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.