“Holding your body weight up in mid-air is an incredible display of strength and skill. It’s defying gravity,” said Kathy Lee, the founder of The Pole Project in Roeland Street and a professional pole dancer.
“Everytime someone comes to the class, they say it’s so much harder than what it looks like. And I think that’s because you, with the requisite strength, makes it look effortless, and that’s the hardest thing.”
Kathy, who is originally from Singapore, was introduced to pole dancing in London, where she lived and worked as a lawyer. “I moved to London when I was 16 to study law. I joined a corporate law firm in London and I practised as an intellectual property litigation lawyer for six years. I loved it, I loved the work and the intellectual part of law, but there was a creative side to me that needed to be fed.”
She then gave in to her love of dance and all things different when a friend suggested they try pole dancing.
“At the time it was new and exciting. You hear a lot about pole dancing and you are not really sure what it is about, and after my first class I was hooked.”
Kathy said that pole dancing worked for her because she never really liked to go to gym, but she enjoyed playing sport. Pole dancing, she said, required athleticism and artistic expression, combining her love for dance and sport.
“It was an escape from my daily stresses of corporate life and gives you a good workout at the same time.”
Kathy then moved to Cape Town in 2012 and practised as a lawyer, until she felt the need for change, so she opened The Pole Project. “I always felt like pole dancing was still growing here, and that the city needed a studio. At the time, pole dancing studios were very intimate and it came across as the sort of thing you do for your husband or boyfriend, or associated with exotic dancing. It has an exotic element, but it’s much more.”
She said that pole dancers dress the way they do – with bikini bottoms and crop tops or bras, because they need skin grip to be able to grip the pole. And while she does provide sensual pole classes, the majority of the classes are pole fitness classes which cater for men and women in the same class.
Kathy said her vision for the studio was to create an urban, open creative space where men and women can come to explore pole dancing and other aerial exercises as an alternative form of fitness.
“It is slowly being accepted as an alternative form of fitness. It’s not main stream yet, but it’s getting there, but the reason why it’s always going to be different is because there’s a dance element to it. Some people come just for the fitness. They are not interested in performing, they just want to do the conditioning exercises. Some come because they want that artistic, dance side of it.”
She said one of the challenges of pole dancing is thinking that you can do it, but then discovering that it is actually harder than you thought, and then not giving up until you can do it.
She said another challenge is overcoming the ‘pole kisses’ – Kathy’s word to describe bruises dancers get from pole dancing – because people don’t understand how difficult pole dancing is, and that it takes time to condition yourself to do that.
Besides The Pole Project, Kathy is also a pole artist in her own right and has participated in a number of competitions and performances with renowned artists.
Whilecompeting, she not-iced that most South African competitions are in Johannesburg, so she decided to start an annual competition called The Pole Factor, in which pole dancers around Cape Town come together to celebrate the athleticism and artistry of pole dancing with multiple showcases from four different genres of the sport including Pole Acrobat, Pole Artiste, Pole Provocateur and Pole Duets.
Besides The Pole Factor, she also organises student showcases at the studio in Cape Town during the year.
She said that while the shows and pole dancing are captivating, there is a much less glamorous side to running the studio. “Teachers spend a lot of time looking at videos and on social media to keep current and learn new tricks and combos, and they spend a lot of time choreographing new routines to keep students interested and trying out different exercises. A lot of effort goes into structuring the class and teaching exercises to keep the students not only interested, but to keep them progressing.”