Pole dancing is a brutal, physically demanding sport. 50-year-old Aucklander Koko Ibaraki is one of the best in the world.
Koko Ibaraki describes the first time she saw pole dancing as “the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen”. She was in her late 30s, without any hobbies and stuck in an unhappy marriage. Discovering the sport, she says, changed her life.
She began taking classes, befriending the manager of a bar that had a pole and using it on weekends to finesse her skills. “Pole was my release of all the depressed feelings… you can’t think about it – because otherwise you fall.”
This attitude helped take Ibaraki to the top of the sport. She received the Ultimate Legends Award at the Pole Legends NZ competition at the age of 42, and now, aged 50, she’s working towards competing in the world championships in 2023.
Pole was empowering for Ibaraki, who says that it makes her feel “sexy – and what’s wrong with being sexy?”. With pole dancing now spanning sub-categories including pole sport, contemporary pole, and exotic pole, friend and fellow champion pole dancer Michelle Kasey says that it is important to acknowledge the origins of the sport. “The reason that pole is so powerful is because they want to feel that sexual ownership that strippers have,” she says.
Although a source of much empowerment and fun, pole dancing remains a challenging feat of stamina, flexibility and an incredible amount of strength. When Koko Ibaraki ripped the skin from her armpit during a dazzling stunt halfway through a recent competition performance, she finished the routine despite a gaping a wound. That, her son Takayuki says, sums up her grit and determination.
Watch the full series of Scratched: Aotearoa’s Lost Sporting Legends now. Made with support from NZ On Air.