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Feature Wed May 21 2014
By Kara Charlton
Pole dance has been gaining widespread popularity in the last few years as a great way to get fit. It tones all the body's muscle groups, and improves flexibility and endurance. The Pole Sport Organization (PSO), the US pole group that runs the championships, has been working to open this athletic art form to a wider audience since 2012. That year, the PSO held just two events; in 2013 they held five, and this year they will be hosting eight across the country. Co-founder Amy Guion is not only in charge of organizing championship events on the west coast, east coast and Midwest, but she has also been a dancer herself for seven years.
"You don't get to change people's minds very often," Guion says about lifting misconceptions and skepticisms about pole. Usually the phrase "pole dancer" inspires images of erotic clubs and strippers, but the type of pole seen at competitions is the awe-inspiring type seen at shows like Cirque du Soleil.
Photo by Alloy Images, courtesy of Pole Sport Organization
Guion says that events like this are a chance for people who are curious to see what it is all about, and people who held previous negative ideas to open their minds to something new and exciting. The upcoming Central Championships will also be an all-ages event. "It's not about taking clothes off, in fact, in 2014 there are over 3,000 pole studios and gyms around the world instructing the art and sport of pole dancing," says the PSO's website.
Guion started her pole training in California, at a little place called Bespun. In the seven years she's been dancing, four were spent exclusively competing, placing second and third. She feels that pole is a combination of artistic and technical parts, making it both a sport and a dance.
Many countries such as Poland, Russia and Japan have been hosting national championship competitions for years. Several pole organizations, such as the Pole Fitness Association, are making a bid for pole dance to become an official Olympic sport. In 2011, an inter-organizational petition elicited over 6,000 signatures. Countries like Great Britain and Poland are even beginning to impose dress code rules and change some of the more provocative trick names, such as the "Spatchcock," into purely technical combinations of letters and numbers.
Guion says that while she sees the need for consistency for the sake of a standard of judging, she feels that pole still has some way to go before it is ready for something as big as the Olympics. "You need to build a national series, then form a standard for judging," she says, "There's a lot of work to be done." She would prefer to see it at a more extreme sports event such as the X Games, where sports with more attitude and edge are commonplace. She also says that changing the names of certain tricks to a mix of randomized numbers and letters would take away some of the artistry of pole.
Eighty-eight competitors are expected to perform at this weekend's championships across five levels of experience, from amateur to professional. Events at the Vittum Theatre, 1012 N. Noble St., will begin on Saturday at 7:15 am and run until 9:30 pm. Sunday events will begin at 7:45 am and run until 5:30 pm. Tickets are $30 and can be easily purchased online.
Kara Charlton is a political science major with a minor in journalism at DePaul University and a pole dancer aspiring to compete next year. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.