The Pole Dance Revolution in Singapore

Polelab Dionne Shen
Polelab Dionne Shen

Pole dance may have traditionally been associated with strip clubs and night clubs, but has recently gained popularity as an art form, form of fitness as well as mainstream entertainment. Pole dance has grown immensely in Singapore, attracting women from all walks of life, including mums, career professionals and lady bosses.

We chat with 4 owners of pole studios in Singapore, Jeanne Ong of Ecole De Pole, Jamie Yao of Brass Barre, Jasmine Han of Slap and Ileane Nwj of PoleLab.

How did you get involved in pole dancing and why did you do it?

Jeanne: For myself, I once watched a video of Jenyne Butterfly where she did a routine to Florence and The Machine’s Dog Days are Over and that was that! The grace, strength and athleticism instantly reeled me in and when I found the chance a year or so later I finally managed to get started.

Jamie: I started pole dancing in 2010 all thanks to my pole buddy Sue-Anne who asked me to try out pole with her. I was never an active person and I dreaded going to the gym because I found it so boring. However, pole classes are fun, energetic and challenging, you don’t realize how much of a workout it is till you’re feel sore the next day!

Jasmine: A girlfriend who wanted to lose some baby weight tagged me along to pole dance class.  I have always loved fitness, competed in swim intercons, got second place in 2009 for Singapore Body Fitness and went onto represent Singapore in Thailand internationally.

Ileane: I first heard it from my friend when I was still studying in Poly and decided to give it a try at the studio she learnt in. I got hooked on after my first term as it is really addictive and there’s so much to accomplish!

Brass Barre founders Elena Chernyshova, Anita Sadasivan, Jamie Yao, Janet Tan
Brass Barre founders: Elena Chernyshova, Anita Sadasivan, Jamie Yao, Janet Tan

When and why did you decide to start a pole studio?

Jeanne: Funnily enough, it started with Venetia and I joking around one day about how it would be great if we could have a place with a little loft to live in with a pole studio underneath. Several weeks later, she came back to speak to me and suggested we actually bring this idea into fruition.

Jamie: I never ever imagined myself to start a pole studio. For many years, I was happy to just teach pole part time and work full time as a TV producer. I was fortunate to work as the General Manager of Bobbi’s Singapore for a good 4 months before they closed because the owner migrated overseas. When the studio announced closure, I was at a crossroad. I could chose to go back to advertising, earn really good money or step out of my comfort zone and do something that fulfills me, but not necessarily make big bucks.

Jasmine: It is all about the right time and the right people. The right time is when you have a great bunch of working bees buzzing together to the same tune. SLAP has an incredible team of teachers and staff, there is nothing more I can ask for, Naoko, Charlene and I are truly blessed. The sun is shining!

Ileane: 2 years ago, we were finding it hard to practice as there wasn’t much pole studios back then and most nights were taken up by classes instead of practice sessions. Pole needs a lot of strength conditioning and it was pretty time consuming to frequent a gym and do pole at the same time. This was when we thought of setting up a pole studio that would give polers more access to pole practice, as well as adding some other modalities such as gym equipment and wall bars that polers can use for strengthening.

Slap Founders Naoko Enomoto, Jasmine Han, Charlene Leung
Slap Founders: Naoko Enomoto, Jasmine Han, Charlene Leung

What do you think of the pole industry in Singapore and what is the general public’s perception of pole dancing?

Jeanne: Generally, the public’s deception is still quite divided; to those who have tried it is challenging, difficult and a legitimate form of alternative fitness, to those who do not know much about the industry still see it as a purely sexual dance form and feel something only for people who want to be “strippers”.

  Pole has the flexibility of suiting any genre regardless of whether the performer or dancer is in heels and doing a sexy routine or barefoot and doing a contemporary one, neither one of which is easier than the other.

Jamie: Pole dancing in Singapore has come a long way and is considered quite commercialised already. However, it is still a little taboo in some communities which is why a lot of pole studios try to market themselves as pole fitness and don’t really promote the sexy side of pole dance.

  At The Brass Barre, we embrace all styles. We have classes that lean more towards the sensual side of pole and we have classes that are more lyrical and contemporary based for those as well. There are also students who don’t like to dance, but really love the technical side of pole and focuses only on tricks. I believe there are styles of pole dancing and pole fitness for every person out there!

Jasmine: The pole industry is just beginning, we are exploring so many new areas that encompass the love and art of pole dance … the perception of pole dancing is very positive.

