Eight years ago, Philippa Rasidi stumbled into a pole dance studio in Melbourne, and quickly became obsessed with the art. One class per week turned into five, and a year later she was asked to teach. Soon, she had a full teaching schedule, and began competing. Today Miss Filly, as she's known, is a two-time Miss Pole Dance Australia, and has been named Australia's Most Influential Pole Dancer.
"I was certainly no prodigy, but capable enough, and the passion was there from the start. It is amazing to be acknowledged by the community I love so much, and I hope to be a part of it for a long time, in one capacity or another. I still pinch myself just to check this is reality! I am so lucky - but I also work my butt off."
Miss Filly has seen the pole scene go through a transformation. It has exploded into an expressive art form, which welcomes influences from other dance and sporting genres. Pole studios pop up in industrial warehouses, behind factories, inside gyms, and even at the back of pubs. Both men and women have joined the ranks, eager to get stronger, more flexible and more creative with their bodies.
"Pole nowadays is whatever you want it to be", Miss Filly says. "I was talking with a competition organizer, who hates the outrageous and 'dirty' style of pole dancing - whereas I don't like pole competitions which stipulate how many centimeters of crotch coverage you must have, to not have points deducted. We are both heavily involved in the industry, but while we have different tastes, we still support each other unconditionally. There is a place for everyone: gymnastic tricksters, contemporary movers, booty shakers, theatrical mimes, and hip hop styled pole dancers. It's all out there now."
Stage opportunities for pole professionals and amateurs alike are growing year by year. At the high end of the spectrum, there are major stage productions like Cirque Du Soleil shows. And of course, there is the strip club stage. While this where Western style pole dancing undeniably originates, pole gymnastics exist in other cultures. A notable example is the ancient Indian sport Mallakhamb, which utilizes a freestanding wooden pole. It originally served as supporting exercise for wrestlers, and has since evolved into a performing art mostly practiced by boys and men. Mallakhamb serves as a good reminder that the mere presence of a pole doesn't make the sport erotic - we are simply quick to associate it with stripping. Should pole dancers be waging a PR campaign to separate the art from the stereotypes? Miss Filly doesn't think so.
"I love strippers, some of them are brilliant pole dancers and some aren't. I've seen well-trained pole dancers who think they can strip, and they can't. And, I've seen self-taught strippers come into a syllabus environment and hate it. Each to their own.
The hate is the thing I have an issue with. If you don't like pole dance, don't look at it. Be an advocate for what you believe in, but don't put other people down for liking what they like, or exploring different ways their body can move. It shouldn't even be a public debate, but a personal choice."
'I'll get strong first', 'I'll have to get fitter before I try that', and 'I'll lose some weight and then I'll give it a go' are common remarks by potential pole students. The teachers, however, don't expect beginners to have any prior knowledge or unusual amounts of strength. Everyone has to start somewhere - so they might as well start at the pole.
"When I started, I couldn't lift my own weight, or even jog without dying. But pole is for every body! You learn as you go, work to your own strengths, and get to know what your body is capable of. Then you get addicted!"