The Southland Hosts the Midwest's First Pole Dance Convention

A Chicago Heights entrepreneur's vision brings hundreds of pole-dancing enthusiasts to the Tinley Park Convention Center for competition, talk and high-heeled fun.

Both spirits and high heels soared at the first-ever Great Midwest Pole Dance Competition and Convention this past weekend in Tinley Park.

Brainchild of Chicago Heights business-owner Mary Ellyn Weissman, a former registered nurse changed professions after falling in love with this challenging, edgy activity, the two-day event drew 300-some dancers and spectators to the for competition in the masters, rookie and elite pole dance divisions.

The convention also featured pole-dancing workshops, vendor displays and seminars.

'Pole Dance Fever' Strikes Any Age

Weissman, 51, opened Midwest Pole Dancing: Empowerment Through Exotic Dance in 2005, in her husband Jim’s business, , at 445 S. Halsted St. in Chicago Heights.

“We were accounting by day, pole dancing by night,” she said.

In the summer of 2006, she began offering classes in Frankfort at Curves, 20833 S. LaGrange Road.

All-female classes provide a relaxing atmosphere where women can cut loose, similar to the way many enjoy belting out a favorite song in the car or at home, said Weissman. And the urge to pole dance can strike at any age.

“You’re 50 years old, and suddenly you’re hanging upside down from a pole,” she said.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are, you can come out and do this, you become more agile and skilled.”

Hang On With Patent Leather

Often, the dancers Weissman trains are mothers and grandmothers.

“Most of the students start with comfortable, fitted shorts, but then we get them into shorter shorts,” she said. “When they’re hanging upside down, you need your skin to hold on.”

Most beginners practice shoeless, although as dancers advance they add heels, she said.

“The shoes also help you climb, the patent leather helps you hold on to the pole,” said Weissman.

Homer Glen resident JoAnn Sworan, 48, who’s studied with Weissman for six weeks, intently took in the scene at the pole-dancing convention.

"This is addicting," said Sworan. “It’s an amazing workout for any age, any body type. It definitely makes a woman feel more confident."

Judges at the weekend event included French pole-dancing celebrity Prana Ovide-Etienne, champ Amber Richard and Collette Kakuk of California.

Now Offering Pole Insurance

Vendors at Saturday’s event were enthusiastic about pole dance’s upswing in popularity.

“This is going to be huge,” predicted Mark W. Culp, partner of Insure-Rite, one of the competition’s vendors. “It’s an art form.”

Culp, of Yorkville, said he believes his firm is the first to offer insurance to American pole dancers.

Sworan, president of Lemont-based Real Estate CSO, had her hands on several products designed specifically for pole dancers.

In her purse, she carries “Dry Hands,” a product to prevent sweaty palms and pole slippage. And she pulled out a pair of Footundeez by Capezio – a product to stop feet from slipping in those sky-high heels.

At home, she’s added an X-pole for $300.


“I look at it as a piece of fitness equipment,” Sworan said.

Also among the convention-goers were those looking to capitalize on the target market.

Morgan Fedro of Tinley Park, an independent chocolatier with Dove Chocolate, said she loves pole dancing and thought the convention was a natural for her business.

“I knew there’d be a lot of women here,” said Fedro, smiling. “And women love chocolate.”

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Mary Ellyn Weissman August 30, 2011 at 05:22 PM
Hi...I am the organizer of this event. I'm 51 years old and have been pole dancing for about 9 years now. I didn't start by working in a strip club - I got into it for the fun of it. Pole dancing is not stripping...it's only stripping if you take your clothes off. Many of the moves and poses are EXACTLY the same as silks and Chinese pole. In fact I never hear anyone complaining that the Chinese pole acts are sleazy and that they are simply trying to act out sexual fantasies. There is no debating that pole dancing is a workout and can help to get you in shape. It can provide everything from cardio to strength training as it can be aerobics to body weight exercise. Believe it or not we don't all try to act like what you imagine a stripper acts like. To me it's more like playing on the monkey bars on the playground. It's quite similar in fact to rhythmic gymnastics. Sometimes we do, however, have fun expressing our sensual side and there is nothing wrong with being comfortable with ourselves that way!
Ken Menconi August 30, 2011 at 06:13 PM
Maggie; you said it best with your comments about moving toward idiocracy, instead of keeping an open mind. If we had more people thinking like Chris we would still be riding in ox carts with square wheels. As I stated before, RATHER than condemning something you DO NOT understand.....TRY IT. Take a class and see what you can or cannot do. I guarantee that you will be surprised at the strength it takes and the body tone you will get. Funny thing is that you will also be healthier through the exercise in both body and in mind. Olympics Pole Competion sounds like a GREAT idea.
Maggie W August 31, 2011 at 02:13 AM
Thanks :) Glad someone gets what I'm saying. Also, what would these people think about Cirque du Soliel? Same kind of acrobatics, some on a very similar apparatus, and some with the same or even sometimes less clothing.
chris August 31, 2011 at 01:40 PM
Ken, sounds like you don't have daughters... and Maggie, women DO have football and wrestling teams.. Did you read recently about the two Southern sisters who tackled and held in a chicken wings hold the man who hit theri car and then the man feld? I take kickboxing classes with young MEN and do quite well...without anything remotely resembling parading my sexuality in front of them to get a fabulous workout. Nothing Stoneage about that.... except, perhaps, the misogynist point of poledancing! I'd imagine the Chinese would be insulted by the comparison, given that their art came long before some profit-minded person morphed it into a strip club staple. BTW, click on the link to one of your so-called "experts" in poledancing.... the French woman's page contains links to strip clubs. Go figure!
Leslie Lynnton Fuller August 31, 2011 at 08:12 PM
Hi Chris, I checked the two links and don't see any links to the content you mentioned. One links to a youtube video of a performance, the second to a page of a pole fitness association, with advertisements for pole dance studios.


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