Pole dancing is hard work. You only need to look at Jennifer Lopez’s 2020 Super Bowl halftime show performance—where the seasoned performer supported herself on a pole sans hands, and then proceeded to spin around it while remaining completely parallel to the ground—to realise that. Yeah, we definitely wouldn’t be able to do that on the fly.
The once controversial physical activity was often stigmatised for its negative connotations, but has gained relative mainstream traction within the past decade. In Singapore, pole dancing studios have increasingly popped up over the years, offering a slate of different genres of the sport. And while it has remained quite female-dominated, pole-dancing knows no gender boundaries.
Fariz Junaidi, a user experience designer, has been a pole dancing enthusiast since taking part in a beginner’s class back in January 2018. “I have always been fascinated with pole dancing since watching a pole dance performance at the Singapore Night festival in 2014,” Fariz tells us. “It was so elegant and beautiful, and I knew I wanted to do that one day.”
That first class led to it being quite a hobby of Fariz’s. Before COVID-19, he would hit the studio at least three times a week, but that has whittled down due to the difficulty in securing slots for classes.
Still, as he offers, pole dancing remains something that he’s passionate about; so much so that there’s now a pole fixed right in his own bedroom.
ESQ: Did you have any expectations when you first started?
FARIZ: I didn’t have too many expectations going into it because I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know anybody who did pole dance so I never had a point of reference—which was a good thing I suppose. My first pole class was an introductory class so I was exposed to basic spins and techniques.
ESQ: Were there any health-related goals that made you want to continue with pole?
FARIZ: I believe that if you want to work out, you need to enjoy the process. Pole dance offers a perfect balance that focuses on strength, flexibility and artistry. Some of these advanced tricks require more strength and flexibility so achieving these will naturally make you stronger—which is obviously great for your body physically.
ESQ: Clearly pole is not as easy as it may appear to be. How long is a typical pole session and how does each session make you feel after?
FARIZ: Pole is definitely not easy for most people. It requires strength, flexibility, and a thick skin— literally! There’s also different pole classes you can attend. Some focus on strength and technique, while others focus on choreography. Each pole session usually lasts around an hour; this includes 10 minutes of warm-up. Just like any fitness workout, you usually feel great after the class—especially if you nailed a move or manage to achieve a shape or technique that you’ve been working on for months!
ESQ: Now that you’ve been doing pole for more than three years, what are some of the changes that you’ve seen in yourself—physically, mentally or otherwise?
FARIZ: I definitely am more flexible now than before, but I still have a long way to go to reach my flexibility goals. I was aiming to reach my splits this year but work has been insane since the pandemic started and I took some time off to focus on my mental health.
ESQ: You’ve even installed a proper pole in your own bedroom—that’s definitely a huge sign of dedication. How did that come about?
FARIZ: [laughs] The pole was "donated" by my close friend at the last minute when I found out that we were going into the circuit breaker period last year. I was also in the midst of renovating my room so I figured, let’s just add the pole as part of the list and rearrange my furniture. I had a lot of fun practicing on my own but I also have long limbs so there were times where I’ve kicked my stuff unintentionally, so that has been frustrating as well.
ESQ: Pole isn't as controversial now as maybe a decade ago, but it's not as mainstream as other forms of physical activities. It also quite a female-dominated sport.
FARIZ: I did dance as my co-curricular activity in secondary school and I was one of the three male dancers amongst 30 other girls. So the experience of me being in a “female-dominated” environment is nothing new. I did, however, face a bit of anxiety starting out because I was afraid that my ‘male’ presence would make my female classmates feel uncomfortable. I then realised that I might be overthinking things so I learnt to just focus on my journey and enjoy the process.
ESQ: Is participation in competitions something you'll do?
FARIZ: I think I have a long way to go to compete. Even if I do want to do so, I don’t think I will in the near future. I’m quite competitive by nature and I think it’ll take the fun away from practicing. When the time is right, I do want to explore performing. It’ll be nice to create my own pole dance choreography but there’s so much I need to learn. For now, I’m just happy pole dancing with my close friends.
ESQ: What would you want people who have negative impressions of pole to know about it?
FARIZ: It’s funny because when I started posting my pole dance videos on my social media, people who I never thought would approve of it were very supportive. I think these videos help normalise pole dancing and let people know that it’s just like any other dance form that includes different interpretations and genres.
ESQ: What advise would you give to a guy that may be interested in taking up pole?
FARIZ: Just go for it. But bear in mind it’s more than just strength when it comes to pole dancing.
ESQ: What has doing pole taught you? How has it changed your life?
FARIZ: If there’s one thing I appreciate throughout my pole journey, it would be the many amazing people I’ve met through pole dance. Be it classmates or instructors, everyone has been super supportive and encouraging in my journey. I realised I’ve taken this for granted when we went into circuit breaker and I felt something was amiss when I was practicing on my own. Having that support system was, and still is, important to me. I look forward to the day when I can dance with them again without the safety restrictions.