Student balances studies, work and pole dancing

Vicky Dempsey is an acrobatic pole dancer looking to dispel misconceptions about her sport.

By Sara Connors

Mount Saint Vincent student Vicky Dempsey shines on the pole. Here she dances on a pole that's in her living room.
MSVU student Vicky Dempsey shines on the pole in her living room. (Sara Connors/Peninsula News)

 

Vicky Dempsey’s living room is like most others. There are photos of family and friends on the wall, a black futon with fluffy black and white pillows, as well as a big screen television equipped with numerous gaming systems. There is a large window with cream coloured curtains. The cage of her pet rabbit, Rizzo, sits in the corner.

However, there is something in the middle of Dempsey’s living room that wouldn’t be found in most: a steel pole that runs from the floor to the ceiling.

That’s because Dempsey is an acrobatic pole dancer.

 What is acrobatic pole dancing?

Dempsey in the "Descending Angel" position.
Dempsey in the “Descending Angel” position.

Acrobatic pole dancing is the incorporation of physical tricks and dance numbers performed on a vertical steel pole. Acrobatic pole dancing gets its name from its use of gymnastics and dance moves like those used in ballet, hip hop and jazz.

“It’s a great party attraction,” Dempsey says about the pole. “I got it a few years ago when I got more serious into pole dancing, and now when people come over they always run on and try.”

Dempsey, 25, has a background in hip hop, lyrical and jazz dance, and was looking for another dance class to join in 2009. With few classes available at the time, she signed up for a beginners level pole dancing class with a friend at Studio In Essence on Barrington Street.

Dempsey didn’t consider pole dancing as a serious form of dance and associated it with stripping.

“We joined as a joke. But then I really liked it. I liked that it was different, and it gave you a workout regular dance doesn’t. We didn’t do anything [strenuous] during the first class, and the next day I was so sore I couldn’t move. It used a lot of muscles I didn’t know I had.”

Dempsey works as a waitress at Smitty’s Restaurant while earning her master’s degree in child and youth studies from Mount Saint Vincent University.

She has now been pole dancing for five years and has competed in several competitions.

The competitions

Dempsey prefers competing with a partner rather than by herself because “having that trust with someone you’re dancing with is kind of like a comfort thing.”

She participated in the Atlantic Pole Fitness Championship which has been held at Casino Nova Scotia every summer for the last two years. She competed in the doubles division, where two dancers perform a highly synchronized dance on two separate poles, then dance together on one pole. In 2012 she placed third, and in 2013 she came second.

Winners of the championship go on to compete in nationals, and move upwards to the internationals in London. The International Pole Championship’s website states that successful participants can win coveted titles and monetary prizes.

Dempsey does not know if she will be competing this year because of her demanding school schedule, but hopes to place first if she does.

She’s also performed at fundraisers, music festivals and dance clubs across Nova Scotia in order to promote Studio In Essence and bring attention to the pole dancing community.

Dempsey performing at the  Atlantic Pole Fitness Championship in 2013. Photo curtesy of Dempsey.
Dempsey performing at the Atlantic Pole Fitness Championship in 2013. (Photo courtesy of Dempsey)

 

Dempsey performing at Evolve Music Festival in 2013. Photo curtsey of Dempsey.
Dempsey performing at Evolve Music Festival in 2013. (Photo courtesy of Dempsey)

Pole dancing basics

Pole dancing classes last one hour. Dempsey says Studio In Essence has no set rules regarding the length of performances; however, judges recommend they be at least three and a half minutes long but no longer than six minutes.

Special clothing is not required for pole dancing, although dancers prefer to wear shorts and tank tops for comfort. Dempsey says bare arms and legs are ideal as it allows for better grip of the pole.

Studio In Essence provides gloves for dancers that help them grip the pole without hurting their hands but Dempsey prefers not to wear them in order to develop as much hand grip as she can. To strengthen her hands, she uses hand grip aids such as hand deodorants and waxes.

The good and the bad

There are numerous physical benefits of pole dancing. An hour long session can burn upwards of 250 calories, build tone, increase muscle strength and relieve stress. “It’s [also] a fun way to work out,” says Dempsey.

“I got to know my body better muscle wise. I can notice little changes, like [before] I could never do a pushup in my life. Now I can even do pull ups on the pole. I’m more conscious of being active now, and I set goals for myself now that I wouldn’t have before.”

However, she does say pole dancing has its drawbacks.

“Bruises are common. Whenever you try a new move, you’re going to bruise. It can also tear your skin. It feels like little rubber bands that are constantly being flung at you.”

A more serious concern for pole dancers is falling. Dempsey witnessed another dancer hit her chin after falling upside down, and another fractured her foot.

