Created on Thursday, 22 September 2011 15:55
Written by Staff Editor
When the photos were made public in the UK, Misch found she faced criticism from Saudi Muslims who had seen the pictures. DEBORAH ARTHURS - Daily Mail
A British fitness instructor who visited the strict Muslim kingdom of Saudi Arabia to teach a Saudi woman the art of pole dancing has sparked disapproval among UK Muslims back home.
[caption id="attachment_13624" align="alignleft" width="235" caption="dancer in her abaya"]dancer in her abaya
27-year-old Lucy Misch was invited to the country by one of Saudi's richest and most influential families after a woman from the family attended a pole dancing class in Europe and reported back to her relatives living in the kingdom.
Misch's host - a 36-year-old working mother named Qahtani, one of only 15 per cent of women to have a job in Saudi, arranged for her to bypass the complicated laws of entrance and exit to the kingdom single Britons usually face, whisking her through Riyadh airport unimpeded.
Ahead of her trip, Mischa shipped three X-Stage poles worth £500 each to Qahtani - the first such poles ever allowed into Saudi Arabia - where they were installed in a specially dedicated mirrored room set up as a studio within her palace.
'Needless to say, there is no history of pole dancing in Saudi Arabia,' says Misch.
'It's not the kind of place you expect to be invited to teach pole. But my client's sister lives in Europe where she’d discovered pole dancing for fitness, and they’d talked about the amazing benefits pole can have on the body.'
'My client wanted the same things that attracted many others to pole dancing: an exhilarating workout to get her fit and toned.
'She liked the fact that it was a feminine exercise, and that she could feel liberated and sexy whilst doing it.'
Misch taught Qahtani - who is, unusually, the sole wife to her husband Mohammed - intensively for two hours each day, six days a week, teaching her to climb the pole, do the splits upside down and create a fluid routine.
The two trained in Lycra gym kit - a stark contrast from the abaya Saudi women wear in public.
As a stunt, Misch and her host took photos of themselves performing a pole dance wearing the abaya, Saudi Arabia's traditional dress.
'Qahtani wanted to make a point,' says Misch. 'But it angered a lot of people who thought the photos were insulting.'
When the photos were made public in the UK, Misch found she faced criticism from Saudi Muslims who had seen the pictures.
One said: 'I found your photos disrespectful towards women who wear the hijab with dignity in Saudi and who would never step next to a dancing pole knowing its hideous roots.'
Misch is quick to defend her position. 'I want to make it clear that pole dancing does not have its roots in strip clubs,' she says.
'There has been a tradition of performing on the pole in China and India for centuries - way before Spearmint Rhino got their hands on it.'
'It's vital more people see it and realise it doesn't have to be about shaking your bits.
It's a real skill. When you try it, you realise how hard it is. It takes strength, determination and skill.
Performing on the pole, says Misch, dates back to Indian mallakhamb - a male-dominated sport where men perform feats of strength on a wooden pole, or the Chinese pole, where acrobats perform moves such as the flag, where they hang horizontally from the pole using only their hands.
'It's truly gravity-defying on so many levels, and requires immense strength.'
Misch, who is keen to distance her sport further from the strip clubs, points out that many polers these days don't perform in high heels and provocative outfits.
'I prefer to train in trainers or barefoot, and I wear sports clothes.
'You need some bare flesh to help you grip the pole, which I know adds to the associations with strippers.
'But we wear normal fitness gear. Some of the male pole performers have special trousers made with panels that grip the pole.'
The health benefits too, says Misch, are undeniable.
Qahtani managed to drop two dress sizes thanks to the workout.
'It was an interesting fitness experiment,' says Misch. 'I have never worked so specifically with one person in a concentrated space of time.
'Qahtani was by no means a large lady to begin with - she was slender and fit, and fairly strong from her yoga practise - but when she started the pole, everything changed.
'Everything tightened up. Her lower back became stronger. Her bottom became higher and tighter. Everything improved. She was over the moon.'
'As someone who lives in a liberal, pro-woman world I thought I would find Saudi a very different place to be,' Misch continues.
'It certainly was different, but my experiences were overwhelmingly positive.
'Pole dancing for fun and fitness will always happen in the home and in private classes, something that suits Saudi culture well.
'If pole dancing were to take off in Saudi, it could well mark the beginning of a new era for freedom of choice from the women and men living in the country.'
'Change is happening, if sometimes painfully slowly, but my visit to Riyadh suggest that the change is a positive one and that pole dancing may someday be embraced by the good people of the Middle East.'
'Because there’s no history of strip clubs or pole dancing, most men would think women were just learning a new form of exercise – ironically in a place where religion and judgement plays such a large role, pole suffers from fewer preconceived connotations or moral judgements.'
Visit Lucy Misch's website at www.poleexercise.co.uk