Everyone Googles their own name from time to time. After interviewing a pair of hobos in my Appalachian hometown, I used to search my name weekly. The Viceland comment jar for that interview was so flooded with what claimed to be angry West Virginian hobo activists that I had to consult Google to make sure there wasn’t a hit out on me. My imagination became exhaustingly active and I was convinced that if I didn’t Google my name in time, I wouldn’t know they had been planning to storm my neighborhood, in which case, the next time I searched my name the first thing I would see would be the remains of my newly arsoned once-home. One day, however, I found this erroneously titled video.
In a matter of moments, all of my torches and pitchforks faded as SaCToWnGirL916’s MAJOY IMPROVEMENT FROM YESTERDAYS VID introduced me to the world of competitive pole dancing. At first glance, I assumed that SaCToWnGirL916 was just some floozy practicing for the nightshift, then I noticed a suggested video in the YouTube sidebar titled Felix – 2009 World Pole Dance Champion, which I soon learned was a video of the world’s most talented pole dancer and humangel named Felix Cane.
My immediate thought watching Felix elastically wrap her body around the metal pole was that she should probably join Cirque du Soleil. In my mind, anything suspiciously spectacular naturally belongs in a Canadian Circus. As it turns out, my brain is ripe with functionality, because she’s currently a character in Cirque’s Zumanity, a more sensual, “adult” show running in Las Vegas. I would argue that very few sports claim athletes as talented as Felix Cane. Even fewer claim platform heels and lingerie as uniforms. I wanted to know how it’s possible that a stainless steel pole can promote both the spread of Chlamydia to high-powered foreign businessmen and world-class athlete/circus performer hybrids, so I went straight to the source and interviewed the demigod vixen herself.
To preface the conversation, the PR representative for Cirque du Solei insisted that I talk with Felix’s manager and board member of the Pole Fitness Association, Collette Kakuk. This was a fortunate break because Kakuk will also be the person responsible for making competitive pole dancing an Olympic sport, and incidentally is Ryan Sheckler’s next-door neighbor. Although our conversation was mostly informative, she was also very hard-pressed to remind me that getting the opportunity to talk to Felix Cane was a great honor. Felix is quite literally the best in the world at her sport, and will be responsible for soon turning said sport mainstream. It was as if I was spending my afternoon talking with a 21st century, female, attractive, English, flexible version of football legend Pelé or that golf broad from the 20s they teach you about in Social Studies. With any luck though, this sprint course in the art/sport of competitive pole dancing may give me the chops to become the Sal Masekela of this growing sport. To my knowledge, competitive pole dancing is yet to find a commentator who can spit out trick sequences in real time, and I would be happy to fill that role in time for the world championships this October in Zurich.
Vice: So how did you get your start in competitive pole dancing?
Felix: Actually, I just fell into it randomly much like you did. I was studying at university in Australia, and my mom and little sister came to visit me. They decided to do a pole dancing class for fun because it was a new fitness craze that had come up in Aussie, but wasn’t in England, where we’re from. I couldn’t believe that my mum was cooler than me and had tried this thing, so I did it as well, and fell in love. So I decided to do it a lot because of how much fun I was having while getting fit. From that, I started teaching, and later on in the year, I competed in the Australian championships, which I won.
And now you’re doing stuff with Cirque du Solei right?
How did that happen?
Actually, the casting director for cirque literally just saw some videos of me on YouTube, then contacted me through an email and asked if I wanted to live in Vegas for a couple of years.
Wow. I feel like it’s probably every niche athlete’s pipedream to randomly get an email from Cirque du Soleil with an invitation to perform. How have you enjoyed it?
Um - it’s very different form what I was doing before. It’s a very set show, so I don’t have as much freedom, and I can’t improvise what I want to do. It’s been a really great experience, but I think just like anything else in theater, it only reaches a certain amount of people. My goal with pole is to expose it to the world and let as many people as possible see that it’s not what they think it is, and it has come a really long way from where it originated in strip clubs. I think the people who come into this show leave with a better understanding of pole dancing, but I think in the future, I’d like to make it even more acceptable to the general public.
Zumanity is exclusively for an adult audience though right? From what I’ve seen, it seems super sexual.
Yes. It focuses on sensuality and sexuality, but it also focuses on all of the different facets of sensuality – in it’s confusions and difficulties that you run into. It’s quite a deep show, but very entertaining, exciting, and really sexy.
That’s what I find so interesting about this sport. It doesn’t seem like it will ever get away from the sensual and sexual culture that it derives from. People are starting to pull it away from the idea that it’s only a stripper tool, but it is still naturally really sensual.
I don’t think that to be accepted as a sport or an art, it needs to divide itself from its sexual or sensual side. There are a lot of dance forms and art forms that are especially sexy. Things like tango and salsa are exceptionally sexy. I think what needs to happen is that the vulgarity that people associate with pole dancing needs to be eliminated because sexuality and sensuality don’t necessarily need to be vulgar.
