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 Tinley Park Convention Center 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, Lifestyle Financial Services, 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."
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.”
Check Out the Action: If you haven't seen it already, catch Patch's video coverage of the pole-dancing festivities.