Urban women set to take the sleaze out of a performing art
Students practice pole dancing at ISIS World Dance Studio in Hanoi
"If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution," Emma Goldman famously said.
It may not be what she had in mind, but urban Vietnamese woman are going through a dancing revolution of sorts.
First it was salsa and then it was belly dancing.
Now it is pole dancing that is fast becoming the latest craze among women in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Although it is still largely confined to dark, smoke-filled bars and clubs for men in Vietnam, and although for many it is synonymous with striptease, women, young and old, are taking to pole dancing in droves.
Some even say it is "a kind of sport to keep fit and stay healthy."
In Hanoi, one business that has introduced pole dancing training courses to local residents is seeing a rising number of female students, especially girls.
While there are those scratching their heads and asking why this sensual dance is becoming widely accepted in a society still bound by many traditional mores where talk about sex is taboo, the "revolution" proceeds apace.
The first performers to adopt pole dancing include local artists like singers Hoang Thuy Linh and Maya, and top models Huyen Trang and Hoang My. Many of them have taken to pole dancing to promote their new albums or launch new images.
Pole dancing stages with sexy models are also becoming attractions at trade fairs, and these performers have paved the way for it to become a hot sport among local women.
"Before, I also thought that pole dancing was only for strippers who perform at men's clubs, but now I've realized that it is a kind of performing art or even a healthy sport," my friend Thanh said earnestly as she tried to persuade me to give it a try at a center where she and her colleague are taking a course.
POLE DANCE CLASSES
ISIS World Dance Studio
3rd floor, 256 Ba Trieu Street, Hanoi.
Fee: VND650,000 a course (10 lessons).
96 Road No.2, Do Thanh Area, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City.
Tel: (08) 38.329.429 - (08) 3502 3968.
Fee: VND800,000 a course (8 lessons).
"It is really fantastic. You'll see it will help you look fit and feel more confident."
Impressed by her zeal, I followed her to ISIS World Dance Studio at 256 Ba Trieu Street, Hanoi.
It was fascinating to watch students dressed in shorts dancing around a pole, some simply holding it to practice their gyrations while others used it to perform more athletic moves including climbs, splits, handstands, spins and body inversions.
"I have been practicing these routines for three weeks and find it extremely athletic," Thanh's colleague said. "I first came to it in hope of losing some weight and getting a slim waist, but I have realized that it can bring much more than that."
A pretty teenager named Phuong Trang said that she decided to take the course just because her favorite singer Hoang Thuy Linh dances the same way. "I was among the first students here," she said. "It is much more difficult than I thought it would be but it is also brings unexpected benefits. It gives me more confidence and it's great fun. I love this dance."
In a large room, some pole dancers were trying out difficult moves. Their faces were twisted in pain.
"Pole dancing is not just swinging around the pole with the hands," instructor Phuong Lien told her students. "It includes many sophisticated and difficult moves such as turning upside down and hanging by the legs, or under-arms, or even using your stomach. Advanced pole dancing requires significant strength, flexibility and endurance. And dancers should pay due attention or they can easily get injured during their practice."
Like most students there, Thanh has had her share of injuries.
She's bruised her shoulder, injured her ear, pulled a hamstring and more.
"Practicing sometimes hurts a lot but it's worth it," she said, laughing. "It still brings more fun than pain and we all have studied hard and progressed a lot."
Despite being attracted by the dance, many women are still very apprehensive and don't want their parents or husbands to know about their new hobby.
"Oh, don't put my photo in the magazine," said a young, good-looking woman when I took some photos of the class.
"My husband may not allow me to do it if he knows. One of the reasons why our husbands and elderly people don't like us pole dancing is that we must dress in skimpy clothes, but that's because we need to use our body to grip the pole and perform more advanced moves," said Minh Hoa.
Students in the class were mostly young women who are students or office workers.
Lien said that she started teaching pole dancing to individuals and small groups since November 2010 and the demand has kept increasing since.
Brimming with confidence, she said: "I think that pole dancing will soon make the transition from strip club to performance venues."