Many people still automatically assume that pole dancing is provocative, sexy, and has no place outside of strip clubs. But determined enthusiasts are trying to take it to an entirely new venue: The Summer Olympics. Although a petition circulated by an association of pole-fitness competitors and entrepreneurs to get pole dancing included in the London Games was rejected by the International Olympic Committee, undaunted supporters are making another push for 2016. Can pole dancing shake its naughty reputation and earn recognition as a legitimate sport? Here's what you should know:
Do people really think pole dancing is a sport?
Some do, and it has undeniably emerged as a fitness craze. Participation has doubled over the last six years, pushing pole dancing out of the darkness of erotic dancing clubs and into gyms around the country, and all over the world. Serious pole dancers even compete in international competitions. "Nowadays there are very few who are training to perform in a strip club," Anjel Dust, an organizer at the California Pole Dance Championships, told LA Weekly last year. "It's all about fitness or competitions."
Who's pushing for it to be in the Olympics?
A group called the International Pole Sport Federation is one of the leading forces behind the effort. Tim Trautman, the organization's president, says the main obstacle to getting people to treat pole dancing as a legitimate sport is the enduring stereotype that it is something erotic dancers do as they peel off their clothes. "We have to take some of the eroticism out of the moves and also take off the high heels," Trautman says. "We're going to frame it as these are athletes that you're watching."
What else are enthusiasts doing to legitimize the sport?
The IPSF is hosting a pole dancing world championship in London, featuring competitors from 25 countries, just before the Olympics begin, in an effort to get on the International Olympic Committee's radar screen. The sport is also adopting newly established bylaws and an official pole-dancing rule book.
But, seriously, could pole dancing ever qualify?
Even some supporters know success won't come easy. "I think one day it should be an Olympic sport, says Jeannine Wikering, who placed third in the 2008 European pole-dancing championships. "But that will take time." Let's be honest, says CBS Sports. Pole fitness (or "vertical dancing"), though strenuous, might never be able to "tone down its sexy past" enough to make the Games.
Sources: BuzzFeed, CBS Sports, Fox 59, LA Weekly, TIME
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