Fitness: More get to grips with trials of pole dancing

Making it look almost effortless, a coach from Milan Pole Dance Studio displays a pose on the pole.
Making it look almost effortless, a coach from Milan Pole Dance Studio displays a pose on the pole.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Increased flexibility is just one benefit as more people seek to increase aerial grace

In a dimly-lit room in Bukit Pasoh Road, a group of women are working their moves on poles.

The music comes on. Synchronising their moves to the beat, they spin and twist on the metal floor-to-ceiling poles, sometimes even hanging off them in mid-air.

No, it's not a sleazy bar. They are at the Milan Pole Dance Studio to keep themselves fit.

Increasingly, women PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) aged 20-45 are flocking to studios and gyms after work to participate in the fitness activity that combines "the grace of dance, gymnastics and acrobatics", according to the studio's co-owner Tracy Mak.

Classes typically occur on weekday nights and weekend afternoons to accommodate the majority of participants who work regular office hours.

Students can expect to pay casual rates of $20-40 for a 60-90 minute session, while membership is available at a lower price for those who want to pursue pole fitness more regularly.

According to a blog post on the site, the roots of pole fitness can be traced back to the 12th century.


  • 900 Number of years ago that the origins of pole dancing first appeared.

There are tenuous links to maypole dancing and mallakhamb, an Indian sport where tricks and poses are performed on three different sets of apparatus, including a fixed or suspended wooden pole, and a rope.

Despite its long history, pole dancing has only started to gain traction in the last 10 years in Singapore.


  • 2,000  Estimated pole dancing participants in Singapore.

Various local studios have estimated that around 2,000 people do some form of pole dancing in the Republic. While the general ratio of males to females is about one in 100, PoleLAB, which has 10-15 per cent male students, has said that "there is definitely an increase in the number or percentage of male students (in recent years)".

The convenience of the exercise is a big factor for a woman who only gave her name as Deborah. She said she just brings an outfit (tank top and shorts) and liquid chalk (to improve her grip on the pole) to each session because it motivates her to stay in shape.

The 28-year-old, who attends at least two classes weekly, said: "I really hate exercising, (but) it (pole fitness) is really fun, so I don't feel that I'm actually working out.

"Even going for my weekly or twice-a-week yoga classes is a struggle. However, I look forward to pole dancing all the time and I constantly think of how I can improve myself."

Other pole dancers The Straits Times spoke to also said that they found benefits, especially in "stamina and flexibility", and "upper body and core strength".

Prana Ovide-Etienne, multiple pole dancing champion of France and Canada, has no doubt that there are more muscles at work than people might think, and that the gravity-defying workout extends to the entire body.

The French instructor, 28, who teaches at the Milan Pole Dance Studio, said: "Normally, people think it's just about arms and pecs, but it's literally everything.

"The strength comes from the core, and of course we use the arms because you need to climb, and quads and butt (muscles) because we're arching.

"That (performance) also has to look easy, so you have to control your face (and therefore the display of emotions)."

Marketing researcher Jade Liang, 28, looks forward to her thrice-weekly classes at SLAP Dance Studio. She said: "Learning new choreography keeps me focused and takes my mind off work.

"You need to be very focused during that one hour and you forget about everything - a sucky day at work or any relationship problems."

Tan Si Xuan, a 19-year-old undergraduate, said: "I do love to swim (as a workout), but pole dancing is much more challenging for someone like me because I'm such a clumsy person."

When she started early last year, she said her "limbs were just flailing around" and she "couldn't even get into the right positions".

However, Tan managed to overcome her initial struggle, and said: "I paid more attention to my body position and broke down the instructions into simpler bits."

"After a couple of months, all of that (positioning) became much more instinctive."

Pole fitness has been life-changing for Charmaine Tan, who has battled weight issues since she was young although she lost 9kg through the sport.

The 24-year-old, who tried five different fitness activities to lose weight, started attending classes at The Brass Barre in February last year.

Tan said: "It (pole fitness) became a hobby that I enjoy so much. The tricks I yearned to master kept me going for classes.

"In that process, my weight slowly dropped. It was more significant when I took more back-to-back classes."

However, she maintained that "it's not just about weight loss", and said: "After I found pole, I'm able to stand taller while I walk. I also found self-confidence that I didn't (previously) have.

"It used to be hard to even stare at myself in the mirror."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 25, 2017, with the headline 'More get to grips with trials of pole dancing'. Print Edition | Subscribe