Bored Of Your Yoga Class? Try This

Sarah Raphael
Photo: Via @londondanceacademy

Remember in PE class when you had to heave your tiny body up a rope attached to a wooden frame wearing shorts and a vest? Do you remember the feeling of dismounting, exhausted, suffering from rope burns but exhilarated at having been up so high? That’s what a pole class feels like, but set to music and choreographed into a dance. And, once you’ve mastered a basic spin, it actually feels like flying.

For those uninitiated, pole work is an incredibly skilled sport that requires as much strength as grace. It’s a fantastic workout (you can burn up to 400 calories an hour) that tones, builds core and upper body strength, flexibility, stamina and most importantly, confidence. The zen you feel leaving a yoga class is nice, sure, but the adrenaline rush and sense of accomplishment after a pole lesson is better. And you'd be surprised how much you can pick up in an hour.

We spoke to four pole teachers from the London Dance Academy, all of whom compete at national and international level, about how they got into the sport, how it's changed their bodies and how they feel up there.

www.londondanceacademy.co.uk

Name: Ayesha Agogo

Age: 34

Instagram handle: @ayeshaagogopole

When did you start pole and where? I started pole about five years ago after a lot of encouragement from a friend. At the time I wasn't feeling very body confident and I wanted to try something new and feel better about myself. I had no idea that the initial taster at Pole People would spark a lifelong passion, let alone a change of career.

You have a PhD in biology (I think that's what you said when we met?) so what was your journey from that to this? I have a PhD in pharmacology and endocrinology and a BSc in medical biology, both of which I'm extremely proud of and reflect my love and passion for science. I needed a part-time job while I was looking for work, and the team at London Dance Academy had previously offered me some teaching work. At that time I felt too shy and nervous to teach, but following graduation I decided to take them up on their offer. I started off doing reception work, with the odd hen party here and there, until I was offered to teach my first beginners' class. I can remember being so nervous, but by the end of that 90-minute class, I knew I had found something that I enjoyed and have not looked back since. I now teach from beginners all the way up to advanced level.

Is it your full-time job or a part-time job?

Yes, my full-time job, my passion, my life.

Have you entered any competitions/ won any awards? Yes, I started competing two years ago and this past weekend I came first in the Instructor category of UK Professional Pole Championships 2016. This is the biggest pole competition in the UK and to have won means a great deal to me. My training partner, fellow teacher and friend, Hannah also won the Elite category, so it has been an amazing few days for us. I also won Pole Theatre this year – semi-pro in the Drama category, and I was selected for my first international competition, Pole Art Cyprus, which is one of the biggest pole competitions in the world. So it has been a crazy, fantastic year for me.

How has your body changed since you began pole? Pole has made me a lot stronger. My back is wider and shoulders more developed, my biceps are bigger. I think pole is a great way of getting fit, no matter your initial size or shape.

Has pole work given you confidence personally? Definitely. Once you learn how to engage, encourage and gain the trust of a group of people you've never met before, public speaking doesn't hold any fear anymore. However, performing on stage still takes a lot of psyching up as I am naturally quite an introvert, but pole provides a vehicle for me to work on this.

What do you think the stereotype of a pole 'dancer' is? How do people react when you tell them your profession? I have no idea what the stereotype of a pole dancer is as all the amazing women I teach and work with have such varied backgrounds, from lawyers to fitness professionals, so it's hard to pin down the type of women that pole dance. My stereotype would be a strong achiever that wants to push themselves to their limits. I think pole dance is becoming more mainstream, so most people are pretty impressed when I say I teach pole and usually want to know where they can find me for a lesson.

Have you/ do you/ would you dance in clubs? If yes, why? If no, why? No, it's just not something I've wanted to do.

What's your favourite move on the pole? I am very influenced by contemporary dance and I try to incorporate this into my pole routines. I love creating a character and expressing this through the fluidity of my pole movement, as opposed to just big tricks. However, if I had to pick it would have to be my namesake, the Elbow Ayesha.

What move do you find most difficult? Probably anything that requires a lot of back flexibility. My goal for 2017 is to get a bendy back, so watch this space...

What gets you out of bed in the morning? I like to trawl Instagram and see what my favourite polers have posted. I find that usually inspires me to get up and train and create something special on the pole.

