Last week, the audience in the Riley Smith Theatre was transported into a big top, complete with cascading red and white banners draped from the ceiling, stilt-walkers, and candy floss and popcorn vendors. The Vertical Fitness annual showcase brought the circus to Leeds, showing off a fantastic array of pole and hoop performances, all in aid of charity.
Pole dancing has often been subject to some adverse press, but those negative commentators have evidently never taken the time to consider the sheer strength that it takes to suspend yourself in mid-air, as well as the skill required to look graceful while doing so. Dancers were able to defy gravity, launching themselves around the stage and elegantly pull off impressive poses around a somewhat wobbly pole.
The dances varied from strength and flexibility performances to exotic routines, where dancers strut the stage in pleasers (or eight-inch heels for those of us not versed in pole garb), while still managing to dance with poise and elegance, mixing floor work with pole. Aerial hoop was equally as striking, with a mix of group and individual performances that saw dancers contort their bodies into some ways that did not seem humanely possible.
Many of the dancers reiterated how much confidence being a part of Vertical Fitness has given them, with one woman even emphasising that before taking up pole, she was as “flexible as a brick” but at least now she is “an upside-down brick”. Aimee Christodoulou, the President of Vertical Fitness, stated: “I couldn’t be happier that everyone has been so confident and body-positive in showing what an art form both pole fitness and exotic dance can really be.”
The fantastic show was in aid of an equally amazing cause, as the proceeds were donated to Basis Yorkshire. The Leeds-based charity offers information, safety and support for female and transgender women who work in the sex industry in Leeds, as well as giving intensive support to those at risk of child sexual exploitation. Vertical Fitness has supported the charity in previous years too with their showcase, as well as other fundraising events like a 24-hour Pole-a-thon.
Following the show, it is clear vertical fitness is a sport that requires strength and determination and embracing your body in this way is one of the most empowering and rewarding sports out there.
Image credit: Polly Hatcher