The performances at the International Pole Dancing Championships are more akin to choreographed gymnastics routines or the aerial acrobatics of Cirque du Soleil than what you'll see for dollar tips at a strip club.
However pole dancing as a sport has started to gain plenty of mainstream attention in part because of its roots in strip clubs and as a sensual art. It's even catching on as a fitness craze. More and more gyms are offering pole dancing workouts and there are even pole dancing studios.The world cup of pole dancing, the pole dancing championships were held for the third year in a row last week in Tokyo. Japan's Mai Sato won the women's division for the second year in a row. Her job is not far removed from her sport. She performs in the Cirque du Soleil show Zed in Japan. Many of the dancers have professional dance, gymnastics, or circus experience. Many even own their own dance company or gym. Felix Cane, who was Miss Pole Dance World in 2009, has been featured for two years in Zumanity. Christopher Measday, a competitor in the men's division found pole dancing as a way to shape up after breaking his back in five places during his time as a competitive trampolinist. Pole dancing allowed him to rebuild his strength without heavy landings while still utilizing his acrobatic skills. This was also the first year the competition included a disabled division, which was won by Eri Kamimoto of Japan who is hearing-impaired.
This annual event is just one of many efforts by the sport to gain more mainstream attention, with the eventual goal of being incorporated into the Olympics. Organizers are currently trying to get pole dancing as a test event for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. While golf and rugby were just added to the 2016 Olympics, more mainstream sports like baseball and softball will be fighting alongside pole dancing for Olympic legitimacy.
In an effort to distance the sport from its erotic roots, organizers have instituted a number of regulations to make the performances more family friendly. Dancers can not wear high heels or boots, and their outfits "must be dignified and appropriate for athletic competition - it must not give the effect of excessive nudity inappropriate for an athletic dance sport."
The sport also has a number of kinks to work out, particularly in regards to judging. The styles vary widely between dancers, making it difficult to come up with a unified and fair system of judging. Many of the moves and tricks don't even have standardized names.
While few people think pole dancing will become an Olympic sport anytime soon, it will undoubtedly continue to grow in popularity, impressing viewers with both it's athletic skill and artistic sensuality.
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