This post is the last in the World of Dances series, which profiles ballet and dance photography in iconic, architectonically unique, culturally emblematic, rapidly vanishing landmarks or simply unexpected locations, that Kike captures about during his travels.
Men and women practice pole dancing around the world. Its origins date back to various exotic dance traditions: Chinese pole, Indian pole, and French and Dutch acrobatics. As early as the 12th century, Chinese acrobats would use poles as a tool to perform incredible physical feats. Modern pole dancing is an updated fusion of these concepts. Recently, pole dancing has become extremely popular as a rigorous form of exercise. While the dance had previously been viewed as an exclusively erotic act, many have come to focus on it as a multifaceted art form.
“When people hear ‘pole dance,’ they immediately relate to eroticism,” said Maria Alejandra Escudero. “But truth is, it is a demanding physical challenge that requires confidence in your own abilities. Eroticism transcends these planes.” Fawnia Dietrich taught the first public pole dancing class in 1994, and in only a few decades people everywhere have joined in.
As part of World of Dances, I traveled to Medellin (Colombia) to capture the beauty of pole dancing as it had never seen before. The idea sounds more simple that it really was. To bring dancers and a pole to the mountains nearby Medellin. The challenge: to capture the choreographies using a DJI Phantom 4 quadcopter. This was a new step in my ongoing project of photographing the art of dance. After extensive research, we couldn’t find any trades that pole dancing had been photographed from the perspective of a drone before.
Pole dancing is a full-body workout; it is one of the best ways to exercise. The core body strength of a pole dancer rivals that of professional athletes in other fields. It can be incredibly dangerous without training – more difficult moves can cause big problems if done wrong.
“People should know all the physical and mental benefits it brings your practice,” said Vanessa Worsnop. “You should know that a woman who practices it, will never be the same, and requires only a little curiosity and desire to try it, otherwise more is coming.”
As people have begun to more widely recognize pole dance, it is making a name for itself as a sport. Multiple efforts have even been initiated to include pole dancing in the Olympics. However, there are still many things that people don’t realize about it. One of the reasons pole dancers wear the kind of clothing they use, is that some moves require the particular friction of exposed skin to be possible. Many pole dancers find their work to be personally empowering; there is a strong culture of positivity and respect for the human body in the pole dancing community.
Luz Miryam Gomez has a full time job working in a lab and pole dancing is one of her passions. “I practice pole because I think about it as a very complete discipline that strengthens your body and mind, while freeing your spirit,” said Gomez. “It incorporates many elements such as strength, elasticity, all in search of an internal and external harmony. It quickly becomes a personal challenge. You learn to love your body for what it can do. It is a discipline that improves your confidence and self esteem.
“I love to practice pole dance,” said designer Sara Garcia. “Besides exercising my body, I also train my spirit and my mind. It releases stress and all emotional burdens. I will really define it as the best thing that could happen to my body and my life in general.”
After the experience I chat with the dancers I collaborated with to learn more about their perspectives on our project. Vanessa Worsnop, Monica Sierra, Karen Alvarez, Luz Miryam Gomez, Sara Garcia, and Maria Alejandra Escudero. The group included a combination of advanced pole dance instructors, along with some ‘newbies’ from Colombia. They were all excited by the potential of photographing with a drone. “As a dancer, I love the expression of the body in space,” said Monica Sierra. “The idea of being captured from the air caught my interest from the start.”
Vanessa Worsnop described her experience by being observed by the drone like a “mini spaceship”. “I imagined how we would look to other beings from their aerial perspective, which we can almost never access,” said Worsnop. “What would they think of us?!” For dancers used to being surrounded by an audience on the ground, using a quadcopter can change how to think about a performance. “It’s like dancing for a presence that is watching you, but you do not know where it is,” said Monica Sierra.
One of the greatest things about World of Dances is being able to photograph subjects in the act of doing something that is so viscerally meaningful to them. “The pole touches very deep aspects of the feminine,” said Worsnop. “The encounter with the body. Freedom and acceptance. The constant challenge and the discipline. Pole is a very special dance. It’s profound. Nobody knows what can touch within you, until you start practicing. I love it.”
“I liked the experience of working once again with this master of photography, said Worsnop. “As always it is an honor and a pleasure to be part of his wonderful ideas. His concept brought a very special perspective to our beloved sport. Working with Kike is always fun and peaceful. One feels in confidence. He gives us the chance to be ourselves. He is a cool person, loving and an of course, an amazing photographer.”
“I loved working with Kike,” said Karen Alvarez. “His energy and professionalism make the difficult seem easy. In a few minutes it seemed that we all knew each other for years. The setting was quite challenging for us due to the mosquitoes and the cold temperatures.”
“I decided to participate because I absolutely believe World of Dances is a beautiful project,” said Monica Sierra. “Besides, Kike’s work is always special. As a dancer I love the expression of the body in space, and the idea of capturing from the air fascinated me. I am currently living in Australia, but I was lucky to be Medellin when Kike visited the city to work on this project. It was like dancing for a presence that was watching you, but you do not know where it is.”
“In recent years the pole dancing has had a great evolution, said Sierra. “Pole dancing is a practice that requires a lot of discipline, flexibility, strength, control and agility. I have been practicing for 8 years now, and I do it every day. It has become such a popular practice that both men and women practice it. There are schools everywhere and multiple championships are held annually around the world. It’s a sport that captures you. You fall in love with it, and you can’t just stop dancing and training. It is a dance, and a game of pirouettes”
Drones open up so many new possibilities for dance photography, expanding an art based on the human body moving in space to encompass thousands of new perspectives. It is only fitting that I use the new technology of drone photography to capture outdoor pole dancing, as it is also emerging into the public eye and redefining itself as a sport specialty. I hope my introduction to drone technology to this specialty will help the world to value this sport and artistic activity, and that by allowing the dancers seeing themselves perform in a new way, it will help advance the depth of their own practice.
Note: Special thanks to all the dancers, and of course, their pole dance academies in Medellin, PinUp and Charmy, for believing in my crazy idea. It was all of us together that made this photo shoot possible. It will take a very long time to forget all the mosquito bites, skin rushes and laughs.
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Dancers: Behind the Scenes with The Royal Ballet