Article written by Annemarie Davies
We’re wondering how many of you have heard of Aarifa Bhinderwala recently…. Because we at UPA haven’t stopped hearing about her for several months now. Just in case you haven’t heard… pole dancing is catching on in India, big time. Aarifa is the most popular pole dancer in India and is the eye of a perfect storm. Here is what you should know about her and pole dancing in India. Her quotes are threaded through this article so you can read her words as well as ours.
Aarifa first tried pole dancing in Perth, Australia at the “She Moves” studio. With her pre-menstrual syndrome condition becoming difficult to deal with, she decided to try a new “form of exercise releases endorphins which is the best solution for these feelings.”
She stumbled upon pole dancing and the rest is history for her. It’s no surprise to our community any more, pole dancing changes lives. And that’s exactly what happened to this Indian beauty. Like a fairy tale, pole was her knight in shining armor. Taking her life and passions to new heights. When she got back to India, she quickly realized, there were limited options for her as far as pole. Thus began her journey of starting her own space to pole in. Like many polers, it was in her home to begin with.
Sometime after Aarifa’s pole love affair began, Bollywood actress Jacqueline Fernandez (JF) starred in a hit movie and guess what her character had to do…. Pole dance! Here at UPA, we hear about all the pole things that the outside media world talks about. The stories about Jacqueline in the mainstream media were non-stop for a couple of months. It was around that time we noticed Aarifa. The stories about her were flowing through almost just as much as JF. However, Aarifa was in the news a year before the movie “The Gentlemen” came out. So was the timing just right making this a coincidence or did Aarifa inspire pole dancing in this movie? The only way to know would be to ask the director(s) themselves.
That pole dancing is rising in India at such a rapid rate is interesting, considering the culture there. Let’s first consider Mallakhamb, a “traditional Indian sport in which a gymnast performs aerial yoga postures and wrestling grips in concert with a vertical stationary or hanging wooden pole, cane or hanging rope.” (Wikipedia) This sport was practiced in as early as 1135 AD by men only. It is now recognized as a sport in India.
When we asked Aarifa if she thinks pole derived from Mallakhamb, she said “The beauty of pole is that one can practise it in whatever ways it speaks to their soul. I think the pole we do today derives from a lot of disciplines. Contemporary, ballet etc. and can be influenced by individual personalities of the poler as well.”
So maybe Mallakhamb was an influence, maybe it wasn’t. But our girl Aarifa doesn’t look anything like the boys on the thick wooden pole to us.
Secondly, we then asked her about the culture surrounding women in India specifically regarding oppression. We wanted to know if this was changing and maybe that was why pole dancing is on the rise…? “Yes, the feedback I’ve received has been very positive and encouraging. Pole is catching up big time in India. Also since social media is such a huge phenomenon one can follow and get inspired from all the amazing pole artists across the world. Pole is life changing, empowering- that’s something every poler will testify and this feeling is definitely going to have an impact on the society at large.”
So, we have the ancient practice of Mallakhamb with similarities to pole, making what the new polers are up to not so foreign, we have the famous actress, Jacqueline Fernandez poling like a beast in a Bollywood box office hit and the international feminist movement. Don’t forget about how social media has fueled all the things. These days we are all just more aware of trends! All these elements combine, mix in the effervescent, intelligent, driven pole dancer… Aarifa Bhinderwala. She was the perfect candidate for the media, she was so passionate, that others couldn’t help but listen to her, follow her and learn from her. Aarifa was the right person at the right time during this brewing tempest and has become the poster child of pole in her country.
Here’s our point… she is one of the main influencers of pole in India. She is the first pole star to come out of India that we know of. Aarifa spends her days inspiring, motivating and teaching other women and men how to do pole the way we know it today. She was asked to do a TED Talk and she has been on so many media outlets she’s lost count! “I honestly have no idea how many news outlets I’ve been featured on. I’ve been written about extensively since 2016. And yes these include some of the most prestigious and leading publications and media platforms of my country.”
The media latched on to her to tell her story. Whatever the catalyst was for this influx of publicity, Aarifa was standing there like Wonder Woman, ready to take on the new wave of enthusiasm. The studio she taught grew so fast that they had to open a second larger studio to accommodate all of their clients. “The studio is called The Space and is located in one of the most loveliest localities of my city. I have people commuting from neighbouring cities to come and learn. I have people writing to me from all over the country. It is truly heartwarming to see such amazing response.“ She now operates a brand called “Pole Burnt” from a larger studio space in a prime location called “The Space”.
I personally have been chatting with her via WhatsApp and getting to know this powerhouse of a woman. She is so positive, driven and beautiful on the inside and out. I think one of my favorite things about our conversations is when she gushes over her favorite polers. Her enthusiasm gives me chills. Aarifa Bhinderwala’s visions for pole stretch far beyond her incredibly large country and while she dreams big and makes huge moves she still gets giddy. “My vision is definitely not just pan India but global pole musicals with all the amazing pole dancers across the world is something I envision. Creating cross culturally will be beautiful, enriching and empowering.“ So now you know, India’s storm goddess is making waves and we’re thrilled to tell you all about her.
Aarifa has recently been most excited about the show she was featured in, “The Creative Indians”. We highly recommend that you take 20 minutes out of your day to watch this beautiful video. It captures who Miss Bhinderwala is to a T. She truly shines in telling her story and is an inspiration. (See Video Above)
Written by Annemarie Davies