Pole Position

Aarifa Bhinderwala is India’s first formally trained pole dancer

aarifa-bhinderwala Aarifa Bhinderwala

Aarifa Bhinderwala's spinning and twirling on a pole simply defy gravity and show off her incredible athletic ability. Aarifa’s passion for the sport was ignited when she visited her sister in Perth and enrolled for a class out of sheer boredom and curiosity. “I loved the vibe of the class, which was easygoing and fun. It was almost like a party. There were girls from all over the world and this helped me socialise as I was new to Perth.” The first thing a pole class teaches you to do is throw your arms around and spin like a kid. Aarifa was ecstatic as it reminded her of her childhood. Always enthusiastic to try the next move, she quickly mastered the inversion (balancing your body upside down on the pole) and learnt the next skill. Soon, pole dancing became the most fun exercise she’d ever encountered. Aarifa kept going back to Perth to master more levels before she decided to launch her own studio in Mumbai.

It's hard to believe that Aarifa has been poling only for four years. Her moves are breathtaking and unique in that she tells a story with the song, much like ballet. The height of her heels, her humble demeanour and the incredible grip of her legs make for a captivating picture.

More than a dance

Aarifa, who makes pole fitness look easy, believes it’s time for pole dancing to be recognised as a rigorous form of athleticism (they have world championships). It's half gymnastics, half seduction. “Pole dancing has become a popular form of exercise for many women and a showcase for artistic expression. The high-energy manoeuvring is athletic and very impressive to watch.” Her Instagram account is a testament to her love for hanging, spinning and sitting upside down on a pole. The speed with which this Mumbai-based pole fitness instructor switches between positions can make you feel dizzy.

Pole with benefits

The simple act of climbing a pole is an incredible display of strength. It is no surprise then that most pole dancers insist they have never looked or felt better. Hugging the pole is an amazing way to discover and express your sexuality and enjoy freedom of movements while staying in great shape. It is also a powerful tool to get rid of stress. “Pole dancing really sculpts your body. My shoulders have become broader, waist smaller and my muscles have got more definition now. Pole helped me realise my inner strength,” says Aarifa, who conducts regular pole classes at The Space, Juhu, Mumbai.

It’s tougher doing it in heels as they add to your bodyweight. Moreover, barefoot has its own aesthetics and sensuality.

The leg and arm extensions, splits, bends, curls and other tricks strengthen the core. “Doing squats on the pole builds core and overall joint strength.” Although pole dancing requires incredible muscle strength to properly pull the tricks off, it equally needs the body’s flexibility to retain the dance’s sensuality. Pole dancing is done both barefoot and with heels. Although, Aarifa does both, she prefers to skip the stilettos and go barefoot so she can better point her toes and stick to the pole. “It’s tougher doing it in heels as they add to your bodyweight. Moreover, barefoot has its own aesthetics and sensuality.”

The seduction angle

Pole dancing still conjures smoky rooms, women in various states of undress, and dollar bills strategically shoved into G-strings. It’s a stereotype that sorely needs debunking. Showing off the splits and gravity defying handstands off the side of the pole, Aarifa’s athletic performances are more akin to an Olympic gymnast on the bar than a burlesque show. “My family is very proud of me and has been very involved right from the beginning when I would show some of the more difficult moves to my mom.” The male reaction generally runs from mild disbelief to admiration. “It is never condescending and they get a taste of my strength when I shake hands with them. I have a super strong handshake and my hands are full of corns. This is because of the intense regime on the pole.”

Pole attire is highly functional as practitioners dress skimpily because bared skin allows enough friction for one to grip the pole. “You grip the pole at your hip or the thigh. Clothes just come in the way of your movements.” To mount the bar one has to lock the pole between one’s inner thighs; the front of one’s shin and the lower calf of the other leg are pressed against the pole for additional support. Aarifa believes soulful sufi numbers with beautiful lyrics help her flow better.

Pole dancing is more popular with women, but that doesn’t mean men can’t join the club. “Surprisingly, when I started teaching pole dancing I got a lot of enquiries from men. They were interested as it involves a lot of movements for the core. I believe there are many men who pursue it as a form of fitness.” Aarifa's classes include some men as well and she plans to launch a separate class for them very soon.

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