It’s been around for decades, and in recent years it has taken on a whole new crowd of enthusiasts. This weekend, hundreds of pole dancing performers converge on St. Charles for the North American Pole Dance Championships and Great Midwest Pole Dance Convention.
“It’s grown quite a bit much faster than we ever expected,” event organizer Mary Ellyn Weissman said. Since it started four years ago, the show has tripled in attendance and duration and expanded its competition internationally.
The convention started Friday at the Pheasant Run Resort Mega Center complete with hourly workshops like silk scarves, safety classes and everything from pole dancer insurance to nutrition. Participants worked spinning poles and static, practicing grips and new moves. The vendor fair featured pole gear, grips, jewelry, professional photography, clothing and even flashy shoes.
The dancing takes center stage at night. Elizabeth Tuazon is last year’s pole performer of the year in the Midwest Essential division, which limits dancers to floor work and spin tricks.
A longtime ballet dancer and dance instructor, Tuazon said pole dancing is a passion.
“It’s something I was looking for for sport and fitness really more than anything else at the time, but I’m really enjoying the creation of art with it,” she said. “It’s beautiful, it’s lovely. I’ve never been a gymnast, but it’s the act of dancing with apparatus. That’s kind of how I approach the pole myself.”
Five different divisions will compete Friday and Saturday. Most of the competitors are women, but don’t discount the men — organizers said 20 percent of the pole dancing community is male. Though this is elite competition, there are beginner workshops which anyone can get into.
“You can start with any skill level, any strength, any size,” Weissman said. “I have women well over 250 pounds who take my classes. You don’t have to climb the pole, you don’t have to hang upside down by your feet. There’s all different levels of what we do.”
As for that stereotype perpetuating the pole, loyalists liken it to the sex appeal in other dances, such as tango.
“It can be anything you want,” Weissman said. “It’s not about the sensuality if you don’t want it to be. It’s about the fitness and the sport, but it’s just a dance.”