[Katie Grant | iNews]

“They don’t like to be called dancers”

Pole dancing and traditional sports would, to many people, seem, well, poles apart, the former conjuring up all manner of unsavory images of scantily clad young women contorting themselves into an array of positions in front of an audience of slack-jawed men.

But, contrary to popular belief, pole dancing, or, rather, pole sports, isn’t just a young woman’s game. In fact, over a quarter of the competitors at this year’s World Pole Sports Championships were male, a quarter were aged over 40 and six per cent were aged over 60.

Over the weekend more than 150 athletes – they don’t like to be called “dancers” – aged 10 to 70 congregated at the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre in south-east London for the fifth annual Championships.

Founded in 2009, the International Pole Sports Federation (IPSF) is slowly working toward getting the sport – for that is what enthusiasts argue it is – recognized as such by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

This year’s Championships had several categories to accommodate the different age groups, which ranged from novice (children of any gender aged 10 to 14) to Masters (single sex), split into two groups, 40-plus and 50-plus.

The athletes were here to put on a show – but any spectators hoping for an eyeful would have been left disappointed; the IPSF is at pains to prove pole sports can be good, clean, family fun.

Transparent clothing revealing athletes’ breasts, pelvis or buttocks was prohibited, as were costumes featuring leather, latex, PVC or rubber, the rules stipulated. Even sequins, diamantes, tassels and fringing needed to be kept to a minimum, participants were warned.

Competitors from more than two dozen countries including Argentina, Japan, South Africa and Serbia were judged on several criteria when they took to the two four-metre high poles in the arena. A long row of judges sat poised to award or deduct points based on the quality of each athlete’s spins, climbs and flips as well as their interpretation of the music and stage presence.

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