The two beautiful and talented young ladies sat across the table from me looking relaxed and confident. Alejandra Plazas is the reigning pole dancing amateur champion of Colombia. Veronica Montenegro is her good friend and trainer.
Experienced at interviews from publications around the world they were kind enough to take time from their schedule for their first North American publication (Fenton Patch) glimpse into their life and thoughts on the up and coming sport. The two educated dancers conducted the entire interview in English.
In the sports and fitness world, pole dancing is following the path similar to that of the tango. What started as a dance in the brothels of Argentina is now a sultry sensuous part of ballroom dancing competition. The red light district of Vancouver, Canada in the late 1960's is thought by many as the beginning of pole dancing. Today the sport features competitions around the world, magazines and numerous clubs. Instructors are certified and have education in such disciplines as aerobics, gymnastics, Pilates, yoga, kinesiology and breathing techniques.
In tracing the roots of the sport Plazas said the history is much older than what most believe. A pole sport called mallakhamb can be traced back to 12th century India and is still practiced today. The translation of the word literally is "gymnast pole." Montenegro added that during the hey day of the traveling circus in the U.S. ladies would entertain the crowd by doing acrobats on the pole of the big tent. Even during the 1920's flapper dancers sometimes incorporated a pole into their act.
I asked both what prompted them to begin studying this intriguing new sport. Montenegro was already a student and aficionado of dance as well as various exercise techniques and aerobics. "One day at the dance academy I saw a video of pole dancing. It looked acrobatically strong," she said. In her search for a studio to study at she also found a job.
Plazas ' introduction came from one of those girls night out events. "The sister of my best friend booked a group of us for a class in pole dancing," she said. " I just fell in love with it. It was seriously for me."
Because of their impressive credentials the two ladies are currently busy teaching at three different pole studios. I asked them about their students. Most are women, but they do have a few men. They range from those in their teens to sexy senior citizens. Both concur that the vast majority of their clients have never previously participated in gymnastics.
"Most women come to forget about their husbands, boyfriends, jobs and problems," Plazas said. "It is very challenging. You must focus because if you get distracted you hit the pole."
She noted that some of best students are the ones that Americans might refer to as "pleasingly plump."
Montenegro talked about her recent clients, a 56 year-old woman and a 60 year-old man who each week take a private lesson together.
"They both enjoy it. The lady is highly focused and one of my best students. The husband is working to satisfy his dream of climbing a tree and picking a coconut like a native."
The friends talked about their oldest student, a woman of 72 who is showing up some of the younger participants in the class.
We next covered the benefits of pole dancing. Montenegro spoke first commenting that it strengthens the muscles, increases flexibility and gains self-esteem. "They discover abilities they never knew they had," she said.
Plazas totally agreed adding, "They learn and enjoy dance better. No one is watching." She continued stating that pole dancing is a combination of many different types of exercise combined with dance. Some instructors have mentioned that doctors have recommended pole dancing for their female patients who suffer from depression.
It came as no surprise that the two athletes mentioned a former Michigan resident who now lives in New York City, Wendy Traskos, as one of those in the business they admire. Plazas and Montenegro had earlier in the month assisted Traskos in presenting a ten day, seven hours a day intensive workshop in Cali, Colombia. They laud what she is doing for the sport especially in terms of training and certifying instructors. "We believe in her method of teaching. It is a clear and healthy way," said Plazas. "It is the best method to avoid injuries."
In speaking of the sport and her objectives Montenegro said, "It is evolving very fast. Pole dancing is my life project. I like to teach and want to train people to championship."
While also constantly striving to be the best she can, Plazas enjoys teaching, especially the beginners. "It is good seeing people progress," she said.
Their dream is to own their own dance studio, however, both women stated that if the right offer came along they would welcome the opportunity to further their teaching and career in another country.