Meet the guys who are swinging into pole position
Pole dancing is no longer just for girls -- now it's a competitive sport for men, writes Una Bradley
Irish men are queueing up to climb the greasy pole, but we're not talking corporate ambition. According to pole-dancing teachers all over the country, more and more blokes are inquiring about classes as the influence of virtuosos like acrobat Dominic Lacasse - who recently appeared on The Late, Late Show - takes a firm grip.
Two national events, the All Ireland Pole Dance competition and Pole Dance Ireland Princess, have recently thrown open their doors to guys wanting to scale the dizzy heights.
And while the Irish Independent could find no evidence of an exclusively-male class, many studios and gyms now welcome geezers who want to hang -- literally -- with the girls.
We spoke to two such men, who arrived at the pole via very different routes but agree there's nothing quite like the thrill of being vertically challenged . . .
Nikolajf Jermakovs (28) is originally from Latvia, and has lived in Dublin for seven years. He works in hotels but dreams of becoming a professional pole-dancer. He says: "I used to be a stripper with The Chain Gang, but I wanted to do something more artistic. Pole-dancing is just perfect as it's still quite sexy, but very athletic and skilled -- you can't just get up there and shake your ass.
"I've done quite a few shows in nightclubs now and I love the whole theatre of it -- the costumes, the music, the dance moves.
"Recently I dressed up in a military uniform and did a routine to Michael Buble's 'Cry Me A River'. I came on stage, took off my hat, my jacket, my trousers, to reveal a sexy vest and shorts combo underneath. Then I was ready to do some crazy stuff on the pole. The girls went wild!
"I started the pole three years ago, when I got bored with running and swimming. I wanted more of a challenge so when a friend introduced me to a pole teacher, I began one-to-one classes with her. Within months I bought my own pole and now I train every day at home. Some people think it's not very manly, but men work the pole in a much more masculine and muscular way.
"I work as a receptionist with the Walton chain of hotels, but my ambition is to go into business with another [male] pole-dancer. We might even do some stuff together on the pole -- this is very difficult, but would be a great selling point.
"I could never have imagined being a pole-dancer growing up. My country is very conservative -- like Ireland 30 years ago. Before I came to Dublin I was living with my parents, studying languages at college, and basically living like an angel!"
Kevin Smith (42) lives in Kilmacanogue, Co Wicklow. A karate teacher and Irish karate champion for eight years running, he has been training on the pole for nine months. His day job is as a painter and decorator. He says:
"I'm a fifth degree black belt in karate, but nothing in my experience builds your strength like the pole.
"My wife Sally introduced me to it when she and her sister set up the Polekix studio in Bray. Initially, I went along to give strength and flexibility classes to the women. Out of curiosity, I hopped up on the pole and got a big shock -- it's not anywhere near as easy as it looks.
"I would see a distinction between the terms 'pole-dancing' and 'pole fitness'. For me, it's all about strength and fitness, not nice costumes or dance routines.
"As for the sleazy image, that's light-years away from how I see it. Some women might choose to do a sexy routine along with their tricks -- that's fine, because the tricks are still incredibly difficult. But that whole sensuality bit isn't where I'm coming from at all.
"I'm inspired by athletes like Dominic Lacasse. He's in the Guinness Book Of Records for doing the most 'human flags'. That's this really difficult move where you hang at an angle from the pole and bring yourself in doing chin-ups. He did 46 of them, which is unreal. When you watch him, you see the influence of gymnastics and aerial acrobatics, rather than anything to do with lap-dancing clubs.
"I'm the only guy in my pole class, but I don't think the women mind me! Still, there are so many more men getting interested now, I would certainly think about setting up a class for men."
With more and more blokes getting into pole position, how do the women who have already taken up the hobby feel about the prospect of men joining their classes? Is it all good sport, or a slippery slide towards the kind of horror summed up by the unisex toilets in Ally McBeal?
Reigning Irish pole champion Katherine White (29), who teaches in Bray (polekix.com), says a lot of her students are "just getting used to their own bodies" and might feel vulnerable if a muscle-rippling beefcake started strutting his stuff on a neighbouring pole.
"I would have to be 110pc sure that every woman in my class was comfortable with sharing their session with a man," she said.
For Eilionior Fegan (31), who teaches in Dundalk (polerciseltd.com), the solution is segregation.
"You have to look at it on a case-by-case basis, but I would prefer separate classes, as the men are so much stronger -- they just race ahead. In my experience, men are also more competitive, where the women encourage each other, so they're better off apart."
Pole Princess organiser Nathania Herbert (31) says she doesn't believe anyone in her Dublin northside classes (poledanceireland.com) would have a problem with a guy joining.
"Things change. There was a time when you wouldn't have seen a man in a yoga class in Ireland, but that's no longer the way.
"If you've ever seen a guy on the pole, it's jaw-dropping what they can do, but a lot of them are shy about it, as there's still a stigma.
"I like banishing the stereotype that it's all about women in high heels and G-strings. As far as I'm concerned, it's a sport now -- the more the merrier."