By ASHLEY HUNT
When people ask what I do for work and I tell them I am a pole dance instructor, I’m faced with mixed reactions ranging from shock, to patronising and the very occasional admiration.
I am used to being judged for my chosen profession, but that does not make it OK. Just because I choose to spend my evenings teaching pole dance classes does not mean you can make assumptions about me. To clarify: Yes, I spend my evenings teaching women how to pole dance. No, I do not dance in clubs. No, I do not take my clothes off for money. No, I did not drop out of high school and couldn’t find a job doing anything else. And no, there is nothing wrong with any of those things.
It’s time to shed some light on the pole fitness industry and let people see the positive effects of pole dancing and come to understand it not as degrading, but as an empowerment tool for women.
I started pole 3 years ago. A friend of mine had been talking about it for a while, but as a shy person I always thought “It’s just not for me, it’s not my type of thing”. It wasn’t until this same friend went through a tough breakup that I decided to give it a go. One day, when trying to lift her spirits, we drove past a pole dancing studio and I remembered her earlier suggestion. I immediately signed us both up, and I put my fears aside to be able to do something with my friend to take her mind off her ex.
We went along to our first class and I remember being so nervous and almost dreading it. Extremely body conscious at the time, I hated the thought of wearing shorts and I was not used to being outside my comfort zone (during this stage of my life my main life skills involved watching TV and eating). Knowing that I was doing something good for my friend kept me from “accidentally” sleeping through the first class.
The class consisted of a dance warm-up that I could hardly keep up with, followed by learning some basic beginner moves, along with a short routine to finish. Despite feeling totally out of my depth, I could have never believed that exercising could be so enjoyable! Contrary to when I arrived, I left this first class feeling excited, energised, and vibrant – and couldn’t wait to tell everyone about it.
I continued to go to classes like a giant pole nerd. I was super eager and early to every class. I spent every class practicing all the moves over and over, hardly taking a breath in the routine. I would even catch myself trying to practice on anything that even resembled a pole. While my friend (who was the reason I started) never continued, I was hooked! For the first time in my life I was able to finally actually enjoy exercising.
As a female with a small frame (I’m 5’3, if that), I was that person who never gets asked to help carry things and spent my whole life not able to even hold my own body weight. After a few months of doing pole I remember walking past a playground looking at the monkey bars, thinking “I wonder if I could pull myself up”. I grabbed on and before I knew it I was doing pull ups – I was strong! After learning pole dancing I began to realise that I should feel no restriction on my abilities just because I am a woman. Society makes you think that as a woman you are weak and frail – pole dancing helps you discover a strength that challenges everything you thought you knew about what we have come to know as the “delicate” female body.
I now know just because I am petite doesn’t mean I am not strong, and just because I am a girl doesn’t mean there is anything I can’t do. I no longer feel held back by my gender, and I am embarrassed that I ever did. Pole dancing has shown me that I can be both strong, feminine and sexy at the same time, and that the definition of these words is different to everyone.
It is a known fact that pole dancers wear very little clothing, but few people actually know why. Pole dancing involves holding your body on a pole in various positions. Fabric does not grip on a pole – skin does. The more skin we have exposed, the better we are able to grip on a pole. The supportive environment of a pole studio allows you to become comfortable in your own skin, and before you know it you are capable of flaunting your body outside the studio too.
Now as an instructor, I see girls come in to their first class worried about showing their bodies and looking around self-consciously. It is one of the greatest parts of my job when I see these girls after a term of pole dancing and they have come to accept their bodies, flaws and imperfections included, and are no longer self-conscious.
Here are some other things you may not know about pole dancing:
It is what you make it. Pole can be sexy, it can be beautiful, it can be a great workout or it can be all of these things in one. It is up to you what you want to get out of your classes. Take some time to find a pole studio and instructor that suits you and your needs.
It is for everyone. I have taught mums, daughters, grandmothers, men, and everyone in between. Pole is beneficial for a huge range of people, whether you have never exercised before, or are in great shape and are looking for an extra challenge. No matter what your fitness level, there are no prerequisites for starting pole.
It will build your confidence. Putting yourself out of your comfort zone and trying something new allows you to build resilience and grow. If something scares you, great! Do it anyway and you will be better for it. Each pole lesson is an opportunity to push your limits and conquer your fears.
It is fun. Sometimes you just don’t feel like going for a run, heading to the gym, or being yelled at by your bootcamp instructor. You will always look forward to your pole class because as well as getting an amazing workout, you have a whole lot of fun!
Think what you like about my career choice, but I absolutely love my job. Each day I go to work and get to inspire women, helping them conquer their fears and become comfortable in their skin. I will defend my chosen profession until the cows come home because I have seen so many women walk into my class afraid, and walk out confident, strong and contented. I am extremely proud of what I do, and I am grateful for pole dancing and everything it has done for me and my students.
One of the classes Ashley teaches at Studio Exclusive
Ashley is a writer, personal trainer, wellness coach and pole dance instructor who specialises in helping women and young adults build their confidence. Through studies in cognitive behaviour therapy, neuro-linguistic programming, psychoneuroimmunology and positive psychology, Ashley has discovered a revolutionary link between confidence and health which she explores through her blog The Confidence Journal. Follow Ashley on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and find out about the studio she teaches at here.
Want to try some pole dancing fitness moves yourself? Look no further than Youtube.