Well, I think it’s hard to do when you’re still wearing platform shoes.
Well, yes and no. I mean, people always ask why we have to do it in so little clothing, but the fact of the matter is that when you wear clothing, you’re going to slip on a metal pole. The advantage of wearing platform shoes is the leverage that you get which allows you to spin and move more slowly. Apart from the original aesthetics, both the skimpy clothing and the platform shoes have a function.
See, I really like that though. I think it’s wild that you’re still using these traditional pole dancing aesthetics, but are perfecting it to the point where it is becoming a really challenging and interesting sport. Actually, it’s probably the most athletic sport I’ve ever seen, but you’re still wearing g-strings in some of your videos.
I think it puts a really artistic twist on it. I view pole dancing first as an art form, then as a sport, because you can be so expressive with it. There are really no rules. You don’t have to wear any specific thing. You can wear slippers if you want, but it doesn’t change the fact that what you’re doing is intensely athletic, challenging, and aggressive.
So do you have a background in stripping?
No actually. I trained extensively as a classical ballerina, which is where my dance experience comes from.
So how was the transition moving from something so classical like ballet, into such a provocative sport?
For me it was really liberating. Ballet was so limited in its interpretation. You’re always told what to do and when to do it. Like you said, it’s a very classical sport, so everything has been the same for a really long time. There isn’t much opportunity for improvisation in classical ballet. It was nice to be able to dance exactly like I wanted to dance on the pole.
So are you still competing or are you exclusively doing cirque?
Oh no, I’m definitely competing still.
Now how do the competitions work? What are the methods of judgment?
Well, it’s based on a set of points, which is divided into choreography, tricks, costume, then there are little ones like performance and audience reaction. Most of the points come from choreography and the tricks, which is the execution and combination of the tricks that you do on the pole. The pole tricks depend on your agility, your creativity, and the individuality of your performance, much like how you would judge a gymnastics performance I guess.
Is there anyone in the pole world who you consider to be your obvious competition?
That’s a lot of confidence.
I mean there are a lot of really great pole dancers, but I don’t know anyone who is at all my rival. It’s already hard enough to get people to accept the sport for what it is. We don’t really need to be making enemies amongst our selves.
Is there a country that produces especially good pole dancers?
Australia I’d say.
Why is that?
I think the technique is slightly different, and also the standard pole is slightly slimmer than the American pole. I have a dancier style to my pole dancing, and I think that that’s just much easier to do on a slimmer pole. The Australian pole dancers are trained on a spin pole and a stationary pole, which isn’t the case in America where they’re mostly trained on a thicker stationary pole, meaning that they’re limited because when they get on a spinning pole, they don’t know what they can do with it.
Is a spin pole literally just a pole that spins?
It’s a pole that’s on ball bearings so the pole itself spins. You still have to use your momentum to spin it. It doesn’t just spin all the time.
So it’s not just automatically spinning all the time?
No, there’s no mechanism that makes it spin. You just use your own momentum, which can be pretty hard to judge sometime.
So when you compete, each dancer essentially just does a sequence of tricks on one or both of these poles, then they get judged based on that sequence right?
The other sports that have formats like this always seem to be inventing new and more complicated tricks for their runs. Is it safe to assume that people are constantly working to invent new tricks in pole as well?
Oh yeah, definitely. I have a couple of signature ones that I invented and only I can do the way that I actually do them.
What are those tricks?
One is called The Spatchcock. Which, I don’t know if you’ve seen, but it’s the one where I’m only holding on with my back and my heels in an oversized flip.
I might have, but I’d have to watch again.
The other one is called The Eagle. I have quite a lot of flexibility under my belt, so I can do moves with quite a lot of bending.
How does that one work?
The Eagle is when you have the bottom leg hooked down on the pole, which would end up being your front leg, then you grab the top leg behind the pole all the way past your head so that you’re in a bit of a split on the pole, but bent more.
So how do you discover these tricks? I mean do you have a trick in mind before you figure out something like that?
Usually, I’m pretty aware of what my body is capable of, so you get to a point where you’re pretty sure what you can do when the bar is in a certain place. Then it’s just a matter of being creative and pushing yourself to your body’s absolute limits.
Are there any new tricks that you’re working on right now?
Can you disclose any of those?
Yeah! I’m really trying to start in a split, bend backwards and grab my knee, then push my head past my knee. It’s more of a flexibility issue than anything. Then I need to transpose it to the pole, so I would be upside down as well.
So you would be upside down?
Yes. My back leg would be down and my front leg would be up. But I don’t know if it’s actually possible yet.
Yeah, that doesn’t actually sound possible at all. Then again, most of what you do probably wouldn’t sound possible if you tried to explain it.
(adorable laughter) Yeah. That’s probably true.