Last updated: May 04, 2014

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10 unknown things about pole dancing

The best pole dancers from around the country get down and dirty for the Australian Pole Dancing World Championships held at Sydney's Enmore Theatre

THERE is more to the world of pole dancing than just stripper heels, sequins and sexy moves. In fact it's changing. Unless you take part, here are 10 things you don't know about it.

To uncover what really happens on the global pole dancing circuit, we consulted Australian pole dancing instructor and performer Michelle Shimmy.

More than just swinging around a pole

Michelle Shimmy and her sister Maddie Sparkle. Picture: Justin Tran Source: Supplied

As a joint owner of Pole Dance Academy with her sister Maddie Sparkle in Sydney, she has travelled to the USA, Europe and Asia to teach other dancers, perform and compete in international competitions.

After eight years of pole dancing, and competing for about six years, she tells us what outsiders need to know:


When people think of pole dancing, they think of high heels, sexy dancing and hair flicking.

But Shimmy says there is more to it. In fact, there are different competitions around the world to cater for different pole dancing styles.

"Some competitions have a more contemporary dance style where you can move on the stage and up the pole barefoot, but you still have to have skin showing to be able to grip the pole," she said.

"There are also competitions that are more about pole fitness or pole sports, and they have a more gymnastics-like style and often attract ex-gymnasts as well as pole dancers who want to focus more on the athletic side of pole."

Going barefoot ... Natalia Tatarintseva from the Ukraine, who won the World Pole Sport & Fitness Championshi...

Going barefoot ... Natalia Tatarintseva from the Ukraine, who won the World Pole Sport & Fitness Championship in 2012. Picture: Still from YouTube Source: Supplied


Shimmy says Australia is "definitely up there" with some of the best countries in the world who produce professional pole dancers, but our dancing style has always had a reputation for embracing the racier side of pole dancing.

"Australia has had a long tradition of producing dancers who perform sexier dances, with the high heels and outrageous costumes, compared to overseas countries where there are more dancers who dance barefoot and perform other styles with more modern contemporary moves," she said.

"However, these days Australian pole dancers are just as likely to be dancing barefoot in pole fitness competitions as they are to be performing in sequins and high heels.

"But the 'traditional' sexy style of pole dance is alive and well! Everywhere I've travelled, most dancers are desperate to give the sexier style of pole dancing a go."

 Bringing sexy back ... A Miss Pole Dance Australia competitor last year. Picture: Phil Blatch

Bringing sexy back ... A Miss Pole Dance Australia competitor last year. Picture: Phil Blatch Source: News Limited


Depending on what competition you enter, there are different rules for costumes.

"Some have a stricter approach to pole and have rules about the type of costume you can wear, for example, saying you can't show cleavage or show your 'gluteal fold'. This is a description of the body part where your butt cheek meets your thigh," Shimmy said.

"Other comps will simply say that G-strings are forbidden."

One of the world's biggest pole dancing competitions - the International Pole Sports Championships - which is about presenting art and athleticism combined in pole dancing, has strict rules about costuming.

Shimmy also referred to the World Pole Sports Championships, which have "even stricter criteria" about what you can and can't wear, and how competitors must perform.

"They have a lot of rules and regulations by which competitors must abide, as they want their pole dancing competition to be seen as being about fitness and sport. It's about presenting pole in a different light - as a sport."

Here are just some of the rules for participants at the International Pole Sports Federation Championships for 2013-2014. Their full list of rules and regulations can be found here.

And that's not all ... some of the International Pole Sports Federation Championship Rules and Regulations Handb...

And that’s not all ... some of the International Pole Sports Federation Championship Rules and Regulations Handbook for 2013-2014. Source: Supplied


Shimmy says there is a movement within the pole dancing world to try and "clean up" competitions to make them more mainstream, legitimate, more fitness- and dance-based. But not all pole dancers welcome it.

"Pole dance is evolving, and there's a constant debate within the pole community about the direction in which it's headed. An outsider wouldn't necessarily realise that there's politics within pole dancing as to how people should dress and how some want pole dancing to be seen. Some want it to be seen more as a sport, or art form, and others still like the sexy traditions of pole dancing," she said.

In a bid to bring together some of the different styles of pole performance, Shimmy and her sister Maddie, set up an Australian event called Pole Theatre, to offer dancers the chance to spread their creative wings and dance how they want to dance.

"We are not the only ones (who run events like this) but Pole Theatre embraces all types of pole dancing. We have categories for Pole Art, Pole Comedy, Pole Drama, and the most popular category - Pole Classique, where performers can celebrate the sexy side of pole dance, and are allowed to strip (but it is not compulsory)," she said.

"Pole Theatre has been so successful that it has been picked up by other countries and we will be involved in Pole Theatre events in South Africa, the UK and Ireland," she said.