Where can we find you for a lesson? I am currently teaching at the London Dance Academy where you can join me for Level 1 (Beginners), Level 3 (Intermediate), Level 4 (Advanced), and a more dancey pole class, Poleography. I am also available for private sessions and workshops across the UK if you drop me a line at ayeshaagogopole@googlemail.com

Name: Sophie Oliver

Age: 35

Instagram handle:@nagginwyfe

When did you start pole work and where? I originally learnt a couple of tricks when I was working as a barmaid in a London club but quickly fell in love with the dance form and wanted to take this further from what was currently available to me and went to a pole school to learn more.

Is it your full-time job or a part-time job? If part-time, what else do you do? It is my part-time job. During the day I am a manager and buyer for a fancy dress shop in busy Soho.

How often do you practise and where do you practise? I go to the London Dance Academy and practise at least twice a week for at least two hours each training session.

How has your body changed since starting pole? I have become stronger and more toned and gained an unexpected but not unwanted six pack.

Has pole work given you confidence personally? Definitely. It has put into me the confidence to love myself and the way my body looks and moves, and allowed me to appreciate just how much it can do for me.

What do you think the stereotype of a pole 'dancer' is? How do people react when you tell them your profession? Reactions are generally mixed, mainly depending upon sex and cultural background, location and activity involved when this topic came up but mainly if it's a woman, they will express interest and if it's a man, there might be a slightly sexist remark. Then there are the people who are aware of pole and the current direction it is taking.

Have you/ do you/ would you ever dance in clubs? I will be honest and say that I did dance in clubs for a brief stint as I was desperately in need of some money when I was studying.

What's your favourite move on the pole? Jade Split

What move do you find most difficult? Deadlift Handspring in any and all grips. Still working on it.

What gets you out of bed in the morning? My wonderful husband, my kitties, my besties and dancing (not necessarily in that order!).

Do you think you'll do this career for a long time? I think that no matter what, I will always dance or coach/ teach in some way. I couldn't stop, it's in my blood.

Where can we find you for a lesson? You can find me Monday and Thursday evenings at the London Dance Academy, located at 49-51 Central St.

Name: Tabitha

Age: 31

Instagram handle: @twistertwirl

When did you start pole and where? I started 10 years ago at Body Barre Manchester, then moved to London and moved around a few studios, and had a couple of years off before joining LDA seven years ago.

Is it your full-time job or a part-time job? If part-time, what's your day job? And how do the two different jobs make you feel? Part-time job, I run a website and comms for a department store group. It can be tiring having a demanding job and then finding the energy to teach, but teaching is a great distraction and a focus – meditative almost. Teaching definitely has helped me be a good manager in the day job, as it makes me more patient and able to switch on enthusiasm when it's most required.

Have you entered any competitions/ won any awards? I've been a finalist in a number of pole comps including Pole Theatre Semi Pro Comedy three times, Heir to the Chrome, Dance Filthy, European Pole Championships. Never won any, came close in my first Pole Theatre comp, but it's hard because I compete against full-time dancers and instructors and I only teach twice per week.

How has your body changed since you started pole? I have big shoulders that turn inward (not a great look) and defined lats, but I'd say I'm more toned on the whole, and more flexible.

Has pole work given you confidence personally? Pole is a really emotional discipline, if you've had a bad day, a good session can fill you with confidence and you'll fly out of there full of joy. If, however, you have a bad session, it can leave you really deflated and down. I try to explain this to my students regularly as I want them to know that there's something about pole that affects you on an emotional level, more than any other activity. So if they feel sad after a bad session, not to worry about it but just come back next week and it'll be great again.

What do you think the stereotype of a pole dancer is? How do people react when you tell them about your work?

I'm usually asked if I'm a stripper. I have zero tolerance for this. There is nothing wrong with being a stripper, but men and some women often try and make pole into something seedy when it isn't. It's an art form that attracts a wide range of people, and whether you dance for money or not that's entirely your prerogative and all dancers should be respected.

Have you/ do you/ would you dance in clubs? If yes, why? If no, why? I haven't, it's not for me, I teach and work on pole for myself, as exercise and for fun. I don't think I would have the confidence to dance in a club.

What's your favourite move on the pole? Ha, probably a handspring or my signature split – a variation on a machine gun.

What move do you find most difficult? I hate flips. I'm not a gymnast, I have no gymnastic or dance background so I don't have the ability to overrun the fear of landing on my head.

What gets you out of bed in the morning and into the studio? Either trying that new move I saw on Instagram or getting to help my students wangle their way into a new move.

