From construction worker to China's pole dance king
CGTN
04:35
CGTN

CGTN

Born in 1995, Sun Jian became a migrant worker in Guangzhou at the age of 15.

His first job was washing customers' hair in a hair salon. However, the job was tedious and poorly paid, so he quit soon after and went to work at a construction site. After a day of hard work, he spent all his free time in an Internet cafe. With a salary of 2,000 yuan, Sun was satisfied with his life.

Sun Jian at a construction site. /by CGTN

Sun Jian at a construction site. /by CGTN

“Then I happened to see a video of a foreign boy performing pole dancing. I didn't know about it before, but I was intrigued by the power and beauty in it,” says Sun.

He could have forgotten all about it like many other entertaining videos. But one day, while he was on a break at a construction site, he saw a scaffold that looked like a pole and felt an urge to give it a try.

Sun Jian at a construction site. /by CGTN

Sun Jian at a construction site. /by CGTN

“At first I fell right off and got dust all over my face. But I refused to accept the failure and tried again. The second time I hung myself against the scaffold for three seconds.”

It was the beginning of his love of pole dancing. He began to learn basic movements from online videos, and spent 500 yuan to install a pole in his dormitory, so that he could practice after work. “When my colleagues went out, I could practice alone. I got many injuries. Sometimes I even practiced on the construction site, jumping from one pole to another.”

Photo courtesy of Sun Jian

Photo courtesy of Sun Jian

At that time, only few people were performing pole dancing and most of them were amateurs. After about three months, Sun won the gold medal in a competition in Guangzhou. The medal brought him a bonus and a chance to teach lessons at a local gym.

“I was born physically strong but introverted. After I came to the city from rural area, I felt like I had no advantages. I was just a commoner. I could spend my whole life at the construction site and that was it,” says Sun. “But I found happiness in pole dancing. Some movements are dangerous and can leave you injured. But they also made you want to challenge and improve yourself.”

But in China, pole dancing was labeled with negative words and considered “abnormal.” When Sun's parents found out his new job, they were in a rage. Believing that his son lacked discipline and went astray, Sun's father ordered him to go home and learn to drive an excavator. But Sun insisted that he would not go back home until he made a stand in his career.

Photo courtesy of Sun Jian

Photo courtesy of Sun Jian

In 2012, Sun participated in a selection show for an international competition. He thought it would be easy like his first one. To his surprise, he got the lowest marks and was the only one disqualified among the 13 male participants. When the others compete in the final, Sun sat in the audience and watched them perform for the first time.

“I felt it was good for me not to be in the final. I was a wild horse and danced whatever I liked, so my movements were messy and lack aesthetics. Other participants were high-ranking, professional dancers. I had never seen the techniques they used. It was a hard blow for me, but it also stimulated me to do better and reach their standards.”

For Sun, a dream is something you still want to do after several failures.

Compared to other dancers, Sun had less flexibility and couldn't point toes. He had to go with the direction of “power dancer,” and trained hard. “After exercising every day, I used to tie my feet and knees and kneel on yoga bricks for 15 minutes to half an hours. Sometimes I watch movies kneeling there. My insteps hurt, my ears hurt, the nerves and the head feel numb… But pain can't kill me anyway, so I just lived with it.”

 “A dancer once said on TV that he only compare himself to himself, not with the others. I admire his speech but I don't agree with it. I want to be the champion, just to prove myself.” 

Photo courtesy of Sun Jian

Photo courtesy of Sun Jian

In 2013, with complicated emotions towards his parents, Sun adapted Chopstick Brothers' song “Father” into a pole dance and attended the China Pole Dance Championship and won the prize of innovation. At the same time, he was selected into China's national pole dancing team, which is actually a non-government organization. Then Sun went home with the trophy and the video of his performance. Seeing him, Sun's father thought that he was ready to confess his fault.

However, after watching his performance, his father said: “It's good of you to dance like this, given that you were never trained properly when you were a kid.” With his parents' acknowledgment, Sun felt good pursuing his goals. 

Starting in 2014, Sun started putting more time into managing his dance studio. In 2017, the French Pole Dance Competition reignited his passion for the art. 

“I need to pull myself together and regain the passion for creating things. So I named my work ‘Time Belongs to Me'. Aside from everything, all I want to do is dancing. I want people to see the purest and primitive dance in my work.” 

Photo courtesy of Sun Jian

Photo courtesy of Sun Jian

Sun competed and won the Elite Men category. His teammate Ke Hong won third place. It's the third time Chinese dancers placed in the top three in international competitions.

“Many people still think that pole dancing is some erotic performance in the bars and night clubs, and that it's a marginal thing to do. But it's artistic and has many championships. It's becoming an international sport and art form,” says Sun.

Now, the youngest student in Sun's studio is nine years old, and the oldest is 50. He even saw a lady in her eighties pole dancing on TV. It gives him a reason to believe that it can be his lifetime career.

The story is one in The 1.3 Billion series exploring the diverse lives that make up China.

The story is one in The 1.3 Billion series exploring the diverse lives that make up China.