The poles had no margin of error at Saturday’s Golden Gate Pole Championships, the Northern California regional tournament on the competitive pole dancing circuit. San Bruno’s Skyline College theater played host to a contest organized by the Pole Sport Organization, “the world's largest pro-am pole competition,” and SFist was on hand to get pictures and video as the most talented women (and men!) of the Bay Area pole dancing scene flew to new heights of elegance, artistic magic, and acrobatic agility.

Are you skeptical that pole dancing is a competitive sport of elegance, artistic magic, and acrobatic agility? Take a look at the night’s winning routine below, in which 2017 Golden Gate Pole Champion Renee Wu skillfully destroys any seedy stereotypes of pole dancing and transcends the technical limitations of my crappy handheld mobile device.

You see how my too-bright lighting of the subject ironically corresponds to her use of the song “I Am Light”? That was not intentional. You can get vastly better pictures and videos from this event by contacting Alloy Images, who specialize in photography of the pole dancing circuit.

“There’s a national competitive circuit for pole dancing and we are it,” said Amy Guion, Pole Sport Organization events organizer. “We go to 15 different cities all around the country and we’re looking for our new national champion each year. If you come to one of our shows you’ll be surprised by the grace and athleticism and just how much fun everyone has.”


Competitive pole dancing is a lot like strip club stripping, except without any actual stripping. Pole competitors perfrom in tiny exotic dancer outfits, strut in stripper heels, and engage in a lot of spread eagle poses. But there is more emphasis on acrobatics and contortion, and there is indeed a panel of judges.

Image: Joe Kukura, SFist

“I’m looking for overall balance,” judge Donna Jane Walton of Oakland studio Atomic Allure told SFist. “Musicality with the music, the strength of the tricks. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the hardest trick, but they know how to control it. How they enter it, how they exit it, their whole presentation, their wardrobe. Did they pick something that’s appropriate to their body type? If they’re wearing heels, do they know how to walk in the heels? Hair, make-up, just the whole overall package.”

Image: Joe Kukura, SFist

The array of platform heels and stripper boots word by competitors was otherworldly, but this footwear does pose challenges for the dancers. “The higher the heels, the closer to god,” dancer Layla Rose told SFist. “They have extra weight. Every time you flip upside down you have to lift your legs and there’s an extra half-pound or so on the end, which makes a difference.”

One dancer had her mom and dad in the audience, as proud Berkeley parents Noch and Alice to watch their little girl pole dance. “I’m a pediatrician and my main prescription is good food and good exercise,” Noch said. “This qualifies as good exercise.”

Image: Joe Kukura, SFist

The audience, surprisingly, was predominantly female, but there were a few male pole dancers among the competitors. “I can tell you three [male pole dancers] by name, one of which is me,” dancer Mikal Smith (above) told SFist. “People don’t expect a guy to come out in wedges and red booty shorts and a decent amount of leg hair. Men have a little bit of an unfair advantage because just standing there, everybody’s like ‘Oh my god, a guy in heels!’”

The winner in the male category was Justin Daniels, whose routine can be seen above. He placed among the top four dancers from Saturday’s competition who’ll represent the Bay Area at the Pole Sport Organization U.S. Nationals on August 5-6 in West Hollywood.

Image: Joe Kukura, SFist

And yes, to answer your question, the poles are cleaned very thoroughly by diligent volunteers as seen above between each and every routine at a competitive pole dancing event.

Related: Apartment Sadness: Furnished Hovel With Stripper Pole, No Actual Kitchen, $1785

Image: Joe Kukura