Physically, pole dance is about tenacity and tolerance. Socially, the art is often about prurient prejudice, still. Pole dance in China, though, is not automatically deemed questionable as many an observer only catches the acrobatics in martial arts motion.
The use of poles in acrobatic entertainment can be traced back some 800 years, all the way to India. Mallakhamb was, slash is, a traditional Indian sport starring a wooden pole. Men who would undertake acrobatic and yoga-inspired tricks on said pole.
Chinese (yep!) pole performances, then, emerged around the same time and often featured two poles, rising up to 20 feet in the air. Performers would complete climbs, inversions and even leap between the two poles. Moving into modern airspace…
Temper takes five with former world champion pole dance performer Zixy Z.
WHO… Is Zixy Z. and how did you become a dancer?
Zixy: My name is Zixy Z., I am a movement artist, dance performer, and pole dance instructor. How did I become a dancer? My mom was a huge music lover; ever since I can remember she was always playing music through a speaker — any kind thereof. Under her influence, I have been connected to music and rhythm in a special way throughout my childhood, right into adulthood.
When I was five or six, I distinctly remember being out shopping with my mom, and every time the opportunity presented itself, I would grab a hanger from a clothing store and dance around with it. After witnessing that all afternoon long, she enrolled me in Chinese classical dance lessons and I haven’t stopped dancing since.
I spent my childhood in Shenzhen city and attended university in Chicago, majoring in Fine Arts and Art Management.
WHAT… Does pole dance mean to you and your identity?
Zixy: To me, pole dance is an art form and the pole dancing community has been a home to me and my identity. Pole dancing is a comparatively new and rising industry, there aren’t a lot of rules in terms of creating and making dance.
With my training in Chinese classical dance and performance art, pole dance really helped me find a platform that is free. When I found pole dance I was free, I was liberated, I was able to meet friends from all kinds of creative backgrounds; coming together to explore this new way of dancing.
Identity-wise, pole dancing defiantly helped me find my voice and the community was like a family, wherever I go in the world, I can find likeminded people without even speaking the same language.
WHEN… Did pole dancing first spark your interest?
Zixy: I started pole dancing when I was 17. I was already dancing in commercials and doing backup dancing when a friend invited me to try pole, I was hooked. It was not always an interest; it was just this little coincidence that got me into this world and I’ve never stopped dancing since.
WHERE… Does pole dance place itself on the map? How does this art in China compare to other places in the world like the U.S. and Europe?
Zixy: I’ll have to go back to the origins of pole dancing for this one. See, I don’t believe pole dancing originated in one place. The pole dancing culture was popularised in the U.S. as a form of entertainment in the adult industry.
People have been using the pole “apparatus” in different parts of the world, for the purpose of acrobatics and gymnastics. When pole dancing came more commercialized by people who don’t work in the entertainment industry, artists started to combine tricks and ways of thinking from all of these forms of sports and arts.
A lot of pole dancing I’ve seen in China is more acrobatic because the Chinese share a rich martial art history. In the U.S., though, they tend to focus a lot more on the fun side of things; the expression of sensuality and sexuality. The culture of underground pole dancing is being used in the studio and used it as a tool to liberate women. A lot of women use pole dancing as a way to destress, decompress. More so in the West than in Asia.
Right now, I’m traveling through Europe and I am absolutely astonished! It is so beautiful to learn more about and from European aesthetics and dance methods.
WHY… As a dance teacher and a Chinese woman, do you think pole dance is “controversial” in China?
Zixy: Pole dance is undoubtedly still controversial. Yet it’s controversial everywhere in the world.
It originates from the underground, the bars, the clubs, the nightlife industry. I think this is also the reason behind its ubiquitous charm as well as the grounds for so much disagreement on the topic. Nevertheless, lots of people find joy in it.
Pole dance is a lot about pain tolerance, it requires a lot of training that is mechanical and painful; it requires flexibility and strength, it’s not like yoga or tai chi. This sport is not for everyone.
In China, there are very strict laws on the kind of images we can post on social media, and we cannot promote the “sexier” styles of this dance. A lot of Chinese pole dance nowadays is sporty and acrobatic.
Interestingly, pole dancing is sometimes not controversial in China because people only see this martial art, acrobatic style. Very aesthetically pleasing, nonetheless.
Controversy lies in the eye of the beholder.
FEATURED IMAGE: VIA ZIXY Z Instagram. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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