Chinese cautiously pole dance their way to fitness
Tue Jan 30, 2007 8:42 AM ET
By Ben Blanchard
BEIJING, Jan 29 (Reuters Life!) - Treadmills are run-of-the-mill -- Luo Lan wants the Chinese masses to pole dance instead.
As manager of Beijing's first pole dancing school, Luo says she is trying to make exercise fun -- and not morally corrupt anyone in a country where this kind of dancing is associated with seedy bars and sex is still a taboo topic.
But she admits she has had a tough time convincing people that pole dancing, which has a celebrity following said to include pop star Britney Spears and heiress Paris Hilton, is great for your health.
"When I first started people would only come furtively, and not tell their boyfriends or husbands," Luo told Reuters in the apartment she has converted into a dance studio with poles bolted to the floor and roof.
"But over the last year, people have started to hear more about pole dancing, and they know it's purely for keeping fit," she added, as one of her students in black hotpants writhed around a shiny steel pole.
"Now people come and say, oh, my husband let me sign up. This progress is very obvious," she added. "The more and more people do it the wider the acceptance will be. They'll see that it's normal and natural."
Luo started her pole dancing school, located in a fashionable part of Beijing, last July after realizing that nobody in the city was offering classes in what had become a fashionable way to shape up and lose weight in the United States and Europe.
"Lots of girls love pole dancing, but like me could not find a place to learn. So I spent a lot of time doing research, watching DVDs," Luo said.
"It's not hard like ballet. It's very easy to do."
Gym membership has become increasingly popular with China's newly affluent middle class, who are keen to shape up in a country where obesity levels have risen with incomes over the last few decades on the tails of an economic boom.
Luo now runs up to three classes a day, for a maximum of seven students, who pay 110 yuan ($14.15) a session.
"I love the feeling, just like flying," said Xiao Wei, demonstrating a recently learned move. "My legs were quite fat before, and the results have been very obvious."
Another student, Yuan Xi, dismissed concerns that pole dancing is just for bar girls or strippers, adding that her love of the pole had nothing to do with sex.
"China is a very conservative country, and many people cannot accept this," said the 22-year-old. "Some men seem to think it's only about sex, but it's not. It's about dancing."
(Additional reporting by Kitty Bu)
A couple years ago, I was railroaded into joining a gym by an overly zealous salesman. Besides the obvious perverted perks of naked men prancing around in the locker room, I did like the idea of getting out of my apartment, where I would jump rope much to the dismay of my downstairs neighbors; using fancy exercise equipment; and attending classes for a collective fitness experience. Some of those stretches the instructor would have use do released so much pent up tension in my body that I would literally start crying.
But after a few weeks, going to the gym lost it's appeal. Why leave the comfort of my own home when I could jump rope while watching The People's Court AND eating lychees in between jumps? The bottom line is, I got bored of the repetitive movement, and, perhaps, I felt I was stripped of a sense of control. In classes, I had to do things a certain way. And even out on the gym floor, there were guidelines posted for using the equipment. At home, if I wanted to jump rope with one foot, naked and belting Erasure songs, I could do that. (Well, I suppose I could've done that at the gym too, but jail time is such a big price to pay.)
These days, I watch The People's Court and eat lychees, and have pretty much thrown the jump rope out of the equation. I tone my muscles by bench-pressing Pork Chop, who, at last weighing, is a plump and juicy 18.8 pounds. It's going to be a good Thanksgiving this year!
I do suspect, however, that pole dancing never gets boring. I am now doing research online about getting a pole installed in the living room. Picture it. There I am pole dancing my way to fitness: "Won't you give a little respect...to-ooh-ooh me?"
—Reporting From Glendale, California