Last fall, I discovered Pole Spin magazine quite accidentally when someone left it behind in a bar where I was having a cocktail. Since I posted about the publication a couple of times, Tinu, the single-named lady behind the American Pole Fitness Association and Pole Spin magazine, invited me to the American Pole Fitness Championships, held in New York City on Friday. It was… interesting.
First of all, the event was held at the Manhattan Center, which was hosting two events that evening: The pole dancers were upstairs, but downstairs in the Hammerstein Ballroom, the Omega Institute was having a Dharma Talk. So there were ladies in super high heels heading upstairs and bald Buddhist monks in brown robes milling around downstairs. Very surreal.
The competition started with the men. Yes, there are male pole fitness enthusiasts. Many of the judges of the competition were men; one an acrobat with Cirque du Soleil. This is David C. Owen. His routine involved being tied up in a burlap sack and cutting himself out of it with a knife, then spinning on the pole with the knife in his teeth.
This is Ravan, he had really great makeup, but you can't see it here.
This is Philip Deal, he toured with the Kirov Ballet of St. Petersburg Russia. He is also on faculty at The New School Of Erotic Touch, "teaching men stamina training and improving sexual performance."
Derik Pierson seemed influenced by Lady Gaga. He won first place in the men's division. Apparently when he was younger he was hit by a drunk driver and got two herniated discs in his neck.
Derik was incredibly fluid and comfortable on the pole.
Here's an old video of Derik Pierson in action.
Even though Derik won, Suwasit was my favorite. He was super theatrical and even included a chair in his routine.
Here's video of Suwasit in action. He is quite a tight little package.
The competition started with the men, but in many ways, the women were the true stars. This is Flying Laura, who won first place in the women's division. She was so quick, so agile, and so daring, there were quite a few times I felt sure she was going to crash to the ground and break her head open. That didn't happen.
Flying Laura also does kung fu and boxing.
Here's Flying Laura's promotional video, in which she calls pole work "fresh, fun, confronting, empowering."
Phoenix Kazree is a former gymnast who also trained at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Shcool and the Joffrey Balley.
Some footage of Phoenix Kazree.
The APFA didn't send any images of contestant Heidi Coker, who had a great flow and style.
Also really impressive? Miss Bunni Luv.
The thing about the American Pole Fitness Championships is that there's no doubt that this is a sport, that these people are athletes, and that you can't really compare what they're doing to stripping or pole dancing in a club. They are crazy strong, and the routines are not about titillation or eroticism. But there is a certain tension in the atmosphere while watching the performers. All those splits and splayed limbs. All the gripping of the phallic object. All the crotches right in your face. I found myself asking, wait, was that sexual? Is that too sexy? And also wondering, well, so what if it is?
American Pole Fitness [Official Site]
Photography by Toni Wallachy and Ben Hall