Luo Lan, 39, who operates the Lolan Pole Dancing School in Beijing, first saw it while on vacation in Paris.
“I wandered into a pub, and there was a woman dancing on the stage,” she said. “I thought it was beautiful.”
When she returned to Beijing, Luo invested about $3,000 of her savings to start the school.
“People here have never seen a pole dance, and for that reason they don’t associate it with stripping or women of ill repute,” Luo told the New York Times. “I knew if I could give people a positive first impression of this as a clean, fun, social activity, people wouldn’t just accept it, they’d embrace it.”
Last March, Hunan Television, a nationally broadcast network, invited Luo and a group of students to perform on a talk show. Since then, pole dancing for fitness has spread through China. The Lolan school now has five studios and plans to open six more this year, and a rival pole-dancing school opened half a year after the Lolan School.
Pole dancing has not been universally accepted. Many Chinese disapprove of its sexual-type movements, but urban youths — whose values are changing from those of their parents — are embracing it.
“A lot of people expect Chinese women to be subdued and faithful, that we should marry and take care of kids at an early age,” a 23-year-old pole dancing student said. “But I don’t think that way — I want to be independent. I’ve been studying traditional Chinese dance for many years, but this is totally different. I feel in control when I do this. If I learn this well, I feel I can be a superstar. I want to be a superstar.”