This month is a special time for Pierrette Wiseman. The 40-year-old mom is celebrating her new life as an instructor at Redefine Fit, a pole-dancing studio on Danforth Avenue that just marked its third anniversary.
When she first decided to begin pole dancing, Wiseman wanted a new way to stay fit but also express herself.
“I was getting lost in the mom life,” she says. “My son was about five years old and ready to go back to school, and I decided to take some daytime classes at a studio.”
Six years later, she’s fallen in love with the art form.
“Originally for me it was a moment where I could be myself and sexy. Now it’s more for athleticism and a form of modern dance.
“I absolutely adore teaching,” she adds. “I think I like it more than learning new tricks.”
Wiseman has been teaching at Redefine Fit for two years.
“Redefine Fit is more than just a place to have a good workout. It’s a really close family,” she says. “Most of the pole dancers choose to train here because we have social events and you are able to make friends. In the bigger studios you tend to get lost, there’s so many students coming in and out, whereas here you end up knowing all of your classmates.”
Wiseman wasn’t always so confident about pole dancing.
“I used to weigh close to 300 pounds,” she says. “I didn’t build the courage to try it until I lost the weight, and I regret that. I’ve met so many phenomenal plus-size pole dancers.”
Pole dancing has become an escape for Wiseman.
“It keeps me happy. If I’m having a horrible day and I train for an hour, I leave on cloud nine,” she says.
Wiseman wasn’t a big fan of athleticism before she began pole dancing.
“I never liked exercising,” she says. “When I found the pole, I fell in love with it. It took me about a year and a half to go upside-down the first time.”
Pole itself is empowering, and I think it’s a tool that women and men can use to empower themselves.
Now, going upside-down — the formal term is inversion — is her favourite routine to teach pole participants.
“Inversions 101 is all about conditioning your body and getting over the fear of going upside-down,” she says. “I like to see the progress in my students and also how proud they are of themselves.”
A student of Wiseman’s, Roxanne Muir, says she has been inspired by her classes.
“Pierrette is an amazing instructor and a talented pole and circus expert. I love the way she challenges me and explains the moves. I always feel very successful after her classes.”
Another student, Miranda Whittaker, who has been learning from Wiseman since her pole-dancing journey began, is impressed by her ability to cater to her students.
“Pierrette is able to adapt her lessons to meet the needs of her students, whether it’s giving more challenging moves to stronger students or throwing a bit of sign language into her instruction for students who need it,” she says.
Appropriating or appreciating the pole
As entertaining as pole dancing is, it is not without controversy. The question of appropriation has come up in reference to fitness studios using pole dancing as a form of exercise. Many people look down on the form of the dance when women are performing in clubs but are willing to participate in it when it is presented in the form of a trendy bodybuilding technique.
“I think there’s enough space in the pole world for both,” Wiseman says. “I have friends who are exotic dancers.
“Most of the original pole-dancing studios for fitness were run by exotic dancers, so I think there’s lots of room for both.”
Pole dancing didn’t originate in the West. It was created as an activity and exercise through a traditional Indian sport called mallakhamba, which can be traced back at least 800 years.
“It wasn’t originally a sport for stripping,” Wiseman says. “It was originally done in India by men. Somebody at some point saw that and brought it to North America and put it in strip clubs.”
Cynics still have negative attitudes towards pole dancing, both as exotic dancing and as a form of exercise.
“I think those people have never tried it or walked into a pole studio,” Wiseman says. “Everyone that I know who works as an exotic dancer has chosen the profession. I believe you can work in the sex industry and be a feminist. I know many of them.”
Bringing pole dancing to the Olympics
Recently, discussions have been held about adding pole dancing to the Olympics. The Global Association of International Sports Federations has officially granted pole dancing “observer status,” which gives it provisional recognition.
Gaining observer status is the first phase that international federations must attain before becoming official GAISF members, which could then put pole dancing in a position where it could one day land in the Olympics.
However, Wiseman has mixed feelings about this.
“There’s positive and negative aspects of it. It will bring pole to a higher platform as a sport. But I also think it will bring a lot of challenges within the pole industry, because once it goes up to the Olympics, it needs to be regulated, which means the studios will have to pay a lot more fees,” Wiseman explains. “Just like how in gymnastics there’s an annual fee they have to pay to Gymnastics Ontario. In the long run, I think it would make it accessible to a lot less people.”
Pole dancing may seem risqué to some in the beginning, but Wiseman has seen many studio-goers overcome their fears.
“The amount of people I see come in here who are shy and reserved and after a couple months of doing pole dancing, they flourish and they are outgoing.”
Wiseman also sees it as a great booster of self-esteem.
“Pole itself is empowering, and I think it’s a tool that women and men can use to empower themselves,” she says.
“It makes me feel strong. Every time I accomplish something new, I’m like, ‘Wow, my body is 40-years-old and it can do this.’”