[Chris Flora | The Explorer]

Paige Olson, 10, is soft-spoken, modest and a bit shy. But when she’s dancing, everything about her is bold and bursting with confidence. It’s safe to say she prefers to let her routine speak for itself.

And it spoke loudly during the recent U.S. Pole Sports Federation Championships in New Orleans, from which Olson recently brought home the first-place prize in her 10-14 age bracket for her pole dancing routine. 

That’s likely striking to some: A 10-year-old pole dancer?

There’s a stigma still effervescent when it comes to this style of dance in the United States, one that in other countries like Russia, China and Ukraine would be difficult to comprehend given the sport’s popularity in those regions.

There, pole dancing is viewed as nothing more than a form of art, expression, competition and entertainment. 

And that’s exactly how the young Olson and her two-year coach Katrina Wyckoff view it from their training grounds at Centre Stage Dance Studio in Oro Valley.

Nonetheless, Wyckoff, triple certified in pole sport, acknowledges the concern some might have when mixing youth with this particular style of dance.

“I’m an extremely conservative person, so I understand and appreciate that people have their guard up — I’m not offended at all by it,” said Wyckoff, who has owned and operated Centre Stage for 10 years.

“We teach G-rated pole dancing,” she continued. “This is a sport. It’s no different than gymnastics when gymnasts are on a horizontal pole. This one is just vertical.”

There’s even a reason for the types of outfits the dancers wear, Wyckoff explained. More skin exposure allows dancers more friction on the  pole, which puts them in control of how and when they move.

The sport is becoming so popular, and not just with youth (Centre Stage has pole dancers of all ages, even into their 60s), that the USPSF, recognized as the governing body for pole sport, is making a push to  introduce it as an Olympic sport by the 2024 summer games. 

“It’s really exploding like a wildfire,” said Wyckoff.

That timeline would put Olson at 19 years old and in prime shape to represent the United States. But for now, she’s taking things one step at a time, and her next step is to compete in London at the World Pole Sports Championships on July 26.

Olson has made dancing a near full-time job, putting in 18 hours per week on pole and an additional 15 hours per week dancing, as Centre Stage, with 250 students, also offers ballet, jazz, acro, hip hop, tap and other forms of dance. 

Those hours paid off with Olson’s recent triumph at nationals, even though she was a bit caught off guard when she heard her name called.

“When they called the other girl for second place, I was asking myself who was going to be first place,” said Olson. “I was surprised when I heard it was me.”

Not only did Olson beat out a 14-year-old for the top spot, she did so even after seeing a large deduction in her score from a fall. Her routine was that good.

“It’s sort of a life lesson,” said Wyckoff. “You’re going to have falls in real life, but you get back up, and that defines Paige — she’s an extremely dedicated and talented hard worker who is willing to put in the time.”