The University of Edinburgh Pole Dancing Society is advancing to nationals this year for the first time since the establishment of the group. At regionals, they competed against 10 teams and were among the two selected to proceed.
The Student was able to sit down with the co-presidents of the society, Lisa Marquand and Bethany Haynes, to get more details about this unorthodox sport and their recent rise to success.
The competitive team includes three soloists: one to represent each of the beginner, intermediate and advanced categories, and two members of the group team, which performs a complex routine on three poles. The categories on which they are evaluated include fluidity of movement, costume, moving between the poles, audience interaction, and strength of movement.
Pole dancing, rising in popularity in recent years, resembles more established Olympic sports like gymnastics in its routine and evaluation format. Each dance involves a combination of ‘poling” – tricks and movements performed on the pole often involving intense upper body strength and flexibility – and more traditional dancing.
Marquand explained: “Poling tends to be a trick-based move on the pole, whereas dancing is just dancing, occasionally with acrobatic moves as well. It makes the dance more athletic.” Haynes elaborated: “It’s all about how your routine goes.”
In a group performance, the two presidents partner with each other on one pole, with the two other pairs on two different poles alongside them. Haynes described how Marquand “held onto my shoulders with her feet and nothing else.” It is clear that they are experienced in this kind of nonverbal communication with each other. “I trust her to carry my weight,” Marquand added.
Haynes got into pole dancing without expecting to: “It was something my flatmates were involved in. I kind of thought it’d be interesting to see what it’s like. After my first class I was hooked.”
“Lots of people are put off from joining because they think you need lots of upper body strength to begin with, but you don’t. You […] build it up as you go. But in order to progress to higher levels you [do] need a certain level of upper body strength.”
The competitors emphasise both the athelticism and social aspect of the sport. “There are quite a lot of misconceptions about pole dancing”, Haynes told me: “Quite a lot of people think it’s quite a negative sport to do… But then they start to enjoy it. It’s quite a social thing. You get to see a quite lot of people you know and then it builds your confidence as well.”
She explained that while there is some crossover between more adult pole dancing and competitive pole dancing, most people only do one or the other. “It’s quite different. It’s more exotic dancing in the kind of sex work industry, whereas it’s more strength – you show your strength in the competitions,” Haynes clarified.
Perhaps as Edinburgh proceeds to nationals the sport will gain greater attention across campus, replacing its muddled reputation with a more competitive one.
Image courtesy of Bethany Haynes