Pole fitness is ‘so much more’ than its strip club stigma, says studio owner

South Vancouver pole athlete is training for upcoming regional competition

Mari Hayashi trains for her upcoming pole competition in Vancouver. Photo: Kelsea Franze
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Reported by Kristian Trevena

When Mari Hayashi trains on the pole, she blocks out the negative comments she gets from those who confuse her sport with seduction.

South Vancouver athlete Hayashi took up pole dancing as a hobby, and is competing in her first Canadian Pole Fitness Association regional competition March 30-31 in Vancouver.

Hayashi does lyrical and contemporary pole dancing, which involves no exotic dancing. However, she said that many people still associate the sport with stripping.

As in any other sport, competitive pole athletes train hard to perform at their best. When people hold on to this association, it can make it hard for athletes like Hayashi to have people take them seriously.

It’s a stigma that Tammy Morris, who owns Tantra Fitness, the first pole dancing studio in Vancouver, has worked hard to shed.

“I wanted to show people it’s so much more than that,” she said. Morris said the group that most strongly associates the sport of pole dancing with stripping is men.

“They probably don’t love the fact that we can do this for us, for ourselves,” said Morris, who created the CPFA as a way to bring certification and competitive pole dancing to Canada.

Hayashi said she doesn’t often get this reaction from friends and family, but she does receive unkind messages on social media.

“On Instagram, people comment that I’m being very sexy, but I don’t post anything sexy. I’m just trying to post my tricks,” she said.

Hayashi said she received a comment from a woman about her competition routine calling Hayashi’s pole dancing “a way to seduce guys.”

“I’ve been practising so hard,” Hayashi said.

‘Wear shorts as short as you can’

When she discovered pole dancing, Hayashi was looking for a hobby that was acrobatic and involved music. She thought about gymnastics and climbing, but neither was what she was looking for.

“I thought [pole dancing] would be perfect. I need to be flexible. I need to be strong. I can play music and dance,” Hayashi said.

Junsong Zhang, who is also competing in the CPFA event, said that while he faces stigma by being a man involved in the sport, pole dancing is a way to find body positivity.

“If you feel you’re out of shape, or you don’t have the perfect body, that’s fine. Nobody judges. Once you advance in pole dance, you feel natural to wear less, because you feel natural with your body with people around you,” Zhang said, adding that pole dancers can’t wear long pants or sleeves while training, because they won’t be able to grip the pole.

“Long pants just make it harder. Wear shorts as short as you can,” Zhang said.

He added that pole sports are more common in China, where Zhang is originally from, and it’s not uncommon for men and children to practise the sport.

Hayashi encourages people who are curious to give the sport a try.

“Emotionally it helps a lot. I am physically fit and have something to focus on,” she said.

The CPFA regional competition is held at The Annex.

In this video, competitive pole dancers Mari Hayashi and Junsong Zhang showcase their athletic and acrobatic abilities while they prepare for an upcoming competition. Video by Kelsea Franzke.

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