Ileane: Pole industry in Singapore is growing. There used to be about 3 main pole studios 1.5 years ago, now there are about 9 pole studios which includes international franchises. It will be good if the studios can work together to expand the market of pole dance as a whole, yet develop different unique characteristics to offer students different perspectives or styles of pole dancing.

  We felt that Singaporeans are starting to be open to the concept of pole dancing as a form of exercise and strength development. Granted there are still people who do not trust that Pole no longer belongs in clubs/bars, we are slowly but surely breaking this perception.

  We are not in hopes that Pole will enter the Olympics but instead, we hope that Pole will obtain its own status or platform as a sport/dance to look out for, just like soccer, basketball and ballet.

PoleLab founders: Dionne Shen, Leron Hal, Ileane Nwj, Xinyi
PoleLab founders: Dionne Shen, Leron Hal, Ileane Nwj, Xinyi

Why should women pole dance?

Jeanne: There are hundreds of reasons women (and men) should pole dance, it’s fun, it’s fitness, it’s exercise, it keeps you healthy and builds your strength. But most importantly, pole dance is a very empowering experience for women; most of the time we are so used to judging our fellow females, their bodies, clothes, shoes, make-up, looks, hair etc.

  A studio however is a safe place where no matter who you are, where you come from, what size or shape your body may be you can get up on the pole and prove that you can do things you never believed you could.

All that aside, you usually get an awesome set of muscles to show off, awesome apparel and you get to wear a beautiful pair of heels.

Jamie: Women should always and only pole dance for themselves. It’s not just about being an amazing dancer or being sexy. Believe it or not, pole dance can be very empowering – you’ll learn things that you will be able to apply in daily life. Pole classes require discipline; focus on body awareness and constantly challenges your body and mind. You’ll become more confident; your posture will improve and will naturally stand taller.

  When you pole, you engage nearly all the muscles in your body. You also get your heart beating at a higher rate too, just as you would in any form of aerobic training. This means that it gives your cardiovascular system a really good workout! It also increases joint mobility, which helps significantly decrease the risk of osteoporosis in women.

Jasmine: We do not think women should pole dance, but if they choose to take up this course, they will build muscles, gain more energy, lose fat, have fun working out, make the most amazing circle of friends, be around women who are emotionally and physically more resilient.

Ileane: Why not! In fact both men and women should Pole dance. They bring different styles to the Pole dance table. For women, Pole will increase one’s confidence, allows you to be aware of your body capabilities, builds strength and agility and not to mention, the satisfaction from nailing tricks after tricks.

  A lot of people doubt their capabilities before taking pole – haven’t we heard – “I’m too weak”, “I’m too fat”, “I’m not sexy enough”. The good thing about pole is that it is a progressive sport, your body builds strength along the way, at a rate that will amaze you. It is also multi faceted, you can choose the style that suits you – sexy, artistic or strength-based, etc. All you have to do is take that leap of faith.

Ecole De Pole Founders: Venetia Lim, Kim Zhang, Jeanne Ong
Ecole De Pole Founders: Venetia Lim, Kim Zhang, Jeanne Ong

Where do you see your studio in 5 years? What do you hope to achieve?

Jeanne: We have a lot of plans for the studio and what we hope pole dance will be in 5 years time. We definitely hope that we can pull the whole pole community in Singapore together in more activities that involve not just a couple studios but all of them together to show everyone else what a great community of women there are here.

  As a studio, we hope to build a strong community of dancers who are passionate about pole dance and fitness. We also hope to have build a strong group of male pole dancers and we already have specialized classes just for them. We also want to continue to bring new, refreshing and even experimental pole dance classes into Singapore.

Jamie: That’s a good question. I’ll be happy to get past 3 years really! I’m already very proud to be part of the first generation of pole dancers in Singapore.

  My partners and I hope The Brass Barre will continue to offer a space to empower women regardless of age, race and body type and aim produce amazing talent that would be recognized internationally.

Jasmine: In 5 years time, we would like to have our 2 studios combined into one spot. We are happy with the current healthy number of students and will continue to spread the good word of pole.

Ileane: We hope to become a pole hub where polers can get to enjoy pole, other fitness and dance programmes, as well as treatment services, all under one roof. Of course, that would mean moving to a bigger location. We believe in having fun and hope to create a sense of home as well.   

  We are an open studio, you can come anytime in the day, pack your lunch and eat at our pantry. It’s a place where polers gather, share and get to know one another. We are always there to get to know our customers on a personal level and we will organise outings and invite other polers as well. These are the characteristics we hope to develop and retain, whether it is 5 or 10 years later. – LB

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