Few topics have created as much interest and dissent among mothers across the country than that of children taking up pole dancing – or more commonly referred to as pole fitness.
Pole fitness see’s children as young as five taking to a pole to develop their aerobatic talents. However, stigma surrounding the sport continues to divide opinions with some mothers unable to move past a perceived association with strip clubs.
New South Wales pole studio owner Alicia Millard who offers classes for children aged five to 12 said the sport is largely misunderstood.
“Unfortunately what people are not understanding is that contrary to common belief, pole dancing did not originate in strip clubs, but originated in India over 800 years ago from a sport called Mallakham, which utilises principles of endurance and strength using a wooden pole, wider in diameter than a modern standard pole,” Ms Millard said.
“Modern pole fitness also incorporates Chinese pole, on which men would perform gravity defying ticks as they leap from pole to pole, at approximately 20 feet in the area.”
Ms Millard said comparisons between modern pole dancing and what is used in pole clubs is “like comparing ballet to hip hop”.
Children’s pole fitness classes at the South Coast Pole Studio – otherwise known as Pole Monkeys – see’s children learning aerial acrobatics, strength based holds, spins, climbs, inversions and flexibility.
“These individual qualities are related more to gymnastics and circus, it just so happens that our apparatus is a vertical pole not a horizontal pole,” Ms Millard said.
“Not only does pole fitness help keep children physically fit, it also helps mentally by encouraging team work and by meeting new friends.”
Running two classes per week at the studio, it appears that children and parents alike in the small coastal town of Ulladulla have embraced the sport.
Emma Tibbitts, a parent of a child enrolled at the studio, said as a mother of four she finds it difficult to get her children interested in a sport they enjoy.
“Having one child diagnosed with severe autism also makes it difficult to commit to a sport each term,” Ms Tibbitts explains.
“Having my children involved with Pole Monkeys, I have not only noticed a huge difference in my children’s physical abilities, strength and heath. I have also noticed their team work, friendships, sharing, communication, following instructions and the bonds they have built strengthen.
“Having a child with autism has its challenges, and to be able to take him to a sport with his siblings with no pressure has been an incredible experience.”
Catering to both boys and girls, fellow parent Marie Hibberd has found the Pole Monkeys’ classes have had a positive impact on her sons Kyuss, 8, and Metuki, 5.
“The studio teachers pole fitness, a form of pole dance that is structured around gymnastic and acrobatic type moves,” she said.
“I have no problem with my children participating in such a fun sport, run in a professional and caring manner. I would definitely recommend to children or adults alike.”
Since featuring on the popular morning show Today in June, the lid has certainly been lifted on the sport, with some commentators questioning the need for children to be exposed to a “sexualised” sport.
However, Ms Millard debates any claims pole fitness is inappropriate, particularly given the increasing epidemic of childhood obesity in Australia.
“Child obesity rates in Australia are mind-boggling, and any sport children engage in can only help their self-esteem and fitness levels,” she said.
“I am here to encourage kids to get fit and healthy. Pole fitness offers a great cardio workout, builds strength and works on flexibility. It also helps with co-ordination, self-esteem, listening skills and team work.
“You only have to watch one of our classes to see the smiles on the faces of the children and their parents, the kids' enthusiasm to listen and learn, their determination to get a new trick and their encouragement to each other to see the benefits of pole fitness.”
Ms Millard is quick to point out that the children’s classes are different to the adult style offered.
Adult student Sammi Stiff has also enrolled her daughter in the Pole Monkeys’ class after she started taking an interest in the classes.
“I had removed my daughter from dancing only months earlier as she was expected to wear full makeup and a rather revealing outfit at the end of year concert,” she said.
“I was not comfortable in having my daughter dress or act as an adult. But I have felt more than comfortable having her learn pole alongside me.
“It is gymnastic based, and the strength, flexibility and co-ordination she has gained since doing pole is amazing.
“I wish I had been able to do pole as a child.”
What do you think? Would you encourage your child to take up pole fitness?