The Year of Arts: The creative art of pole dancing

Vuonna 2018 Aalto-yliopiston ylioppilaskunta viettää Taidevuotta. Sen kunniaksi annamme puheenvuoron Aalto-yhteisössä toimiville luoville ihmisille ja ryhmille. Elokuussa taiteestaan kertoo tankotanssiyhdistys Otanko.
Otanko Kuva: Assi Vainikka
Image: Assi Vainikka

Otanko, or the Otaniemi pole dance association, was founded precisely three years ago by a group of pole dance enthusiasts. The association organises weekly pole dancing classes and other related activities for its members, while non-members can enjoy their performances or try out the sport for themselves. At the moment, Otanko has around 150 members and 12 instructors.

The association operates within the Aalto University Student Union, but the atmosphere of their dance classes is most interdisciplinary: the group also features several students from the University of Helsinki, for example. There’s absolutely no need to have previous experience of pole dancing to take part in the activities. Classes are offered from beginner level onwards, and more than half of the current instructors began their own pole dance careers by taking Otanko classes.

Pole dance is an art form that combines dance and acrobatics, with its moves revolving around a vertical pole that’s around 45 mm thick.

The sport has its roots in Chinese pole – a circus skill developed before the Common Era – and in the Mallakhamb sport originating in 12th-century India. In both of these, the vertical pole around which the athletes perform tricks is thicker and coarser than the pole used today.

In its current form, pole dance is still a young sport. The first studio was founded in the 1990s. There are constantly new moves, techniques and expression methods being developed which, compared to sports established longer ago, enables pole dancers to use a great deal of creativity even in world championship competitions.

Audiences can see pole dance performances at various events, for example, as well as in pole dance competitions all year round. In addition, the internet – especially Instagram and YouTube – offer a nearly endless supply of videos to watch. Anyone interested in the sport is welcome to pop in on one of Otanko’s beginners’ classes, for example, to see if pole dance is for them. There are also several commercial pole dance studios in the metropolitan area, in which you can try out the sport.

Most people coming to our classes have discovered pole dance while looking for new challenges in the field of exercise and ways to express themselves through dance. Indeed, a typical pole dancer has an athletic or a dance background, although this is by no means a necessity. The sport is fascinating because even beginners are able to do and express a lot, yet even the best of dancers still has plenty more to learn.

What many find particularly inspiring about pole dance is the way that movement and expression on the pole are not restricted by having to stand on your feet: on the pole, you move in the air while your body is supported by nearly all of your body parts in turn. Often the most attractive moves are indeed performed high up in the air with all limbs free to create beautiful lines.

Pole dance is art, just like all other art forms incorporating dance and acrobatics. It can be used to evoke emotions, tell stories and express the dancer’s inner world.

At the moment, pole dance differs from other dance genres especially in the way it enables the athletes to use an exceptional amount of creativity even in the very highest levels of competition. There’s not just one correct method of expression or atmosphere for a pole dance choreography, and in addition to combining the established basic moves, dancers have plenty of room to come up with their own unique moves. An objectively right or wrong way to pole dance simply doesn’t exist.

Sara Ikonen
President of Otanko ry

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