Aerobic, Not Erotic: China's Latest Fitness Fad

Pole dancing class

Luo Lan (in white T-shirt) leads a class in pole dancing in downtown Beijing. The activity is the latest fitness craze to sweep China. Courtesy Luo Lan. hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy Luo Lan.
Luo Lan, 38, first saw pole dancing during a trip to Paris.

Teacher Luo, 38, says she first saw pole dancing during a trip to Paris. She now charges up to $1,200 for a year of classes. Courtesy Luo Lan. hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy Luo Lan.

In a downtown Beijing apartment, a half-dozen, mostly young women are gyrating and undulating in a room full of floor-to-ceiling metal poles and mirrors.

The women, who work white-collar jobs, are dressed in high boots, hot pants and tight tops. They swing, swoop, shimmy on up — and slide on down.

In China, newly affluent citizens are spending more time and money in search of a higher quality of life. They are quick to catch on to the latest foreign fitness fads, from yoga to bungee jumping and ballroom dancing to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

And the women at this school are all practitioners of the latest fitness fad to sweep China: pole dancing. Here, the activity seems to have escaped connotations of strippers and girlie bars, and is seen as just another way to keep fit — exotic, perhaps, but not erotic.

Luo Lan, the school's 38-year-old founder and instructor, got her start in belly dancing. She saw her first pole dance on a visit to Paris, and was hooked. She claims to be Beijing's first teacher of pole dancing, or as it's rendered in Chinese, "steel tube dancing."

Among the students at the school is 18-year-old Zhang Wanqiu, from Northeast China. She learned about pole dancing on the Internet and came to Beijing a month ago just to learn. Her appearance is demure, except for the big gold stud protruding from the side of her nose.

"Pole dancing is great for losing weight and keeping a trim figure. It's very alluring, very sexy, very healthy, and it allows women to express another side of themselves," Zhang says.

Luo says that since she started teaching pole dancing at her new location in July of last year, it's caught on like wildfire. In just a few months, Luo has attracted more than 100 students, and charges up to $1,200 for a year's classes.

"People used to be very conservative in their dress and makeup. Now young women are very open — not in an unhealthy way, I mean," Luo says. "They're more confident and individualistic. They want to show their stuff."

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