Performance a tough act to follow
26 July 2012 | Leigh-Anne Hunter
Early historical records tell of African tribal rituals in which betrothed women would dance provocatively around a wooden phallus.
But pole dancing has also been used as a non-erotic form of exercise, to improve strength and fitness – by men, nogal.
Mallakhamb, a traditional Indian sport using a wooden pole, dates back to the 12th century.
The pole dancing as we know it today has been influenced by Chinese Pole, a form of acrobatics practised mainly by men in the cabaret and circus.
Despite having two men balanced on his shoulders, Christopher Goka, leader of the Chinese Pole act, Zim- Zam Boys, is grinning.
His team members, also from Harare, Burden Gaviyano and Elgin Guzura, scramble up the six-metre pole without even breaking into a sweat, casting shadows onto the red velvet curtain of McLaren Circus.
These kinds of gravity-defying stunts don't just require remarkable flexibility, control and core strength, but a fair degree of trust.
"We are friends, but you could say we are like brothers," says Goka of the other "boys" (in fact grown men) in the act.
Goka first trained in the arts of Chinese Pole as a boy growing up in Harare, learning the stunts from overseas videos.
For 17 years, he has travelled on Spanish cruise liners and to Germany with ZimZam Boys, and has been with local travelling show, McLaren Circus, for six months.
It was important to have "Zim" in the name of their act, says Goka.
"We wanted to represent out country," explains the agile team leader, who says they've turned it from Chinese Pole to African Pole, adding their own moves.
What's the hardest trick?
"It's not hard anymore, although this was tough when I first practised it," says Goka, holding a right-angle pose for a few seconds. Can't see what is difficult about that.
Between shows (they perform twice a day), the trio unwind in their own caravan and share ideas about new tricks, or how to improve if something went wrong in a previous act.
The trickiest part is if you slide, as the pole can get slippery, and the pole has to be the right thickness, say the group, who have picked up other tricks from other entertainers while at the circus. Not everyone can add Chinese Pole along with
fire ring jumping and pyramid
acrobatics to their CV.
No girls are allowed in the group, insists Goka, not because they aren't strong enough, but to avoid fighting over them, he grins.
The trio practice their acrobatic acts on the pole 10 times a day. Today's crowd is small compared with some of the audiences they've performed for – as many as 5 000 people.
A highlight was performing in their own country at the Harare International Arts Festival.
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