Competitors take part in Pole Theatre last year. Picture: Justin Tran

Competitors take part in Pole Theatre last year. Picture: Justin Tran Source: Supplied

A quick internet search of pole dancing blogs brings up links to many forums, where dancers are expressing their views about dress codes for pole dancers.

One pole dancing instructor, Claire Griffin Sterrett, from the US wrote: "Yes, pole is athletic and it gets you fit and it's beautiful and yes it has many faces, including competition. And yes competitions and studios need rules for safety, among other things. But forcing pole dancers to look or act or present themselves a certain way just so that "other people" will accept pole as "legitimate" is just squeezing the very soul right out of our pole culture. Pole is already legitimate. We make it legitimate just by the simple act of dancing."

A well-connected sport ... pole dancers know each other all around the world. Picture: AFP

A well-connected sport ... pole dancers know each other all around the world. Picture: AFP Source: AFP


Shimmy describes it as a "tightly networked community". She said everybody knows each other on social media and it is a very supportive community.

However, during competition time, there are times moments where it can get "tense" backstage.

"But that's more the exception than the rule," she said.

"It depends on the competition and atmosphere created by the organisers. You do get meltdowns, tantrums and diva behaviour occasionally. The competitors have trained so hard to compete and they only have 3-5 minutes to show what their training has amounted to. So if lighting or music is not right for example, they can get stressed out. But overall people are very supportive and encouraging of each other."


In the same way the skateboard and surfing communities know who the pros are, pole dancers also know who the "pro polers" are.

Some of them include:

Natasha Wang from the US, and the winner of the International Pole Championship 2013 Ultimate Pole Champion in the Women's Division.

Natasha Wang

Felix Cane from Australia, a world pole dancing champion and Cirque du Soleil performer in The Immortal World Tour, inspired by Michael Jackson.

Felix Cane

Marion Crampe from France, who came in at 3rd place as an Ultimate Pole champion at International Pole Championship in 2013.

Marion Crampe

Oona Kivela from Finland, the 2012 Ultimate Pole Champion at the International Pole Championship.

Oona Kivela


While male pole dancing is nowhere near as big as it is for women, Shimmy is it is definitely growing.

One of our country's male polers is indigenous dancer Matthew Shields who auditioned for Australia's Got Talent back in 2011.

Meet Matthew Shields, who shot to fame after being the first Indigenous pole dancer on Australia's got talent.

"A lot of hip hop and break dancers, circus performers and gymnasts are moving in to male pole dancing. The ones right at the top are as good if not better than the women," she said.

"Guys are also able to enter the international competitions in separate divisions to the girls, which is great as they can also compete."

Pro male polers include:

Derick Pierson from the USA, and International Pole Championship 2013 Ultimate Pole Champion in the Men's Division.

Derick Pierson

Evgeny Greshilov from Russia, who got 1st Place at the 2012 World Pole Sport Championship.

Evgeny Greshilov


After travelling, teaching and competing across the globe, Shimmy says there is constant debate about the judging of pole dancing competitions.

"Some competitions get criticised for being too criteria-based. For example, the International Pole Championships were the subject of a lot of debate about the criteria and the judging after the competition in November (last year). World Pole Sports have a big focus on compulsory moves, to try to remove the subjective elements of judging. Even then, some people argue about whether that's the best way to judge a pole competition," she said.

"At the end of the day, the judges' decisions are always controversial, as you are taking something subjective, like whether you liked a particular dance performance, and trying to make an objective decision. But pole dancers do argue about the results. Debating and analysing the results at the end of a competition is half the fun!"


While choreography is important, Shimmy says nothing really stirs up the pole dancing public quite like a new move.

A basic move is considered to a spinning climb, which would require a few weeks of training.

But for the more advanced, the Spatchcock, first debuted by Felix Cane, would require years to perfect.

Or just watch Cane perform it!

Felix Cane does The Spatchcock


In the studio, Shimmy said she has taught dancers all over the world who are doing it for many reasons.

"Whether it's for fitness or you're attracted to the sexy side of pole dancing, which I really like, the beauty of it is that you can take from it what you want," she said.

"If you want to get super ripped and lose weight, go for it. But if you want to feel feminine and more confident, it's amazing for that too.

"Many come in and think they can't do it but once they learn to dance and start having fun with it, they suddenly feel more confident with it in the studio, and about themselves generally. It's the most fun way to get in shape."

 Pole dancing has taken off for many reasons across Australia and the world ... Dancers pictured here come from the Suzie Q P...

Pole dancing has taken off for many reasons across Australia and the world ... Dancers pictured here come from the Suzie Q Pole Studio on the Gold Coast. Source: News Limited

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