Dancer, photographer, and instructor, Ania Przeplasko *, founded the International Pole Dance Fitness Association in 2007. She is also my close friend. Ania took the photos for the cover of my first book, pro bono. Over the years, I’ve watched her turn competitive pole dancing from something that was treated as a semi-ribald joke into a serious sport and performance art. When the second International Pole Championship was held here in Tokyo in 2008, she asked me to be one of the judges. Please pardon my lack of objectivity here.
At one point during the competition I judged, Ania and I went over every single of the over fifty judging criteria -- verticality, inner thigh gripping strength, balance, grace, etc -- and ended up in a heated debate about how many points to award sexiness in the Pole Art category (which is separate from the Pole Fit category). “Pole dancing” may still conjure images of the awful film Showgirls, but “pole dance” has become a legitimate performance art and sport over the last six years. I once tried to survive a class in pole dance that Ania taught—it required pull-ups, push-ups, leg raises and more grueling exercise and upper- and lower-body strength than anything I ever tried. Fortunately I received an early reprieve from her instruction when, attempting to flip turn upside down, I received a pole to the crotch with such great force that I slithered down to the ground and huddled up in a ball. I left chastened and resolved to never again cast aspersions on the athletic prowess of pole dancers.