Visual artist Daniel Kok had no idea he would be a serious pole-dancer when he dabbled in it in 2007. He was inspired to try pole dancing after attempting to perform it during a spontaneous art performance, called “Vermillion”, for the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival that same year. Soon after, he found himself taking up pole-dancing classes at dance studio Acro Polates, located in Waterloo Street.
On 30 November, he will be the only Singaporean male representing the country in this year’s International Pole Championships in the men’s division. He was chosen by the event organiser to participate in the competition after winning the SG Pole Challenge in 2012. He is also the only Asian finalist who will be competing against six others from countries such as Australia and Ukraine.
When I told my family that I wanted to do pole-dancing, they went “What?... Okay… Yeah sure".
My family is very supportive of what I do and they are very used to me doing strange things. They trust me to make my own decisions and they have been that way ever since I was serving in the army as an officer. After that, I received a scholarship to study at Goldsmith College in London before coming back to teach in junior colleges for eight years. My parents came to support me in the SG Pole Challenge last year and my mother is coming to see me again at the International Pole Championship at the end of the month.
As for friends, I surround myself with good people who do not say negative things about what I do. They are mainly international friends whom I keep in touch with. These people have been abroad and are aware of the things happening outside of Singapore.
It is really hard for pole-dancing to take off in Singapore because many people here are still very awkward about it. I would say there are less than 10 male pole-dancers in the country. I think it is due to the lack of exposure. The pole-dancing vocabulary has evolved so much and it’s no longer just a feminine or erotic thing like many people in Singapore still believe it is. A while ago, a journalist for a men’s publication was asked if he would like to interview me for a story. He replied saying that he did not know how to approach the topic. This is not surprising to me because he came from a macho publication in Singapore. But that would not have happened if it was for, say, a London publication. When I read about male pole-dancers in Europe, none of them focused on the dance being too feminine, erotic, or even about being gay or straight.
Pole-dancing has evolved rather rapidly in recent years mainly due to social media and videos posted on YouTube. This makes it a lot harder for competitors to prove their worth to judges because everybody gets better and better. And while the stigma over pole-dancing being related to stripper clubs and that sort of thing remains, sticking to the old erotic way will probably not help a pole-dancer win a competition. Pole-dancing itself has changed; it has now incorporated various other genres and techniques like the Chinese pole dance.
Which is better, being a Singaporean artist or European? Why?
I think Singapore is a good place to start something. It’s easier to be a Singaporean artist because there are not enough artists here, which means that the country has more money and space to go around. In Europe, there are far too many artists but not enough resources to go around. In Singapore, you can make a proposal for funds and even if you cannot get 100 per cent of what you asked for, you will still get 25 per cent.
My main focus right now is to try and create a dance routine that is unique to myself but yet of a measurable standard to be in the finals. I am also trying not to be too frazzled or over-train because I might get injured and I cannot afford for that to happen right now. I try to eat well – a low carbohydrate diet – and sleep well. I go to sleep at about 12:30am and wake up at 8:30am.