As a sport, pole fitness is much like its participants – resilient, self-assured, and thick-skinned. The journey this activity has endured has aptly been filled with twists, turns, and bumps; prior to the 21st century, pole dancing solely conjured up images of strip clubs, meaning it had to fight hard to be considered a legitimate form of exercise. While there’s nothing shameful about sex work, the differences between stripping and pole fitness have only recently been recognised. Following an 11-year campaign, the president of the International Pole Sports Federation (IPSF), Katie Coates, was finally able to persuade the Global Association of International Sports Federation (GAISF) to class pole fitness as a sport in 2017. This acknowledgement enabled the stigmas surrounding the sport to subside, and subsequently, pole fitness became a popular workout across the globe.
But why are there so many fans of pole fitness? First, it’s a great activity for increasing mobility, strength, and flexibility. Holly Hadfield, Pole Society’s current President, makes clear that these benefits are enjoyed by every participant. “As a disabled person, it is difficult to find a way to keep fit, that I enjoy, and that caters to my mobility needs,” she states. “Luckily I found such a supportive environment within pole and could not recommend the sport enough.” This claim is echoed by writer Akili King, whom, in an article for Vogue, expresses that pole fitness helped her in healing from PTSD as she could “feel both emotionally soothed, and physically strengthened at the same time.” It’s evident that pole fitness does not discriminate, but rather welcomes those with disabilities and/or mental health conditions with open (un-moisturised) arms.
While it’s wonderful that pole fitness accommodates a range of groups, some may still be apprehensive about engaging in the sport due to what constitutes pole-friendly clothing. In order to grip the pole effectively, skin exposure is beneficial. Writing for The Telegraph in 2021, columnist Hannah Tan-Gillies comments on her initial nerves towards displaying her body in public. This is something that is seemingly echoed by Sussex students, as one of Pole Society’s frequently asked questions centres on attire. Hadfield however, says that members of the society “will never be pressured to do anything that [they] find scary or uncomfortable [as] all of our members and teachers are so welcoming.” This support is reiterated in the answer to the aforementioned Pole Society FAQ, which suggests PoleJunkie and CXIX’s “sticky” leggings and tops, should members not wish to expose their arms and legs. Further evidence of the supportive environment can be found in videos of past Pole Society showcases, with each performance accompanied by uplifting cheers. This encouragement has lasting effects outside of the studio too, as members often walk away with increased body confidence and appreciation.
Beginner or gold-medal winner, Pole Society can provide a workout for you. Even if your only prior experience of the marriage of “pole” and “dancing” involved walking into a lamppost following a night in Chalk, this society won’t judge. “PoleSoc is incredibly inclusive and caters to all levels of skill and fitness,” Hadfield says. “We run classes for beginners, intermediates, and advanced members.”
It’s unsurprising that PoleSoc is one of the University of Sussex’s most popular societies. The factors outlined above, as well as the fact that a term membership is just £25, cause it to be immensely popular. I have first-hand experience of just how sought-after a Pole Society membership is. Earlier this term, the society ran back-to-back taster sessions for three hours, in order for students to indicate their interest in becoming members. Unfortunately, when I arrived – unfashionably late in a baggy tracksuit and Converse, just in time for the last half-hour, there were still around 50 students waiting in line. If you can relate to my experience, rest assured that there will be a second taster session next term, as well as future workshops that will be available on a first come, first serve basis.
Pole Society really does seem like a family, minus the dad falling asleep in front of the television. Hadfield has been a part of PoleSoc for years, acting as Co-Welfare Officer during the 2022-23 academic year, and president since September. “I thought I would be a good fit for the role because I have a strong relationship with many members, and was really keen to highlight the inclusivity and diversity within our society.”
Even during our brief correspondence, Hadfield did just this, giving credit to the society’s committee and members. “They’re amazing, and our society would be nowhere near as great without them.”