Do you think you'll do pole teaching long term? I had quite a bad injury this year, which actually meant my arm seized up during my last competition performance. I was devastated, and it's taken a while for it to get better. It's made me think that maybe I won't compete again, but I would like to keep teaching and training for as long as I can.

Where can we find you for a lesson? London Dance Academy on Wednesdays for my signature pole-mergency class and Saturdays for practice and stretch.

Name: Hannah Rose Kaynes

Age: 29

Instagram handle: @hannahrose_aerial

When did you start pole work and where? I started teaching pole dance about four years ago in London, and I've been training in pole dance and circus arts for eight years.

Is it your full-time job or a part-time job? Pole dance and circus is my full-time career and has been for the last two years. While I was training I had another job in an office but, over time, I built up my teaching work and training and there came a point where I needed to dedicate myself to my pole career in order to progress and be as good as I wanted to be. When I started teaching it was hard juggling training, teaching and the day job (I used to go to the gym before work, sneak out at lunchtime to practise my handstands, then straight to the studio after work to train and teach) but it was worth it in the end.

How often do you practise and where do you practise? I practise and teach pretty much every day. When I'm training for competitions I will spend around three to four hours per day on my latest routine choreography and drilling my pole tricks, then stretching at least three times a week and I aim to go to the gym three times a week for additional cardio and to help with my stamina on stage. I am also a trained aerialist, and went to circus school last year, where I specialised in aerial straps, so I practise this discipline around five to six hours a week alongside pole.

Have you entered any competitions/ won any awards? Yes, it was the UK Professional Pole Championships this past weekend and I won, in the Elite Category! I have been competing in pole competitions since 2012, and it definitely hasn't been all smooth sailing, so to win the biggest competition in the UK means the world to me. I also won the award for Best Pole Tricks in both 2015 and 2016. My training partner and friend Ayesha also won in the Instructors category. Last month we also competed internationally at Pole Art Cyprus, which is one of the biggest competitions in the pole dancing calendar.

How has your body changed since starting pole? My shoulders, biceps and triceps have definitely grown since starting pole due to all the upper body work, and my core is definitely 100 times stronger. But I'm concerned with what I can DO with my body, not what it looks like. A six-pack? Great, but only if it means I can hold my Human Flag for longer.

Has pole work given you confidence personally? Yes definitely, I think doing something you love will always make you feel more confident, and teaching is an incredibly rewarding job.

How do you feel when you're performing/ competing? Nervous! No matter how many competitions I perform in I still get incredibly nervous before I go on stage. The feeling on stage varies, depending on how I feel about the routine, the reactions of the audience etc. On stage this weekend I LOVED every moment, the audience were extremely supportive and that spurs you on to perform your hardest and really believe in the character you are playing on stage.

Do you think you need core strength to start pole work? Or can you build it from scratch? You can definitely build it from scratch, although I definitely believe in ab work both on and off the pole as you develop your skills.

What do you think the stereotype of a pole 'dancer' is? How do people react when you tell them your profession? Most of the people I surround myself with are already involved in pole dance or circus so I rarely encounter people's stereotypes, and it doesn't concern me anyway. My mum is always finding it hard to explain my job to the neighbours and relatives so I just send them my latest YouTube video, that normally does the trick. There's now a group of pensioners in my hometown that are very educated in the art of pole dancing!

Have you/ do you/ would you ever dance in clubs? If yes, why? If no, why? I do circus performances for high-end corporate events and parties; these are usually one or two sets of my latest act, and usually I'm one of a group of circus performers specialising in different disciplines hired for the event.

What's your favourite move on the pole? So many! I love finding different ways to move up the pole, and my style of pole is all about dynamic combos, strength and power moves. Basically anything ninja style where you feel like you're flying. It's so exhilarating. My current favourite move is probably the aerial Phoenix.

What move do you find most difficult? Anything involving shoulders or back flexibility is my nemesis. But pole dance has a huge variety of styles – whether you want to look like a ballerina, express your emotions or do parkour style tricks, there is something for everyone. I love this inclusive nature as everyone can find a style of movement that suits themselves and their body.

Do you think you'll do this career for a long time? Many professional pole dancers are still touring the world teaching workshops in their 40s and in some cases even older, so I would like to continue this career for as long as possible. I am aware I may need to slow down at some point but at the moment I can't picture my life without pole dancing.

Where can we find you? I teach at London Dance Academy in Old Street and Polevocative Studio in Croydon, and am available for workshops across the UK. You can find further info on my website www.hannahroseaerial.com or drop me an email at hannahrose101@hotmail.co.uk

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