Nov. 8 2011 07:17 PM

Meet “Flying” Laura Martin of Encinitas, a national champion

Flying Laura worked the pole last month in New York.
Photo courtesy of American Pole Fitness Association

Even with the onslaught of MILFs and giggly women looking to spice things up by hitting the provider of “fun and flirty” pole-dancing exercise classes, pole dancing still has a stigma of being skanky—not something you want your daughter doing for a living. But there are a growing number of women—and men—taking back the pole and going through the rigorous training needed to become competitive pole dancers.

“Flying” Laura Martin is among them. The petite, heavily tattooed Encinitas resident won the national title of American Pole Fitness Champion in October, but it hasn't been an easy stroll on that brass pole. Like many others, she started out as an exotic dancer. Unlike many others, she fell in love with pole dancing as an art form.

“I'm not ashamed of [how I started]. It's a very important part of my story,” Martin says. “I used to be very ashamed, but I realized I didn't need to be. I know the truth. I was there. I got to where I am because of my passion.”

But is it a sport? What about these dancers puts them in the same category as gymnasts? The sport's in its infancy, with serious competitions sprouting up a few years ago, first in Europe and, in 2009, the U.S. Some groups are rallying to have pole dancing added as an Olympic event, and they're drawing ridicule on blogs and message boards. Are they going to wear Lucite heels? Should I tip them? Will judges score based on the number of boners in the room?

Martin appears to be sculpted of pure muscle. Her arms are the reason “You want tickets to the gun show?” jokes were invented. She's spent the better part of a decade training in everything from martial arts and yoga to acrobatics and boxing in an effort to mold herself into a specimen of the highest athletic ability. She chooses to show off her prowess on a pole. There's no doubt that this woman is an athlete.

“Competitive pole dancers are really dedicated,” she explains. “We spend hours and hours a day honing our craft. It takes years of training. I'm doing very hard stuff.”

Just like any other athlete, getting to top form doesn't come without its bumps and bruises. Martin often works the pole so hard that her skin turns raw. But it's no big deal to her.

“From my experience, the process is going to be painful. You have to like it so much that it doesn't matter.”

Perhaps the pain is what keeps most from pursuing the sport. Martin's the only person in San Diego competing at the national—and eventually international—level. The women in her pole-dancing classes prefer to keep it light and fun. That's no slight against them. What she does is hard. It's intense. I can assure you this from first-hand experience.


I stopped by Pole Sinsations, the Bankers Hill studio where Martin often trains, to see her in action and try it for myself. Though I may not be the most active person in the world, I wouldn't say I have zero athletic ability. I ride a bike pretty often, do dance training and have been known to use an elliptical machine for a full 40 minutes.

Watching Martin on that pole, going topsy-turvy and generally owning that piece of brass gave me confidence. She made it look easy. I wrapped my arm around the pole as instructed, held on tight and attempted a very basic lift of my legs. I damn near barfed. I fared a lot better with the fireman's climb—wrapping the right foot and knee around the pole then hoisting up—and a basic spin. Even then, in those 15 minutes, my upper-body muscles (all of them) burned. Any chance of me doing anything slightly resembling what Martin can do would take about another 400 hours of practice. At certain points, she held herself straight out on the pole as though she was a human flag.

You may still choose to ridicule these athletes' choice of sport, question their toughness or belittle their abilities. I say anyone who can do the splits upside down on a pole without the aid of their hands to hold them up deserves some respect.

Email Alex Zaragoza or follow her on Twitter.


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