Search

Emergence of Pole-dancing as a Sport

*Written by Pavan Mudunuru.




Introduction

Despite having to require extreme athleticism, and composure, Pole-dancers are yet to be recognized as sportspersons across the world. Performers of the sport of Pole-dancing, or as the community of the sport call it - ‘Pole-fitness’, are often stigmatized for taking part in activities relating to sexual pleasure and erotic dancing. While the notion of being associated with stripping and club culture remains prevalent in the eyes of many, this niche form of dance is also an internationally recognised competitive event that stands for strength, endurance, fitness and creativity.

In 2017, the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) has given “observer status” to International Pole Sports Federation (IPSF), granting official recognition to Pole-dancing as a sport, though temporarily[1]. There are certain questions that then arise as to what makes Pole-fitness qualify as a sport.

What qualifies as a sport?

The most prevalent discussion among sports law enthusiasts and scholars is to debate of whether a certain activity qualifies as a sport or not. In layman's arguments, sports are activities that can be compared to mainstream sports like Football, Cricket, Hockey and Athletics among others which have been recognized globally. However, in the sporting world, there are certain qualifications for an event to be recognized as a sport. Although there are many arguments and comments that remain even after the recognition of a sport – for example the arguments regarding NASCAR and E-Sports events not qualifying as sports, there are certain obvious events that do not qualify as sports – for example, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) for its scripted nature.

According to Leigh Steinberg, a sports agent, he says “At a certain level there is no arbitrator or Commissioner of Sport to provide a definitive answer. Is any competition, which is on television and billed as a sport, a sport?”[2]

However, in recent times, there have been multiple breakthroughs regarding specific arguments regarding the criteria of activities so as to be categorized as sports. Namely - Physical Exertion, Skill, and Competition[3]. These criteria are well established in the world of sports law as a common practice and are often referred to by legal scholars to argue for or against the sport in question.

Does Pole-dancing pass the criteria?

Physical Exertion


Like any other competitive dancing, Pole-dancers have to go through rigorous training and their bodies take a heavy toll during competitions. It is also quite well-known that Pole-dancing requires extreme flexibility and body strength which is close to (if not more) a gymnast’s requirement. According to Devon Williams, CEO of a pole-dancing studio in Washington – “Pole Pressure”, claims that the sport takes “strength, flexibility, creativity and a whole lot of training”[4].


According to Nick Krämer, a German Pole-dancer who took part in the 2018 World Championships, the risk of injury is high when Pole-dancing especially when done without a proper warm-up routine. [5]


Sportspersons involved in other dancing sports like breakdancing and figure skating, which have been taking place in the Olympics, also show similar physical exertion and are comparable to Pole-dancers which will be further explored below in this Article. Therefore, there is no doubt that Pole-dancing requires physical exertion.

Skill


Pole-dancing competitions, like the World Championships hosted by IPSF, judge individuals and groups based on creativity, flexibility, and coordination for group performances. All of these judgement criteria require tremendous skill and prowess.


According to Krämer, the German Athlete says that Pole dancing is limitless, and it allows him to be free and invent himself in terms of routine creativity.


“Anybody that says that pole isn't a real sport probably is not an athlete,” says Nadia, who has been practising Pole-fitness for 15 years now, in an interview with Participant[6]. “[Most] of the time athletes [are] mind-blown, because when you know about movement and you see pole dancing, you just automatically know the number of hours and training that go in are extreme. To me, it's definitely a creative process, so it's for sure art.”

It is safe to say that Pole-dancing without skill is not possible.


Competition


It is important to note that just because a certain event requires Skill and it exerts the participant physically, does not make it an event by itself. The criterion of ‘Competition’ can be interpreted to have two aspects – 1) to have a result from the event and 2) such result is non-scripted.


Firstly, Events performed as Stunts, Dance, etc. without a result cannot be termed as sports for the reason that it does not have a consequence as to the performance showcased since it emits the aspect of Winning or Losing. Every sport to exist must have the aspect of Scoring or the result of a Win/ Loss.


Secondly, even if an event ends up having a consequential result, such a result should not be something that has been scripted or pre-decided. Taking the example of WWE again, we observe that the performers in the event showcase immense skills of athleticism, flexibility and strength, each event takes a heavy toll on the performers' bodies during the ‘fight’ and at the same time, each ‘fight’ has a consequence of a win or a loss. However, what disregards this event as a sport is that the results and sometimes even the actions within the fight are pre-decided. It’s a basic and well-established rule in every sport that any scripted or pre-decided activity or result between the teams/ individuals is a violation and heavy penalties are usually imposed on the violator(s).

