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Pole Positions

Sarah Scott Flips the Strip-Club Practice On its Head

Director George Harvey captures award-winning pole performer Sarah Scott in this hypnotic, enigmatic short. As the exotic performance-turned-health activity takes over the fitness world, NOWNESS talked to the YouTube-taught, UK-based dancer and instructor about the origins and ideals of her strenuous practice.

Do you view the pole as more of a sport than an entertainment?
Sarah Scott:
No, there’s definitely two sides to it. It is athletic and fitness-based because you have to have so much strength and flexibility and make your body do all these crazy things but it’s still an art form; it’s still dance. You get that creativity from it without having to go the gym and run on a treadmill.

Do you find a lot of people you come across have that kind of background or experience?
Yes, a lot of people are coming in from different areas and find that they can pursue a lot later on in life. Whereas the ballet careers and gymnastic careers tend to finish at quite an early age, there are pole performers and instructors well into their 60s, and they’re incredible.

Why do you think pole dancing has been growing as a fitness trend?
I think because there’s a lot more to it than just the aesthetic of what it does to your body. It’s something that you’re doing practically with your body, so instead of going in and thinking “I have to go to the gym to lose weight” or “I have to go to the gym to look a certain way,” it’s empowering, for men and women.

How has it evolved to where it is today?
It came from different areas. You have the more exotic-dancer side from the strip clubs and you also have the Chinese pole influence from the circus: they’ve combined to form what it is today. A lot of the influences of the crazier tricks, they come from China, where it is very male-based. The more sensual, creative dance comes from the exotic side. If you put them together with a bit of a fitness background then that creates pole dance as it is today.

Can you name some of the moves you performed in the video?
Handsprings, shoulder mounts, and a lot of ‘spin pole’ use—when the legs go quite crazy and you’re whipping around, inverting, and going upside down.

Who does it appeal to?
I know women over 60 who do it. I know guys, street artists, who come from a parkour background who get into it through street poles. There are a lot more mums, which is kind of the main demographic: 25-40-year-old professional women, they go crazy for it. I think the misconception is it’s a lot of younger people or young girls, but actually I know army and police offers, lawyers who come. I even had a girl in a workshop over the weekend who was the mayor of her town.

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    Alex Prager: Crowd Pleaser

    Get Lost in the Photographer’s Retro-Styled Studio on the Occasion of Her First Museum Show

    “There's something strange about the rift between reality and fiction,” says LA-born photographer and filmmaker Alex Prager of her work that sees her play dress-up with her sister and muse Vanessa in her Silver Lake studio. Inspired by Prager’s cinematic images, director Arnaud Uyttenhove translated them into a playful portrait, juxtaposing her color-saturated archive with still lifes of vintage costumes and props. Following bouts of agoraphobia, the MoMA 2010 New Photography artist began to explore the loneliness and alienation that crowds can provoke, coating her images’ dark mood with a saccharine veneer. “I'm interested in creating a world for these characters to live in,” explains Prager, whose work is part of collections at the Whitney Museum in New York and Moderna Museet in Stockholm. For her latest series Face in the Crowd, exhibited at her first solo museum show at Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC, the photographer channeled the voyeuristic gaze previously employed by Cindy Sherman and Nan Goldin through the lens of 21st-century surveillance paranoia and post-Facebook isolation. “I want there to be a sense that something isn't quite right,” adds Prager, whose show includes a self-directed film with the all-American actress Elizabeth Banks. “Is it real or is it fake?” Frequently injecting her series with noirish moods that brings to mind the psychologically haunting clichés of Hitchcock, as well as pioneers such as William Eggleston, Weegee or Martin Parr, Prager’s portraits blur the boundaries between the real and the surreal, the immediate and the staged, the contemporary and the nostalgic.

    Which emotions do you associate with crowds?
    Alex Prager:
    Anxiety, boredom, fear, terror, frustration, curiosity, strong interest, warmth.

    Unlike Eggleston, who captures the fleeting moment, your images are staged.
    By staging them, I can create an emptiness or flatness that wouldn't otherwise be there. I am not interested in taking pictures of real crowds.

    How does cinema inspire you?
    The production aspect is really important to being able to make my work. I'll see shots in old movies and think, wow, I didn't know you could do that. I guess the thing about movies is that everything is possible. Knowing that opens a lot of doors in the imagination that wouldn't otherwise be there.

    Face in the Crowd at Corcoran Gallery, Washington, DC runs through March 9, 2014.

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    The Wall

    Aerial Menswear with Extreme Trampolinists Flippenout

    The Guinness World Record-breaking American athletic troupe Flippenout show off their aerial feats in photographer Dominick Sheldon’s directorial debut, The Wall. Having trained under the conceptual eye of Steven Klein, Sheldon fuses the trampolinist stars of NBA and NFL half-time shows’ performance gear with the military-inflected styling of creative director and former editor of Russh, Stevie Dance. The filmmaker shot brothers Sean and Eric Kennedy while they flew through the air at heights up to 22 feet, clad in designers including 3.1 Phillip Lim, J.W. Anderson and Tim Coppens. Captured on the runway of Floyd Bene Fields, a derelict airspace outside of New York, the bouncing showmen are soundtracked to the pulsating “Paradiso,” an original score by bass-heavy producer Feral, AKA Caleb Halter. “My background in fashion spurred me to take them out their typical environment,” says Sheldon. “When they enter and exit a frame they’re in a different outfit yet they’re still in routine. It’s a performance.”

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