Despite this, Dempsey says pole dancing is safe as long as proper precautions are taken.

Pole dancers always train with a spotter, says Dempsey. While a dancer learns a new move, the spotter, who is a fellow dancer, will hold their position until they are strong enough to hold it themselves. Dempsey says this prevents the dancer from falling and risking injury.

As for dating, Dempsey says her hobby tends to be a disadvantage as men usually think of it as sexual, not as an athletic sport.

“I sometimes restrain myself from telling guys, although it’s something I’m proud of. I hate having to explain afterwards.”

It’s not about sex

Another drawback of pole dancing is that many people assume dancers perform in risqué outfits in order to make money. Unlike strippers, acrobatic pole dancers do not make money from dancing, nor do they wear intentionally provocative outfits.

Dempsey in the "Yogini" position.
Dempsey in the “Yogini” position.

Dempsey says there’s a major difference between acrobatic pole dancing and stripping.

“I think it’s sensual versus graceful,” says Dempsey. People with a ballet background make it [pole dancing] look beautiful. But I think with stripping there’s a different goal in mind and what they’re trying to get across. If there’s a sensual [pole] dance it’s more competent to the song, there’s a story in our dance rather than just a performance,” she says.

Although acrobatic pole dancing has gained popularity in the last few years, it has not stopped Dempsey from being labelled as a stripper by those she knows or grew up with.

“They say ‘Oh, that’s how you’ll pay tuition, or that’s your backup plan.’ I just don’t think they understand, and I actually like to show them and then ask them to do it. When they see the acrobatic tricks it’s not what they expect at all,” she says.

“I think there will always be strippers and that’s fine and I have a lot of respect for what they do, it’s not easy. I just think people should separate the two.”

Dempsey hopes to work with children in the future, and she says she’s worried pole dancing could harm her professional reputation due to its negative associations.

Despite her concerns, she says the activity is a personal hobby that she does for herself.

“Everyone has a personal life. It would not affect how I conduct myself at work in any negative way. I hope that people would understand that and be respectful.”

The future

According to WorldPoleDance.com, attitudes are changing regarding pole dancing. Thanks to  fitness classes as well as amateur and professional competitions held in several countries, pole dancing is no longer primarily seen as a form of eroticism. Enthusiasts, like Dempsey, consider it an art form.

Dempsey says she’s excited about the recent shift in attitudes towards pole dancing.

“When I originally started it hadn’t been heard of much, but now people are like ‘Oh, you must have a lot of strength.”

In the future, Dempsey hopes to see acrobatic pole dancing as a serious sport. She recently signed a petition that she hopes will put acrobatic pole dancing in the Olympics.

She also hopes more men become involved in the sport, but thinks it may take some time.

“Guys have a hard time just being in dance in general,” she says.

Dempsey says she aspires to become better at pole dancing, although she finds it harder to visit Studio In Essence with her demanding school schedule. She used to dance at least twice a week, but due to school and work, she only visits once.

“I kinda struggle between that [pole dancing] and school and what’s more important. But it’s [pole dancing] always something I want to be doing,” she says.

“I’ll always be a pole dancer, no matter what.”

University professors say declining global air quality is putting public health at risk

Professors from Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s universities say there are high levels of PM2.5 and carbon dioxide in the air which, in the long run, lead to cancer.

By Sara Connors

Skyline view of Halifax. The city's air could be at rise according to Martin and Clyburne.
Skyline view of Halifax. The city’s air could be at risk according to Martin and Clyburne.

Public health may be at risk due to declining levels of air quality, say two professors from Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s universities.

Randall Martin of Dalhousie’s physics and atmospheric science departments and Jason Clyburne of Saint Mary’s chemistry department held a lecture on global air quality at the Museum of Natural History Monday night. They say high levels of PM2.5, and carbon dioxide, which The United States Environmental Protection Agency says is more than 15 micrograms, has been detected in the air globally.

Martin and Clyburne say long-term exposure to PM2.5 and carbon dioxide emissions is a leading cause of cancer. The inhalation of these emissions can lead to cardiovascular disease, decreased lung function and ultimately, death.

Emissions “are probably the biggest issue we face right now. It could have major implications if we as a society don’t change,” says Clyburne.

PM2.5 are tiny particles that come from fine aerosol emissions, such as smoke from fires, coal burning and agriculture, however it can also occur naturally in the atmosphere. Similarly to PM2.5, Carbon dioxide comes from industrial and energy-related emissions, such as agriculture and vehicle exhaust.

Why should we care?

Martin and Clyburne say every year 31 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide are emitted, which results in six million deaths globally.

