5 Years of Pole at the Arnold: Anniversary Interview with PCS President Lindsey Kimura

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[INTRO Next (?month will be the six-year anniversary?) of the PCS Finals at the Arnold Sports Festival. And since there have been so many developments within the pole fitness world during this time, we thought it’d be a great time to talk with its Founder and President, Lindsey Kimura. … ]

Pole Press (PP): Now of course, the PCS organization is already very familiar to members of the competitive pole community. But since many of our readers are new to pole fitness, I wanted to start by asking you the basics. For starters, these days there are so many different pole competitions and leagues, that sometimes it can be confusing to newcomers. So … What is the PCS? And how is it different from some of the other “acronyms” our readers may have encountered elsewhere?

Lindsey Kimura (LK): PCS (Pole Championship Series), an Elite Competition Series for Professional Pole Athletes, is a professional pole fitness league comprised of the best pole competitions throughout the world. What sets PCS apart from other pole leagues is the top caliber of athletes, excellent event presentation, high quality treatment of our athletes, the home of our championship (more below), and the wide geographic scope of our competitions.

The first place professional winner of each regional competition advances to the annual PCS Championship. For those unfamiliar with the pole world, the PCS Championship Pole Pro Finals is what the Super Bowl is to the NFL. Since 2014, PCS holds its grand championship, at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Sports Festival in Columbus, OH.

Since its founding in 2012, PCS has expanded to South America, Australia, South Africa, Asia, and Europe. Competing in the PCS Championship is the highest level honor for an elite professional pole athlete. The winner of the PCS Championship becomes the overall PCS Champion for that year.

PP: So then, the PCS is a “series” in the sense that it’s a year-long tournament? So for example, I saw on your website there are 18 different PCS competitions listed for the 2017-2018 season. And if I’m understanding you right, the first 17 of those are “qualifiers” for the grand finale that takes place at the Arnold Classic. Then at that final show, it’s a competition between the 17 winners from each of those previous qualifier shows. Is that how it works?

LK: Yes, that is correct. The first place professional winner of each qualifier is invited to compete in the PCS Championship at the Arnold, which is a championship for all of the top champions.

PP: Oh yes, I’m glad you brought that up! So the PCS organization really consists of two leagues, a professional league and an amateur league. And one question I get asked a lot, especially by women who have competed in physique sports (figure, bikini, and fitness) and are interested in competing pole fitness, concerns this distinction between “amateur” and “professional.” And the reason they ask me this, is that in those sports there is a very precise set of rules for determining who’s an amateur and who’s a professional — indeed, in those sports, one of the proudest moments for a physique athlete occurs when she “earns her pro card.” Now what I’ve been telling all these athletes — and hopefully you’ll reassure me that I haven’t been misleading them all this time! — is that because pole fitness is so much younger than bodybuilding, the rules for delineating pro and amateur status are still a bit fluid. So .. have I been telling them the truth?

LK: Yes, that is correct. In our series, the PCS Championship is the Pole Pro Finals because it consists of champions who have won first place in the professional division of a qualifier. Therefore, each has already won a professional competition. Anyone who did not win one of our official PCS events, can enter the Open. The winner of our Women’s Advanced Division receives an invitation to the PCS Championship. This division could be considered semi-pro.

In the pole industry, we are still shaping and creating exact definitions for amateur and professional because the industry is very young (about 12 years of “Pole Fitness”).

PP: Well since the sport is so young, could you take us all the way back to the beginning — for both the sport itself, as well as for PCS? In the few years before PCS came along, what were the very first pole competitions like?

LK: I believe the very first pole competitions in the US were called Pole Superstar and I believe Pole Star or something along those lines by Anne Marie Davies. These took place 2006-2008. The first main pole competition was held in New York City March 2009 by USPDF in a beautiful theater. Jenyne Butterfly was the first ever USPDF champion. Top YouTube polers from around the states traveled in and many teachers/students and enthusiasts. At the time some big names on YouTube were Karol Helms, Leigh Ann Reilly, and I believe a Russian girl (forgetting her name now, but people will know when you mention it)! Alethea Austin won most sexy and Estee Zakar most fit. I remember this competition like it was yesterday. My home pole studio is BeSpun. We had a group of us fly out to support including Leigh Ann Reilly, the studio owner, Tami Brandel, one of the very first BeSpun students, I believe Natasha Wang, and Amy Guion. We met Allison Sipes who now runs Florida Pole Fitness Championship. I also enjoyed meeting and connecting with Lian Tal of Body and Pole and Marlo Fisken.

