By Sylvia Lee
For some, the idea of pole dancing doesn’t exactly go hand in hand with fitness.
From pole dance’s traditional associations with strip clubs to the perception of the art as ‘unladylike’ or ‘inappropriate’, it’s clear something needs to change.
Sydney professional pole dancers Michelle Shimmy and Maddie Sparkle are here to do just that by challenging the common misconceptions around pole dance.
The two sisters founded Pole Dance Academy in 2009, which was once primarily based in Bondi Junction and has expanded its studios to Crows Nest and Redfern.
Pole Dance Academy promotes pole dancing as a fun, alternative way of getting fit that helps you develop your strength and flexibility whilst boosting your self-confidence and sexual expression. And anyone can give it a go, regardless of gender, age or ability.
According to Michelle Shimmy: “Pole dancing is different from other forms of fitness because it’s fun! The hours fly by and before you know it, you’ve spent a couple of hours training and it felt like only 10 minutes. Pole is also a great way to improve strength, flexibility and cardio in tandem, which is uncommon as most workouts focus on one or two of those elements.”
For Michelle, it goes without saying that pole dancing changed her life.
A decade ago, she had no idea she would leave her job as a corporate lawyer to become a professional pole dancer and dazzle audiences nationwide as a “gorgeous creature of the air”.
We sat down with her to discuss the changing face of pole dance.
What are the main benefits of pole dancing?
Obviously there are physical benefits – you become more toned, strong and flexible than you ever have been before as your core strength and upper body strength will improve. For me, the biggest benefit is the increase in body confidence and self esteem. I know of so many women who were able to cure themselves of eating disorders through pole dance.
I include myself in this category. I suffered on and off from eating disorders through my teenage years and into my 20s, until I discovered pole, and began to see my body in a new light. Rather than seeing it as a battleground, I began to see it as an extraordinary machine, capable of so many amazing things.
People have differing opinions on the implications of pole dance for women. What are your thoughts on that?
I believe pole dance is empowering because it gives women a space to shed society’s expectations of how they should behave, and to be free and enjoy their bodies. Women are constantly bombarded with the message that their bodies aren’t good enough the way they are.
When you step inside a pole studio, suddenly it doesn’t matter how your body looks – what matters is what it can do. It is very rare for female strength to be celebrated and pole dance requires a phenomenal amount of strength, flexibility, stamina and endurance.
So many women have developed a really deep distrust and dislike of their own bodies, and the way that pole teaches women to love their bodies is extraordinary. You might think it’s a contradiction – how is it possible that dancing around a pole in little shorts could make you feel good about yourself? But it really does. The physical challenge of pole starts to make you feel really good about yourself when you start achieving feats of acrobatics you never dreamed possible.
Why do you think there is a stigma around pole dancing?
I think the stigma surrounding pole dancing comes from society’s desire to dictate to women how they should behave. Pole dance can be purely a sport or a fitness activity, or it can be very sexy, and there’s nothing wrong with either. The choice of style is up to the performer. It bothers me when people try to dismiss pole dance for its sexiness, because to me, it’s a beautiful art form no matter what style of dance the performer prefers.
What’s your advice for beginners, especially those who rarely work out?
Being brave enough to sign up! Once you attend your first class, you’ll see that it’s nothing to be intimidated by. At Pole Dance Academy, we structure our classes for absolute beginners with no strength or flexibility, and we train you up to be gorgeous creatures of the air!
I recommend signing up to 2 classes of pole a week, and a conditioning/flexibility class. That way you get big discounts on the classes, and you’ll notice big changes over the 8-week term!
What are some important life lessons you’ve learnt from pole dancing?
To love and respect my body, to treat it right, to be supportive and encouraging of my students, to take risks, and to dream big!
You can learn more about how to get into shape at Pole Dance Academy here.
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