympic Park for the inaugural World Pole Sport Championship and hope for official recognition from the International Olympic Committee for the Brazil games in 2016.
Popularly known as the murderous stomping grounds of Jack the Ripper, East London's Bethnal Green played host to the first annual event July 19 and 20 with gold medals going to Ukraine's Natalia Tatarintseva and Russia's Eugeny Greshilov for women's and men's competitions. Ruth Mansfield and Tiffany Downes from Australia took home gold for their doubles performance.
“These women are incredible athletes," said International Pole Sport Federation president Timothy Trautman. "But we do fight the stereotype that it’s for strippers."
Unlike its early pioneering days in strip clubs, pole dancing has earned the respect of some fitness gurus in the past decade, offering a fully-clothed version of the activity to spread to gyms across the globe — particularly in the former Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and Japan.
“You're lifting your own body weight, you know. You’re controlling all of your own muscles and your body to do those moves and the transitions smoothly and safely,” New Orleans area pole dance instructor Samantha Huffman told WGNO.
"We're gripping with our thighs, our ankles, our armpits, your side. There's a level of dedication and training you have to put into it to get anywhere. It's a type of gymnastics, but it's a vertical apparatus."
Timothy Trautman — president of the International Pole Sport Federation (IPSF), the organization behind the recent London championship — told Buzzfeed that interest the sport has doubled in the past six years and attracts more athletically-inclined participants as it moves towards mainstream acceptance.
“These women are incredible athletes. They have such grace and elegance and they absolutely belong in the Olympics. But we do fight the stereotype that it’s for strippers."
With strong supporters like adult actress Jenna Jameson, who recently hosted an event at a popular Baltimore strip club to promote the sport, pole dancing appears to have a steep uphill PR battle on its way to Olympic glory.