After it being hailed as the latest fitness craze so many years ago, there is still a certain stigma associated with pole dancing and all who partake in this particular avenue of fitness. Over the years there have been many articles written on the topic, but they all seem to come from one of two angles, either the instructor’s point of view or a first timer giving a class a go for the sake of the article. I figured it’s time to hear from someone who as a student has been taking classes for six years and explain why I keep coming back.
I have always found fitness a fantastic way for me to clear my mind and keep myself sane. I have clear memories of being a young girl and joining mum on her walks. I danced while I was at school and participated in a Rock Eisteddfod or two, I was on the swimming squad and do so many other types of exercise, but I always hated gyms. I always hated feeling like I was being watched and judged. When I did go to the gym, I preferred using free weights as opposed to the machines, however as that is predominately a men’s area, it was incredibly intimidating. Most of all I hated the structure of a certain program and a particular number of reps to be completed.
When I heard about pole dancing classes, I figured I loved dancing, and was open to trying something new. After speaking with several girlfriends, they all wanted to try it to, so we agreed to start together. After two years of trying to match dates and times we still hadn’t been to a single class, so I decided it was time to bite the bullet and go on my own.
After booking in to do an eight-week beginners course, I was told how the class was structured (a warm up, tricks, dancing, cool down). I was told I would need to wear shorts, as I would need the skin on my legs exposed to grip the pole. Also, most girls prefer to wear heels when learning the tricks in class and when they dance. That all sounded fine, I mean I had just signed up for a pole dancing class, so needing some skin exposed and heels seemed quite normal.
Walking in to the class, I expected to see a room full of young girls who were all there to push the boundaries of what society considers appropriate, and that I would be the oldest person there, being close to 30. How wrong I was! There was one girl in the class younger than me; she was the daughter of one of the other students. The rest of the class was 40+. In that first class, we did a warm up that definitely got the blood pumping, then learnt the very basics of how to do a sexy/sultry walk and our very first spin around the pole. We also learnt the beginning of a dance that we would work on for the next 8 weeks. As a group of 10 women, we bonded very quickly over our awkwardness and the fun we were having. While I had never felt the need to go to a female only gym, there was a moment that I realised there is an incredibly free feeling being in an environment that was fitness based that was male free. The other freeing moment of that first day was noticing that a lot of thought had gone in to making the women in that room feel comfortable, and one of the ways Pole Divas did that was by having awesome lighting that made everyone look and feel great. Such a simple thing, that does so much.
By the middle of that first 8-week term, I knew I had found something I loved, and purchased my very own pole to put up at home. Originally I thought I would out the pole in a spare bedroom, out of the eye sight of my guests when they came over, however I soon discovered that the best place in my house that allowed me enough space to practice what I was learning properly, I would need to put the pole in the area I had between my kitchen and living room. With that, the pole was put in, and I just warned my dad that next time he turned up, there would be a pole right next to my kitchen. Expecting him to have something to say about this latest information, he shocked me by laughing and just shaking his head. One of my sisters though was not impressed. That same after having a few wines, would happily have a play on that very pole. She just needed to let go of her preconceived notions.
I quickly started advancing in levels and learning so many new tricks, all while giving myself a full body workout without ever feeling like that’s what I was doing. Literally every part of you works hard when you are on the pole – arms, legs, back, butt and abs. Here I was having so much fun, and pushing my body to do things that I had no idea it could do. After never being able to do a single pull up, I can now do 10! When learning all of these exciting new things, there are always one or two tricks that seem to be impossible, and it becomes your mission to conquer them. Once you do, there is something else that you have seen that you want desperately to learn.
As the levels progress, the outfits I wore to class went from regular shorts and t-shirts to smaller shorts, and smaller tops, until I was just wearing a sports top and little shorts. This isn’t about wanting to show off my body, but needing the skin on my body to grip the pole for those more difficult tricks that require extra grip points. The other thing that progressed as the levels did was my bond with the girls I train with each and every week and also the instructors that teach, support and guide us through this physical and mental journey.
As we each battle our ‘demon tricks’ sometimes it’s a physical thing that is holding us back, like flexibility or strength, and we help each other by sharing tricks that have helped us with that very same problem. Sometimes it is a mental battle to get that trick. It is daunting getting your head around hanging upside down by just one ankle or leg. No matter what the battle, we are always in a room full of other women who are all willing you to get there and achieve your goals. When you do, the whole room breaks out in applause and these women are genuinely happy for you and what you have just achieved.
This support doesn’t just extend to the other girls in your class, but also to the girls who have far surpassed your abilities and go on to compete in the many amateur competitions that take place every year, and also the girls who are still in the lower levels working their way up. As a community, we also become incredibly close to our instructors who inspire, support and teach us each and every week. There is a very solid group of girls who attend all of the professional competitions, not only to see phenomenal performances and competitors, but also to support these incredible athletes that teach us so much and support us throughout our journey. The support for these instructors has lead to many travelling interstate to show their support. We really are our own little community.
When wondering why someone would take pole dancing up for fitness, have a look on YouTube at any of the pole dancing competitions and see what these girls do. We are all just gymnasts and our apparatus happens to be a pole. Lets face it, after a crappy day, it always feels better after you turn some music on and just dance it out.
Photography by Maurice Mangiagli