For Natasha Bajic, owning the pole dancing studio Brass Ovaries has not always been her dream. It all started out innocently enough, when the former University of Texas neuroscience major and avid rock climber started searching for ways to spice up her workout routine. “I was a pretty good rock climber, so the skills translated over really nicely,” she says. “You’re still climbing something.”
When her hobby became more time-consuming, however, Bajic had a choice to make – continue her studies or follow her passion. “I can do neuroscience when I’m 90, but this is the only time in my life when my body will be able to do this. So I decided to open a studio.”
When most people hear “pole dancing,” the first things that come to mind are often strippers and stilettos. Physically speaking, however, the sport requires extreme levels of flexibility, strength, self-control and precision – skills that are also required in sports such as figure skating and gymnastics.
It appears that everyone – men and women, professional athletes and everyday gym-goers are catching on to this fitness trend. According to the International Pole Sports Federation, the number of athletes participating in pole fitness as a sport has dramatically increased in number across the world.
Bajic has experienced first hand the peak in interest in this formally taboo workout. “All kinds of people come into the studio to learn how to pole dance,” Bajic says. “Some are bored with their currently work out and want to do it purely to get fit. Others come in wanting to feel sexy, to regain their confidence after a break up or just to piss their parents off.”
For Bajic, who in addition to rock climbing, was also the first woman to ever complete training with the military Special Forces, pole dancing is strictly about the physical benefits. “It’s a total body workout that targets your core while incorporating flexibility and strength condition – and it’s fun!”
While Bajic assures she has no interest in high heels, the sensual, seductive side of the sport is what holds the allure for some women. “I have a lot of students that get really into that part of it,” she says. “They are able to increase their confidence while bettering their physical condition. Pole dancing allows them to feel beautiful in more ways than one.”
But it’s clear the sport still has a long way to go before it can escape its shadow. Bajic felt the repercussions of her hobby’s past when she began looking for a space to rent a studio. “A lot of strange connotations come with climbing a pole. People acted like I was trying to run an illegal Zumba-prostitution ring with a bunch of strippers running around,” she says.
Pole dancing is not the first form of expression to be met with resistance. Yoga was originally not well-received due to its association with religion, and dances such as the tango were once labeled sensual because they highlighted the feminine form and encouraged physical contact between men and women. Eventually, however, they became widely accepted and shook the stereotype that they were suggestive.
After a year of looking at properties and getting turned down, Bajic finally found a building to rent. Since then, she has successfully been in business for five years.
Bajic feels confident her sport will be able to separate itself from its risqué reputation. “The pole dancing and pole fitness community has really been going strong in the United States for 10 years,” she says. “We have lots of competitions both nationally and internationally with some very talented performers. There has even been a movement in the works for about five years to get pole dancing in the Olympics.”