Pole dancers ignore the misconceptions of others and strive to be themselves
By Fangdong Bai & Valerie Wan
Lights! Music! As the black curtains slowly pull open, the mid-year performance at N2 pole studio with the theme “The Nostalgic Ballroom” takes off and Narlton Tsang, a local male pole dancer and founder of the studio, moves majestically across the floor, showing off his acrobatics skills.
His students, in fashionable pole- wear and gowns, follow his opening showcase with performances accompanied by popular old tunes. They climb on the poles and show off a series of spins, splits, climbs, drops and inversions, wowing the audience by their incredible strength and flexibility. Shining in sweat under the spotlights, the dancers smiled with confidence and satisfaction as they bathe in the applause and cheers from their audience.
Pole dancing, which is believed to have developed from a traditional Indian sport in the 12th century, has a strong association with strip clubs and eroticism. But the story does not end there. For over just two decades, pole dance has gained popularity in Hong Kong. Some people view it as a healthy and acrobatic sport, while some label it as a sexy performance showcasing the dancer’s body. Tsang thinks that pole dance itself is neutral in nature and is simply a dance form which features a pole.
Tsang was the first male pole dancer to represent Hong Kong in international competitions. He entered his first international competition in Hong Kong four years ago, but that was a bitter experience. “Hong Kong is an international city, but you can’t show your nipples [in a pole dance competition]. Isn’t it ridiculous?” says Tsang, recalling the rule imposed not by the competition host, but the management staff of the competition venue. Only when the competitors, including Tsang, agreed to comply with the rule were they allowed to join the competition.
“We are not flashers. We don’t wear less out of wanting to expose our bodies,” pole dance instructor Dimple Lin Ho-yan explains, responding to a common misconception that all pole dancers wear less for erotic reasons. “We do it because our moves require it.” Lin adds. Pole dancers have to use the friction created by their skin to grip the pole. Some advanced moves even require dancers to use their chins, necks and underarms to grip the pole.
Lin first learnt about pole dancing from a friend in 2012, then fell crazily in love with it. She sustained injuries during her practices quite often and even had her collarbone displaced once. Lin says: “You have to go through a hundred failures, enduring pain, getting bruises and wounds… until you finally succeed.”
And finally succeeding ignited her enthusiasm for pole dancing to such a degree that she gave up her job so she could train five days a week, every week. Her hard work paid off and she became an instructor in 2014 and currently teaches at Melody Pole Studio.
Lin finds that pole dance has been more readily accepted by the public recently, and more people are willing to appreciate it as a sport and pursue it as a hobby. Its public image has changed so much that mothers enroll their kids in mini pole dance classes.
More importantly, it has also attracted more men. At Melody Pole Studio, male students make up a tenth of the class. Whilst some of them come for their wives or girlfriends, others are here to pick up a new hobby.
Christopher Ng Chun-yeung, 29, a student of the Melody Pole Studio who has dance background in hip hop, jazz funk, and contemporary dances, started learning pole dance a year and a half ago. Having started pole dancing in high heels, he has now developed an interest in pole drama, which is a genre of pole dance involving bolder and more striking moves, with fewer feminine elements. “It [gender type] is more like a gender spectrum, instead of being clearly black and white,” he says. “Everyone has both the masculine and feminine sides.”
Ng thinks that male pole dancers belong to a minority within a minority, and it will take time for society in general to accept male pole dancers. He once received malicious comments on social media and even his ex-boyfriend did not support him. “When I told my ex-boyfriend that I was going to learn pole dance, he replied simply that I had better not dance in front of him. I didn’t care about his comment because this is what I like,” he says.
Ng believes his actions speak louder than words and will continue his pursuit of pole dancing to inspire more people. “I hope people can try to understand more before judging and giving their opinion,” he adds.
Narlton Tsang, founder of N2 Pole Studio, has a slightly different view. “I wanted to change people’s perception, but now I give up,” he says. He has realised that male pole dancers simply do not need the public’s acceptance to pursue their interests. “I never think about [others’ opinions], as they won’t stop me,” says Tsang. “How the world thinks of me is none of my business.”
When Tsang first set up the studio in 2016, he intended to offer a haven for his students to take refuge from the outside world, so that they could set themselves free and be their true selves. “I can’t change people’s thoughts, so the only thing I can do is to be the best of myself and do my part to provide this hideout for people who want to be themselves,” he says.
Edited by Crystal Wu