Pole-fitness is an event having scores, results and rankings with IPSF ensuring unscripted competitions worldwide which thus qualifies it as a competition.


Possibility of Pole-fitness in the Olympics


Olympic Games are considered to be the highest and most celebrated event for Sports across the world currently consisting of 40 sports – 32 in the Summer Events and 8 in the Winter Events[7]. Further, we have seen multiple additions in sporting events in each succession of the Olympic games from the first Modern Olympic Games introduced in 1896 (Athens 1896) having 43 events[8] while in the latest Tokyo 2020 Olympics there were 339 events[9].


Olympic Games while inclusive also have not taken multiple sports in their events taking into account the non-participation of countries and consequential audience engagement. Assuming this aspect as a factor for Pole-fitness, while it raises awareness and participation of athletes across the world, it is safe to assume that one day we can see the sport making its debut in the future Olympic games. Additionally to support this claim we have seen Artistic Athletics taking part in the Olympics from the beginning of the Modern Olympics as well.


Artistic Gymnastics has been a part of the Modern Olympics since the beginning having its first events in Athen 1896[10]. Figure skating also known as synchronized swimming became an Olympic Sport in 1984 in Los Angeles. Breakdancing or breaking has been under the covers for many years before getting to exist as a sport. Like, Pole-fitness, despite having to require extreme athleticism, break-dancers, more popularly referred to as ‘B-Boys’ and ‘B-Girls’, may not have seen the escalation of this art form of street culture to evolve from the streets of New York to an Olympic sport now in the Paris 2024 Olympics[11].

Competitive Dancing sports are enjoyed globally having made their way into the Olympics with an active effort from the community and society and we can hope Pole-fitness is also represented on the Olympic level one day.














*The author is a law scholar from Jindal Global Law School, OP Jindal Global University, India.














(The image used here is for representative purposes only)










References:

[1] Sarmiento, Isabella Gomez. “Pole Dancing Made It to the Super Bowl. Now It Wants Another Stage: The Olympics.” NPR. NPR, March 12, 2020. https://www.npr.org/2020/03/12/813961406/pole-dancing-made-it-to-the-super-bowl-now-it-wants-another-stage-the-olympics.

[2] Steinberg, Leigh. 2022. "What Defines A "Sport"?". Forbes.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/leighsteinberg/2018/07/28/what-defines-a-sport/?sh=7201a7562d66.

[3] Ma, Alwin. “What Is Considered a Sport?” The Garfield Messenger, December 10, 2020. https://www.garfieldmessenger.org/6050/articles/opinion/what-is-considered-a-sport/#:~:text=A%20sport%20is%20an%20activity,three%20requirements%20are%20considered%20sports.

[4] “Pole Dancing Made It to the Super Bowl. Now It Wants Another Stage: The Olympics.” WAMU, March 12, 2020. https://wamu.org/story/20/03/12/pole-dancing-made-it-to-the-super-bowl-now-it-wants-another-stage-the-olympics/.

[5] (www.dw.com), Deutsche Welle. “Pole Dancing: 'Not Something Dirty, but a Competitive Sport': DW: 25.09.2021.” DW.COM, September 25, 2021. https://www.dw.com/en/pole-dancing-not-something-dirty-but-a-competitive-sport/a-59309409#:~:text=An%20internationally%20recognized%20sport,pole%20and%20the%20spinning%20pole.

[6] Pole Dancers Bust Myths About Their Sport | Truth or Myth – Participant. YouTube, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXg2109S9jk.

[7] "Olympics Sports List". 2022. Olympics.Com. https://olympics.com/en/sports/.

[8] "Athens 1896 Summer Olympics - Athletes, Medals & Results". 2018. Olympics.Com. https://olympics.com/en/olympic-games/athens-1896.

[9] "Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics - Athletes, Medals & Results". 2020. Olympics.Com. https://olympics.com/en/olympic-games/tokyo-2020.

[10] "Artistic Gymnastics - News, Athletes, Highlights & More". 2022. Olympics.Com. https://olympics.com/en/sports/artistic-gymnastics/.

[11] "Breaking - News, Athletes, Highlights & More". 2022. Olympics.Com. https://olympics.com/en/sports/breaking/.