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California Pole Dance Championships at Highlands: Sport Says Sayonara to Strip Clubs and Sets Sights on the Olympics

Anjel Dust, a dancer for more than a decade, also is an organizer of the California Pole Dance Championships.
Anjel Dust, a dancer for more than a decade, also is an organizer of the California Pole Dance Championships.
George Grigorian

With her Lucite heels, cheeky schoolgirl pigtails and silky, hot pink

disco shorts exposing admirable curves, the petite dancer is a textbook

picture of urban eroticism.

Nimble, feminine and impressively

toned, she grips the towering pole, launching her taut, muscular frame

with astounding athleticism. She follows with midair splits, more twirls

and acrobatics, spinning in a complete arc not once, twice, but three

times with exacting finesse. Her routine, set to the haunting tones of

The Dresden Dolls' "Missed Me," ends with a barrage of catcalls and the

crowd in rapture -- yet not even a single crumpled dollar bill litters

the stage.

No, it's not another recession-weary night at Spearmint

Rhino. And Nadia Sharif is not your typical stripper, dancing to

finance future tattoos or a recreational drug habit. In fact, Sharif

isn't a stripper at all. She's an electrical engineer, specializing in

robotics at the petroleum behemoth BP.

California Pole Dance Championships at Highlands: Sport Says Sayonara to Strip Clubs and Sets Sights on the Olympics
Photo by Alloy Images, from CPDC Facebook page

She's here on this autumn

night competing in the final round of the third annual California Pole

Dance Championships. And so, unlike the average seedy strip joint in the

sprawling plains of the San Fernando Valley, tonight's venue,

Hollywood's Highlands nightclub, features all the trappings of a major

sporting event. There's a panel of judges, a wholesome 7 p.m. start time

and an audience that shows its appreciation with cheers rather than

singles stuffed into outstretched G-strings.

Which suits Sharif just fine.

"I don't do it for money," she says. "It's just a leisure activity."

Over

the last five years, pole dancing has become less about the male gaze

and more about fitness and competitive sport. There is now a global

network of official organizations and federations, as well as local,

national and international competitions -- and even some organizations

lobbying for pole dancing's inclusion in the 2016 Olympics.

California Pole Dance Championships at Highlands: Sport Says Sayonara to Strip Clubs and Sets Sights on the Olympics
Photo by Alloy Images, from CPDC Facebook page

Sharif

started dancing in 2007 as a hobby. After seeing videos of dancer Felix Cane on YouTube, she realized pole dancing could be a fitness alternative: "I set up a pole in my house with a rail from a closet and just started practicing the moves from the video." She then discovered a pole dance studio, advanced her skill level via lessons and started to

compete.

 

September's championships offered $1,000 to the

first-prize winner. (Sharif, who finished second, took home $500.)

Still, competitions are about kudos more than prize money. Top dancers

really cash in by giving workshops -- as many as four a week, with 10 or

more students paying $75 each -- and doing personal appearances.

California Pole Dance Championships at Highlands: Sport Says Sayonara to Strip Clubs and Sets Sights on the Olympics
Photo by Alloy Images, from CPDC Facebook page

Sharif

has never danced in a strip club. Yet most people react predictably

when she confides her favorite hobby. "When I tell people I compete in

pole dance competitions, they usually assume I'm in strip clubs," she

says.

She doesn't perceive her dancing to be in any way seedy or

taboo: "It really is just like salsa or cha-cha. It's about being strong

and sexy."

Of course, there are those Lucite heels. While many

pole dancers perform barefoot, Sharif chooses to wear stilettos. Even as

she trains for her sport five days a week, she wants to retain its

sexuality: "Just like a ballerina wears ballet shoes, as a pole dancer I

wear high heels," she explains.

California Pole Dance Championships at Highlands: Sport Says Sayonara to Strip Clubs and Sets Sights on the Olympics
Photo by Alloy Images, from CPDC Facebook page

The number of pole dancing

studios in Los Angeles is growing. Anjel Dust, also known as Glyness, is

an instructor who runs Sherman Oaks-based studio Anjel Dust

Productions. A dancer for more than 10 years, she is also a key

organizer behind the California Pole Dance Championships.

"The

type of people we get in our classes is increasingly diverse, from

people in their late teens to Valley housewives in their mid-40s," Dust

says. "Nowadays there are very few who are training to perform in a

strip club. It's all about fitness or competitions. There is no longer

the stigma. I think pole dancing is being seen more as an art form."

 

Talece

Wood is the founder of Pole Dance Magazine Online and another proponent

of pole dancing's artistry. A former elementary school teacher who

lives in Maryland, she developed her interest in 2007 after seeing a TV

spot that highlighted the sport as an exercise alternative.

California Pole Dance Championships at Highlands: Sport Says Sayonara to Strip Clubs and Sets Sights on the Olympics
Photo by Alloy Images, from CPDC Facebook page

"L.A.

is now the center of the pole dancing scene in the U.S. It has a

dominant presence and is the real trendsetter," Wood says. "It was

initially something taboo, though it is now more about gymnastics than

sleaze."

The U.K.-based International Pole Sports Federation is

the key body lobbying for pole dancing's inclusion in the 2016 Summer

Olympics, to be held in Rio de Janeiro. Wood says she has heard there

will be a pole dancing demonstration as part of the opening ceremony at

next year's Summer Olympics in London.

California Pole Dance Championships at Highlands: Sport Says Sayonara to Strip Clubs and Sets Sights on the Olympics
Photo by Alloy Images, from CPDC Facebook page

There's also a Pole Fitness

Association, based in Utah, as well as a group called the United Pole Artists, based in the San Fernando Valley. Its founder, Annemarie Davies, is one of the few involved in the competitive pole dance scene who still performs in clubs, namely the iconic Jumbo's Clown Room in Hollywood. She also teaches pole dance classes. (Annemarie estimates that she spends up to 30 hours a week on a pole.)

She says she started to practice pole moves after working shifts at Spearmint Rhino, when pole dance

studios were unheard-of. "I think as the economy got worse over the last

five years, stripping changed," Annemarie says. "It got more dirty,

and girls were willing to do more than just dance. I decided I wanted

less to do with that side of things."

California Pole Dance Championships at Highlands: Sport Says Sayonara to Strip Clubs and Sets Sights on the Olympics
Photo by Alloy Images, from CPDC Facebook page

These days, Annemarie gives

lap dances only to women. She sees pole dancing as a wholesome pastime.

"This sport will be huge during the next 10 years. It's great for

building self-esteem. Women get to feel sexy, gain confidence and lose a

few pounds."

EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this story misspelled the names of Nadia Sharif and Annemarie Davies. It also misidentified the organization founded by Davies. Correction appended at 9 a.m. December 5.

Follow @LAWeeklyArts on Twitter.

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Highlands Hollywood

6801 Hollywood Blvd.
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323-461-9800

www.thehighlandshollywood.com


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