Canada alone emits 500 million tons of carbon dioxide every year, which makes up 1.6% of all emissions worldwide. China has the highest rates of carbon dioxide emissions, making up 22.95% of all emissions, according to Statista.

Though Halifax’s air quality levels are not threatening, Martin says they could decline due to an increasing population which would rely on more PM2.5 and carbon dioxide-heavy resources.“There’s no threshold,” Martin says. “We have to act now to make things better before they get worse.”

Air monitoring

There have been strides made in Canada to lower these emissions but Martin and Clyburne say they are inadequate.

In Canada there’s only one air monitoring site every few thousand miles. With the nearest air monitoring site thousands of miles away in Ontario, air quality monitoring in Halifax is at a minimum. Martin says air quality is a global and local issue.

“To the degree we are Canadians, we should care about air quality and monitoring across Canada,” Martin says. He adds Canadians “should care about it to the degree they care about other forms of suffering in the world, to the degree that they care about civil unrest in the world or famine. (It) warrants attention.”

What we can do

Martin and Clyburne suggest taking public transport, bicycling, reducing or stopping car idling, and burning wood to decrease the emissions in Halifax.

They also recommend that people switch to carbon-free or carbon-neutral products such as energy saving cell phones and batteries. Products can be verified as carbon-free or carbon-neutral on carbonfund.org.

Yet, Clyburne says that “this is a band-aid to give us time, not a solution.” The technologies that are currently being developed to reduce emissions will take years, if not decades, to build and they are by no means a guarantee of improving air quality permanently.

Clyburne stresses that by reducing emissions now, there will be a reduced threat to health in the future.

Mobile dating app could have dangerous consequences

Meeting people in Halifax just got a little easier, and perhaps a bit scarier, with the emergence of the mobile dating app called Tinder.

By Sara Connors

Julia Brougham on the Tinder app, though she no longer uses it.  (Sara Connors/Peninsula News)
Julia Brougham on the Tinder app, though she no longer uses it. (Sara Connors/Peninsula News)

Meeting people in Halifax just got a little easier, and perhaps a bit scarier, with the emergence of the mobile dating app called Tinder.

Released in late 2012, Tinder uses Facebook to allow users to scan through profile photos of other users and if both parties “like” each other’s photo they can chat through the app’s private texting feature. It also lists mutual friends users have in common.

The company claims there are over 100 million users worldwide and the Globe and Mail reported that even athletes at the Sochi Winter Olympics were using it. 

The app has taken off in Halifax in the last few month, while also raising questions about privacy and personal safety.

Security

Though matched users can chat within Tinder and not share any contact information, Mail Online reports in October security firm IncludeSec discovered that it could pinpoint a user’s exact location.

By sending latitude and longitude and coordinates of possible matches to the iOS client, a user’s whereabouts could be discovered causing a major security threat, Mail Online reported.

Hooking up

Tinder can be used for dating, although users are also free to trawl through photos of others without contacting them. One user, Julia Brougham, found that others were simply looking to “hook up.”

Brougham downloaded the app for fun but later deleted it. She says other users made her feel uncomfortable as they would repeatedly ask her to have sex.

“It’s entertaining at first, but then it gets really creepy and when [other users] don’t leave you alone,” says Brougham.

“Some people on there are so sketchy and they’re like, ’Come over and have sex’. I’d be scared I’d get raped.’

Tinder has been accused of promoting casual sex as users frequently “hook-up” with others that they met on the app. Sean Rad, the Chief Executive Officer of Tinder, said, “the word ‘dating’ doesn’t even mean shit to us. What does that even mean?” in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek.

Caleb Atkins met his current girlfriend, Shelby Dickeson on the app. Yet, he says he probably wouldn’t use it for future dating because he says too many users are using it for what he feels could be dangerous casual sex.

“The thought of hooking-up was pretty sketchy. I read a few profiles and they seem like nice people from what they wrote, but you can’t really go by that,” says Atkins.

Dickeson says she was weary of the app as well. “It’s superficial. All you do is judge people on their looks. All it’s used for is hook-ups.”

Yet, after the two matched, they began texting through the app. However, Dickeson waited two months before she agreed to meet Atkins and their first encounter was in a restaurant.

Const. Pierre Bourdages, spokesman for Halifax Regional Police, says they haven’t received any complaints related to the app. But he says users should be cautious.

“You have to be cognizant of what you’re posting online. Not everyone is who they say they are.You have to be careful because it’s there forever,” he says.

If users do choose to meet, Bourdages recommends they should do so in a public setting.

Tinder’s website doesn’t provide any safety suggestions, just a thorough legal disclaimer.

Tinder – #ItStartsHere from Tinder on Vimeo.