It’s National Pole Dancing Day! That’s right! National POLE-DANCING DAY!
It’s so so nice that we have such a thing now, because when I started pole dancing all the way back in 2003, it was practically unheard of. In fact, before the first time I did it, I’d never heard of it!
However in September 2003, I got asked by my friend Liza to go to one of her friend’s 21st birthday. I didn’t know the birthday-girl (her name was Steph) but she was trying to make up numbers because it was a set price, so the more that came along, the cheaper it’d be. I wasn’t quite sure, but I was scared of Liza so I agreed, although right up to the day (in fact right up to being on the train on the way there!) I was mentally thinking of ways to get out of it. Could I pretend I’d missed the train? Call in sick? Call in dead? On a slightly less extreme note, say I’d forgotten my shorts?
It didn’t seem as though I’d get away with any of them, so reluctantly I crawled into the bar in Charterhouse Square where we were to have our Polestars lesson. Thankfully – because I do think I would’ve turned and run otherwise – the bar was closed to everyone except us, so it was just the 15-odd of us there to witness our own humiliation. We downed a lot of quick ones and, when we were sufficiently lubricated, we giggled our way upstairs to where the – extremely scary looking – poles were.
I remember that I hung back – I was one of the last to get on the poles and GOD was I reluctant! I’m so uncoordinated at the best of times and I can’t dance to save my life (and take it from me, that hasn’t changed in the slightest). I had absolutely no upper body strength (why limit it to upper – I had no strength!), I was quite overweight then and fitness and I were on the worst of terms. Further, I didn’t know anyone there apart from Liza and I was wearing extremely small shorts that I’d – er – borrowed from my far-smaller-than-me-sister some years before and which had a velcro closing that I was convinced would pop open whenever I made a move. I wobbled up to it – hyperventilating a little bit and convinced that I’d either die or make a complete fool of myself (and had a serious preference for the former) to do my first spin. However, to my absolute shock, I didn’t fall over, the pole didn’t come out of the ceiling with a mighty wrench at having to take my weight, and I even managed to get the move vaguely right. And I felt good.
The rest of the party was as much of a revelation to me as that first spin. It was such a giggle, from being down on the floor doing linking moves (to save our poor arms) to our first proper spins and then, later, to our teacher Georgie showing us how to do her best move (upside down! And saying it really hurt!). At the time, you could sign up for a Polestars course then and there, and there was nothing stopping me (especially given the amount of liquid courage I’d put inside myself) and I signed away 140 of my overdraft’s finest pounds which, at the time, was a small fortune to me.
From there, it was all systems go. At the time only Polestars taught pole-dancing lessons in London which seems absolutely crazy now when there are hundreds of schools dotted around, but thankfully the classes had a lovely atmosphere. We not only learned some fab moves, but we were encouraged to laugh and have fun at the same time, as well as being taught to help each other and – above all – encourage each other and make each other feel good about the crazy stuff we were doing. It was amazing – I’d never been in such a positive atmosphere before, and by the end of the course I was walking differently, laughing more and had gallons more confidence. I’m not just talking about in class – I mean everywhere! I remember walking through Liverpool Street Station (of all places!) and thinking how amazing I felt and swearing to myself that I’d never give up pole.
There were only beginners classes then (this is how much has changed in the last nine years!) and so when I’d finished up my six-week course, I did the burlesque course on offer. That wasn’t so much my thing, and in any event a couple of months later I moved to the Cayman Islands where there were no classes.
However, the love hadn’t died and on random nights I’d sneak over to the Truman Bodden Centre, which had outdoor netball courts. I’d tear my hands to shreds practising on those poles, always in the dead of night so that no-one would see me. Thank God no-one ever caught me – I’d've had a difficult job explaining that one away I expect …
The first thing I did on my return to London was book a new course, this time bullying my sister into coming as well. We signed up for another beginner’s course, again with Polestars, and it was A.MAZ.ING. The moves had changed a little bit from a few years before, but not too much, and as soon as the beginner’s course was over we were onto intermediate. Apart from being a bit of a shock to the system, since we’d moved onto holds and locks rather than spins (and how big were our bruises?!) it was even – if possible – more fun than beginners, although we weren’t great at it and signed up for a repeat pretty much immediately. Because Polestars only taught three levels (beginners, intermediate and advanced) the courses moved very quickly and there was a lot to take in on each one, but by the end of the second intermediate course I was confident enough to audition to teach.
I got the job, and started teaching pole immediately. Polestars also sent me on courses to learn burlesque and can-can and – a bit later – dirty dancing and hula hooping so that I could teach those products as well, so I was pretty lucky.
Some of the experiences I’ve had teaching have been some of the funniest I’ve ever had. My hen party for 17 gay fireman, teaching the 87 year-old granny of a hen how to go upside down, doing a party for twins who were having their 50th birthday party and had 50 of their closest friends along to help celebrate, and teaching two courses to a lovely girl with a nervous illness, who started her first class by bursting into tears and running out of class before she’d even started (we got her back by feeding her wine) and finished her second beginners course by going upside down, helped out by cheers, whistles, claps and screams of excitement from all the other girls in the course – these all stand out as being amazing times. It’s not just the teaching though – we’ve had some good times being on poles in random places …
However, I’ve always wanted to keep learning as well as teaching. I’ve had to move schools because Polestars doesn’t teach courses now as we focus on hen parties, but luckily I’ve found one with the same level of warmth and fun. I’ve also moved over into doing aerial work too, first at day workshops learning hoops and silks through Pole Passion and then just very recently moving on to trapeze courses.
Despite this, pole is far and away my favorite of all the disciplines and I can’t wait to do more. However, because of moving into other fields I’ve not progressed as much as I would’ve if I’d just focused on pole, so I’ve still only just completed Level 5 (of 7) and I’ll be on the next Level 6 course as soon as it’s on. In the meantime though, my next challenge is a 5-day pole course in Budapest which starts on 16 May. Two of my three besties from pole are also coming (the third having given up pole when she moved out of London) which is just the icing on the cake for me – I’m so excited about it I actually don’t know how I’ll get through the next 16 days til we go! I can’t wait to meet everyone else on the course as well … we pole girls are special bunch (and not always necessarily completely normal!!).
Of all the decisions I’ve made – or been bullied into – in my life, going to that 21st birthday party, for someone I didn’t even know, was probably the one that’s had the most impact on me. Pole has genuinely changed my life – it’s given me more confidence than I knew I was capable of, it’s allowed me to meet some of my closest friends, and it’s also opened up a whole new world to me by being a gateway into other aerial work.
I genuinely don’t think I’d've had the confidence to go to lawschool, move to the Cayman Islands by myself, start P90X or make any of the other scary decisions that I’ve made since if I hadn’t had the confidence boost that I got from starting pole.
But if you’d told me on the train on the way to that party, when I was almost sick with nerves and desperately squirming around for an excuse to get out of it, that nine years later I’d still be doing it (and that the first item of furniture I’d buy upon buying my first flat would be a pole!), I’d never’ve believed you.
If you’d told me when I was desperately searching for lessons past beginners that one day there’d be huge, competitive pole-schools, world-wide Miss Pole Dance competitions, and a National Pole Dancing Day, I’d've considered getting you committed. I’m so so glad that for the girls that are starting now that it’s such a big, well-known industry (oh – the other thing about when I started was that if it ever slipped out that you were doing pole-dancing lessons, you’d suddenly hear lurid stories of yourself featuring at the Spearmint Rhino on the grapevine) so that more and more people can get involved.
Happy National Pole Dancing Day!