The latest evidence that pole dancing is a legitimate sport, not just an activity that keeps strippers occupied while they're being oogled: Some dudes are taking to the pole too.
This month, men competed in the annual World Pole Dancing finals for the first time. 39 women tried for singles and doubles titles at the championships in Budapest, compared to only seven men. Female pole dancers are already having a hard time convincing people that the sport isn't about ripping off articles of clothing to some Poison song, but performing an artistic routine that requires strength and gymnastic skills. The handful of male competitors say they're facing an even bigger hurdle. "Poler" Matty Shields of Australia tells the Wall Street Journal, "When I tell people what I do, there is shock, 'No! pole dancing is for women." He adds that pole dancing, "can be masculine, too."
There are currently only a handful of men pole dancing around the world. When it was reported several years ago that Jude Law had taken up the sport for a movie role, it sparked a flurry of articles about how pole dancing was the hot new activity for men. Shockingly, the trend pieces turned out to be wrong, as it seems the average dude doesn't live his life by Jude Law's teachings. Several British pole instructors have tried advertising it as an equal opportunity sport, but few men showed up to classes.
It isn't just that their male friends can't stop making idiotic jokes about thongs and nipple tassles. Many female pole dancers don't like seeing men in their classes because they're convinced they guys are only there to see ladies in skimpy outfits, like the creepy boy who briefly joins his high school's cheerleading team before realizing the job involves more than looking up girls skirts. David Charlton of England says that during his first class he decided to loudly discuss the fact that he's gay. "I was quite unreserved…to make it clear that I was not in there to check [the women] out," he said.
At first the hostility toward men from the female dancers sounds a bit counterintuitive. Right now the sport is still struggling for acceptance, so it seems you'd want to welcome anyone who's interested in participating. Yet, the female competitors' concern is understandable. This is one of the sports in which women are the stars, and some don't want men stealing attention. But it doesn't sound like men are dominating pole dancing just yet, and if we want more gender equality in sports, it has to go both ways. We were excited to learn that a girl can now play high school football without being harassed by teammates, and it's good to hear a mostly-female audience cheering on poler Evgeny Greshilov, who placed first in men's singles with a routine that's athletic, fun, and (dare we say) a bit sexy.