Keep your pants on

A Winnipeg pole fitness company aims to strip pole dancing of its striptease connotation

I’ve never conducted an interview in just a bra before, but when I sat down with Tahea Mack and Elisha Ewonchuk – owners of Fantasy Pole Dancing – I felt anything but discomfort and awkwardness.

In fact, I felt slightly liberated – rather sexy even.

“Beyond the fitness aspect, the confidence that you can get from pole fitness is exponential,” Mack says, as we make our way from my first-ever pole fitness class to the studio’s small seating area.

Admittedly, I felt a level of skepticism prior to visiting Mack and Ewonchuk’s 1032 Logan Avenue location. Isn’t pole dancing just the process through which strippers undress themselves?

That sentiment was clearly in accordance with many of my friends’ attitudes. Initially, they all just laughed and suggested that if journalism didn’t work out, I would always have pole dancing as a fall back. But when Mack and Ewonchuk attempted to teach me some of the complex strength and flexibility skills that go into every movement, I realized that mastering the art of pole dancing would probably take me as long as my university degree.

What’s the difference between the horizontal or uneven bars and our vertical bar? I mean really, they’re all poles.

Elisha Ewonchuk, co-owner of Fantasy Pole Dancing

Mack – who’s competed in and won many national pole dancing competitions – feels very strongly about distinguishing what she does, teaches and loves from the profession of stripping.

“Stripping is a job. It’s a lifestyle. It’s not a commitment to a sport or a fitness activity,” Mack says, who has owned and operated her pole fitness studio for five years.

“Pole dancing is really a form of gymnastics,” Ewonchuk adds, who swears by the sport’s transformative abilities, which she says are visible everyday in the athletic and emotional development of her clients and herself.

“What’s the difference between the horizontal or uneven bars and our vertical bar? I mean really, they’re all poles.”

However, in a contemporary context where femininity and an upright pole have exclusively sexualized connotations, how do you begin to associate a combination of the two with a prestigious level of athleticism?

“From people coming down and trying what we do for themselves,” Mack says. “The more people that become aware of the emotional and physical benefits of the sport, the more the perceptions will begin to change.”

Of Fantasy’s 200 plus clients, I was most interested to discover that not all of them are young women in their athletic prime.

“There is a woman that trains here that is in her fifties,” Mack exclaims.

Mack says the majority of her clientele is aged 25 to 40 and is of varying athletic backgrounds and body types.

While this diversity in age and athletic ability is impressive and speaks to a shift away from any automatic association with stripping, I’m not sure if I will be bringing my grandma for next week’s lesson.

However, I can definitely say that I will be canceling my gym membership and replacing it with what is clearly a more all-encompassing workout regime.

And who knows, maybe in the future all athletic facilities will have their own vertical pole.

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Published in Volume 68, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 4, 2013)

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