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Pole Fitness


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Prana Ovide-Étienne: I Missed Gymnastics, I Wanted a Challenge
Pole Fitness
Photo © Evelyn Reid
Prana Ovide-Étienne is a former competitive rhythmic gymnast from Paris turned pole fitness champion and now, pole dance trainer at Milan Pole Dance Studio. And from what I witnessed, she is sensational on the pole, a technical powerhouse who admitted that even she, after close to 15 years of gymnastics, was challenged by the sport. Yes. Sport. Pole dancing is very much a sport combining dance, gymnastics and acrobatics and yet, it's still associated with stripping, even though the sex industry only adopted the pole as an erotic prop in the '80s, decades upon centuries after circus artists and various cultures adopted the pole in the context of acrobatics, sport and physical fitness.

I sat down with Prana to get a sense of who pole fitness is for, where the sport is going. Read to the end to find out what Prana thinks would happen if she tried to work the pole in a strip club.

Evelyn: So you're a national champion back in France. A lot of people don't even realize the pole dancing is a sport. There's an annual international competition as well?

Prana: Yes. There are a lot of competitions in a lot of countries as well as international competitions in Europe, North America, and other locations. And in June, or July 2013, there is a big competition for the Olympic Committee because [pole fitness competitors] want to apply for inclusion in the Olympics. But with an official competition, heels are forbidden and you have to cover your body. But that can be difficult because we need skin contact on the pole -- the legs, the waist, the arm pits -- to keep us gripped to the pole.

Evelyn: Ahhhh. So pole fitness students aren't dressed in short shorts and small tops for nothing. But could the Olympic Committee have problems accepting pole dancing as a competitive sport just because of what competitors wear?

Prana: With pole dancing, the difficulty is showing that it's not stripping. And actually, it's not pole dancing, it's pole fitness. Dance is not an Olympic discipline, but fitness, acrobatics and gymnastics are sports.

Evelyn: And you're hoping to make it the 2016 or 2020 Olympics?

Prana: We don't know yet. We have to see what happens with the Olympic Committee.

Evelyn: How long have you been doing pole fitness?

Prana: Four years.

Evelyn: And you won the French championships so quickly. You must have been a gymnast before. Prana: Exactly. I started gymnastics when I was 3 1/2. And I never stopped. I started at 3 1/2 and continued until I was 18. And then I became a teacher. So I started to become a teacher at 18 and discovered pole dancing at 19. So I kept teaching gymnasts when I started pole dancing but I was so happy because I found a new sport for me. When you're teaching, you teach and that's it. You're not challenged. You're not learning anything new.

Evelyn: Were you were a competitive rhythmic gymnast at the national level in your native France?

Prana: Yes. National. Not international.

Evelyn: And then you fell in love with pole dancing. Boom. Like that.

Prana: Yes! At that time, I was very lucky to be in Paris. When I started, there were only two pole dance schools in Paris. That's it. Now there are a lot but then not so much ... and at my first class of pole dancing, I realized that the gymnastics brought me a lot. Rhythmic gymnastics didn't bring me the strength I needed for pole dancing, but I had the flexibility, the finish of the lines. But pole dancing gave me muscle. Four years ago, I had no strength in my back, in my arms.

Evelyn: Now someone might look at you and think "well, the pole is easy for her, she was already a gymnast." With that in mind, what would you tell someone who came here, took one class, and got discouraged? Like, look at me. I was laughing half the time because I felt and looked like an oaf. What would you tell them? Like how many classes would it take to start loving what you see in the mirror?

Prana: I really think that when you tell that to yourself, you're judging yourself. And in my class, that's not my goal. Like, don't judge everybody around you, just enjoy. I just want you to feel good. So stop judging yourself! Try to feel the move, then when you feel it, you're going to enjoy it.

Evelyn: And your body, which looks amazing by the way, your body is the result of ONLY pole dancing? No weight training or cardio?

Prana: Yes. Only the pole. But you know, pole dancing is cardio and weights.

Evelyn: Finally, what would you say to people who snicker that pole dancing is for strippers?

Prana: If I go to a strip club to be a dancer, I'm not going to make money. [The customers] would run away! [Laughter].

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