USPDF had a compulsory and optional round. In the compulsory round all girls had to wear more fitness apparel by sponsor Mika Yoga Wear and complete certain moves while the optional round was longer with costume of their choice. Wendy Traskos and Anna Grundstrom were the organizers. It was such a well done competition. I believe they had a floating truss.

PP: And so, given that context, how did the PCS first get formed? And was the PCS linked to the Arnold Sports Festival from the very beginning? Presumably that was seen as a very big “promotion” for the pole fitness community, to be accepted into a platform as influential and far-reaching as the Arnold Classic. How exactly did that happen? Did you initially encounter any push-back or resistance?

LK: Ty and I formed the PCS in the fall of 2012. We were sitting at the conference center. I was the Marketing Manager of X-POLE US at the time and had expressed the idea of forming a grand championship league in the style of collegiate sports such as BCS Football and X Games. Ty and his partner Clive also had the idea of wanting to start a pole league. The timing was perfect so we rolled it out. Since X-POLE had already sponsored over a dozen events and some of them for multiple years in a row, we had already developed a relationship with the event organizers. I called them up one by one asking if they wanted to send their winner to a grand championship. The first year we started with a professional division (not amateur).

I believe Fawnia, Owner of Pole Expo, referred the Arnold Sports Festival organizers to X-POLE knowing they were backing the PCS. Conversations ensued, and it seemed like a great fit to hold our first championship in March 2014 at the Arnold rather than a stand alone venue in Los Angeles. We were excited to share Pole Fitness with a wider audience and the greater sports community.

PP: Have there been any significant changes for PCS over the past 5 years, regarding either the PCS Finals show itself, or regarding the PCS organization as a whole?

LK: There have not been any major changes. In March after every PCS at the Arnold we come back to the drawing board to discuss areas that went well and areas to improve upon. From there we make and implement changes to improve and grow from the year prior. In our second year we added an Open for Men’s, Master’s, Novice, and Women.

PP: And if I could also ask you more broadly, how would you say that pole sports in general have evolved over the past 5 years?

LK: Pole Sports has gained more participants in the form of athletes, teachers, students, and fans. The number of studios continues growing in addition to the number of competitions, showcases, expos, events and organizing bodies. The community remains tight knit.

One of my goals is to continue expanding pole in the mainstream to make it available and accessible to more people. I also love the idea of showcasing such talent, grace, strength, and beauty.

PP: Incidentally, I noticed that for 3 of the 5 years, the overall winner of the PCS Finals has been a Canadian — Jazzy Alix in 2015 and 2017, and Tara Meyer in 2016. Is that something of an anomaly, or is Canada “ahead of the curve” compared to the US when it comes to competitive pole fitness?

LK: Pole Fitness in Canada continues to grow. We have a good amount of Canadian athletes participate in the Open. I think Jazzy’s win in 2015 attracted more Canadian interest and attention. This momentum carried on into 2016 and 2017 as Tara and Jazzy won again.

PP: Now I also noticed that this year’s overall winner, Eunji Jeong, is from South Korea. Is that an indication that pole fitness has exploded in Asia as well? Or is it confined to specific Asian countries, like Korea, which have more pervasive socio-cultural and political ties with the US, and “the West” in general?

LK: Pole is definitely exploding in Asia. Since the population in mainland China and other parts of Asia combined is very large, more and more people are doing it. There are huge schools and more studio chains out there. The athletes I’ve seen are incredible and so talented. Asia is deep in numbers and talent. They are diligent, athletic, light, and nimble.

I also think that because Chinese pole is rooted in the culture, pole may be more easily accepted there as a form of sport, art and fitness.

PP: Looking forward, what changes to anticipate (or hope!) to see happen, both for PCS and pole sports in general?

LK: I hope to see all competitions continue to grow in quality and quantity in terms of athletes and fans. I also hope to see more unity amongst the industry in terms of rules/regs and presentation. This is not something that can be forced or manifested overnight, but I believe more unified presentation will occur with time. I can foresee Pole Sports continue to develop its identity and is the form of pole that will go the furthest mainstream while other forms of pole such as exotic and art will continue to exist in the theatrical, nightlife and other arenas.