For those who still think the pole dancing fitness trend is a trashy fad reserved for Kardashian wannabes and Real Housewives, the organizer of an event happening Friday hopes she can change your mind.
Crystal Belcher is the pole-fitness instructor behind Melee on the Bayou, a competition showcasing the skills of amateur pole dancers and pole fitness studios in the Houston area. But don't think Rick's Cabaret. Think Cirque Du Soleil instead. Just watch the video below of Felix Cane, Miss Pole Dance Australia 2006 (which is actually pretty safe-for-work).
Is it sexy? Undeniably. But there's also something extremely vulnerable about that performance, which is evocative in a way that goes beyond prurient emotion. Plus, look at the strength Cane displays. It can't be easy to flip yourself upside-down on a pole using only your arms. It's almost like a ballet where the pole is the partner.
The rules of this weekend's Melee aim to ensure the event focuses more on skills than sex. For the amateur competition, "participants must not currently be or ever have been compensated for instruction or performance in pole dance." Nudity, pasties, G-strings and thongs are also prohibited, though contestants may strip off articles of clothing so long as their undergarments are full-coverage.
Another competition will pit 12 fitness studios from the Houston area against each other, with teams of up to four dancers performing. If you've ever wanted to take a pole dancing fitness class, here's your chance to vet the talents of the instructors.
Belcher first started pole dancing after a co-worker who was doing PR for a studio talked her into attending a few classes. As a former dancer and competitive cheerleader, pole fitness clicked for her. Now she works as an instructor.
"It coupled so many things I'd been involved in," she said.
Belcher said Melee on the Bayou is meant to bring Houston into the limelight as one of the top cities for pole dancing competition and conventions. The nation's other largest cities have all had major pole dance events, and in June 2012 Los Angeles will host the International Pole and Exotics Convention. Belcher hopes eventually Houston might host a similar large-scale event.
But Melee is also about showcasing alternative styles of fitness, she said.
"I want to dispel the myth that it's about teaching women, or men, how to strip," she said. "(Pole dancing) has become not only a regime for fitness, gymnasts and dancers now see it as a sport. It's becoming more theatrical."
Want a taste of what Melee has to offer? Here's Crystal Belcher's application video for PoleArt 2011, an amazing-looking event in Helsinki.
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And here's the trailer for PoleArt 2010.
Melee on the Bayou, 6:30 p.m. Friday, November 11, at Grooves of Houston Restaurant, 2300 Pierce. Tickets are $20.