The mere mentioning of pole dancing immediately brings a typical round of gasps as stereotypical thoughts start to seep in. In a country where women are often objectified with comparisons of exposed candy that should - by all means - remain wrapped, protected, and hidden from the scrutinizing eyes of the public, it becomes a challenge for the females to freely explore sans the fear of dramatic disgrace. We made our way over to Project Pole, a new pole fitness studio in Cairo, where fitness instructor and founder, Mia Carter, taught us about the distinctive differences between pole dancing for physical strength, and basic night club stripping.
"Strippers take off their clothes, pole dancers don't. It's simple as that! With pole dancing, you are doing loads of strenuous moves that require upper body strength. However, stripping mainly involves the removal of clothing and sexual erotic moves," Carter explained as she moved her shoulders in an amusing shimmy. She says that pole fitness allows you to learn how to spin, going up and down the pole for the sake of toning your body, while basically skipping all of the stimulus-inducing moves. Unless you actually want to become a stripper, which is totally fine! Other than that, let's keep the poles in the gym instead, shall we?
Fresh out of the English oven, Carter explains how cultural stereotypes faced her wherever she went. From her London/Surry upbringing, to the streets of Cairo, she found both the English and Egyptian public labeling her craft with vile tags. Another misconception was that the shorts and sports bras worn by pole dancers immediately had people thinking, "OH, SHE'S A STRIPPER!" while the reality is fundamental physics: the more skin you expose to the pole, the better grip you have.
Everyone is asking the nagging question: why would Carter leave the comfort of her European life to come to our slightly, or much, more judgmental Egypt? Was she lost? Her answer was an affirmative 'yes'. She originally came as a diver but, after the revolution kicked tourism in the face, she found herself stranded in the middle of the desert, with nothing but a dog. So she moved to Cairo, and is now the proud owner of Burrito, her rescued cat that she found a couple of blocks down from her studio, who welcomed our crew in with scratches and a bite.
Pole dancing is what Carter used to do for fun on her own to burn them calories, aside from running. What struck her the most about pole dancing is the fact that it's versatile. "With running, I do have fun! Yet I get bored of doing the same routine every time. Pole dancing allows me to mix up millions of changed moves. That is what I wanted for my students: to love their workout, instead of finding themselves getting less and less motivated, and eventually stopping," she explains.
We asked Carter to teach us her sacred skills; so, she did. Entering her apartment studio ushered in a sense of coziness and comfort, much like how we'd feel inside our own homes. We passed by her lounge-y living room, and walked right into her neon purplish-pink office where I was immediately flung towards the poles. Turns out, it really isn't as easy as anyone would've thought. Pole dancing depends on how strong you already are, and not everyone is experienced with upper body strength. If you're already doing your weight-lifting homework, you're much closer towards your dream of twirling around the pole like a feather.
"Weighing 50 kg and trying to pull up your entire body on a pole only using your arms, that's quite unnatural! You don't find people in the gym lifting those kinds of weights. Some students aren't able to do anything at all, and that's perfectly okay. I keep teaching them easier moves that they can repeat at home until they start feeling the progress," Carter elaborated, emphasising on the fact that she's very aware of the initial physical limits her students might face. She assesses their strength by letting them do little tests like pulling up on the pole, which allows her to take the moves step by step with them until the necessary strength - and cat-like flexibility - kicks in.
The warmups we started with were slow cardio around the pole, such as side crunches. There was this particular move that had my butt crying - I laid on the floor, holding the pole behind me, and raising my legs as high as the sky. Then we moved on to a faster session. It sounds awkward, and a bit strange, yet it surprised me how I managed to keep my balance for a while on the pole, and attempted an 'around the world' twirl. Carter normally incorporates weights for extra toning during the final stretches, but we ended with the normal upward facing dog poses, which I took home with me to keep me company with my already-strained muscles.
As we finished up our workout and said our goodbyes, it occurred to me that I was also one of the majority of the stereotypical people who misjudged pole dancing. I had a great experience as I watched Carter flutter around the pole with an unsullied smile, as if she were hanging by invisible strings. I stepped out of her studio feeling a little more flexible down to my toes and up to my thoughts. Satisfaction ate me up as my critical fiends were silenced.
Carter wanted to do more shows where people can watch her breach gravity, but she feared offending those who haven't opened up to that kind of art and aren't flexible enough yet. To get your own flexibility session, signing up is as easy as it gets. All you need to do is message Carter on Project Pole's Facebook page, mention your name, details, and schedule a lesson. Something to look forward to: on the 24th of December in the comfort of her studio, expect Carter in a UV-light roll-on neon paint party. Book yourself a place now and watch the Pole-r strut her stuff.
Photography by Dina Fadl.