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MANILA (Reuters) - Pole dancing to the music of a 20-piece live orchestra, including violins? Yes, says one Philippine pole dance troupe that seeks respect for its art and athleticism.
Against the background of women around the world turning to pole dancing as a form of exercise, the Manila-based group Polecats proved at a recent weekend show that performances are no longer only for strip clubs and sleazy bars -- or just for women, either.
As the orchestra played classical-style arrangements of modern songs, dancers of both genders swung and climbed gracefully up 4 meter (12 foot) poles, combining flexibility, strength, and moves bordering on acrobatics, with sensuality.
"You don't go to Cirque du Soleil to get turned on, although maybe you will, but I just want people to see that we're really good at what we do, and not just hot," said Christina Dy, the Polecats director.
Routines involving swings and twirls require balance, concentration and a high level of technical skills, and that is what audiences should appreciate, she added.
"I just want people to see that this is very hard ... if you just want the hair flipping, the grinding and all that, the boob popping, you can get that anywhere."
The group has gathered male performers, as well as male viewers, by focusing on the athletic aspects of performing, said Job Bautista, the first man to become a regular Polecats members.
"Now here in the Philippines we're trying to promote the more acrobatic type of pole dancing, which we Polecats think is more suited to men," he said.
The group employed the help of fast-strutting practitioners of Parkour -- a movement method of French origin involving running, jumping, vaulting, and rolling around obstacles -- to introduce new routines that would appeal to men.
The group expects more male recruits as soon as lessons for men start in full this month.
"There are a lot of big movements like balancing and pulling yourself up on the pole. It might be sexy in a way, but not only for girls," said Parkour practitioner Flynn Siy.
Organizations such as the International Pole Dance Fitness Association have been advocating professional pole dancing for fitness and sport. Ultimately, the goal is to include it in the Olympics.
In a reflection of this growing respectability, the audience included many professionals and dance lovers, along with foreign residents of Manila.
"Every kid has dreamed of climbing a pole, and this takes it to a completely different level," said Sally Clark, an environmentalist from the United States and long-term Philippines resident.
"I think it's much harder than it looks, so yeah, I might try it sometime if I have the chance."
Writing by Elaine Lies; editing by Sanjeev Miglani